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Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.
Pr. 26:4-5, NIV
These two verses appear to be contradictory. Are we to answer the fool or not? We know that the Bible never contradicts itself. In these proverbs we see that at different times different responses may be necessary. A convenient “one size fits all” doesn’t always work.
To begin with, who does God consider to be a fool? The fool is one who can look around at all the wonders of creation, all the blessings of God and the Word of God and say, “There is no God” [Ps. 14:1]. The fool is the one who denies even the basic fabric of his [or her] own being which cries out for a relationship with the Living God. This does not necessarily mean that a fool is dumb in worldly matters. He may very well be intellectual or brilliant in a field of study [both of which are gifts of God], but he is foolish is denying spiritual reality and ultimate Truth.
In our day these fools - or vocal atheists - are gaining larger audiences as people reject God to pursue their own passions. These atheists often mock Christian doctrine and laugh at the Bible. They point to Scriptures [often in the Law] which make no sense to them to bring a distorted image of God as being egotistical, demanding, vicious, cruel and petty.
Sometimes it is best to ignore such ravings. To engage in debate or argument diverts attention and resources from important matters. It can give apparent legitimacy and attention to that which deserves none. When dealing with these things on a personal level, this is often the correct response unless you feel that there is a genuine searching behind the objections.
Sometimes it is important refute these arguments because they may impact the undecided or destroy the faith of the weak. At times like this it is important to show the total foolishness and unreasonableness of their arguments. In the public arena objections are answered by knowledgeable people. For example, Richard Dawkins book, The Greatest Show On Earth, was refuted by Jonathan Sarfati’s book, The Greatest Hoax on Earth?, demonstrating the numerous scientific errors in the Dawkin’s book.
We need to be aware of the objections to the Christian faith so that we are not taken by surprise when they come up in conversations or social media. We need to be informed of the counter-arguments and the Truth without being distracted from the mission God has given us both individually and corporately.
Whether we choose to answer the fools who appear in our lives or not, we need to have an absolute confidence in the Word of God ourselves. We may not know the answers to every objection they make, but we need to know that there are answers.
When considering these often outlandish charges [like the Bible forces a woman to marry her rapist] we must:
First consider Biblical context. We must see what the surrounding verses/chapters are saying. We must consider the entire Biblical teaching on the topic not just isolated sections. [Even Christians often base their beliefs on subjects like divorce on a couple of verses instead of looking at the entire Scriptural teaching.] Remember, Jesus, the Word, is ultimately the author of the entire Bible not just the “words in red.”
Second consider the social and historical context. The society in which the Bible was written - especially the Old Testament - was totally different from the society in which we live today. If we would understand the correct meaning and application of many of the confusing texts, we must understand the people and time in which they were given. If we, like the atheists do, try to understand many of these verses from our Western society point-of-view we will, of course, come up with a false picture of God.
Third, avoid the temptation to downplay the Old Testament law as temporary or not applicable today. The Word of God is eternal. If we, like many Christians do in the Creation/Evolution debate, compromise the integrity of the Word of God we are the losers in the end. We look at the basic principles of Biblical Law and how to apply it today in our course: Master Life. Many of the Laws in the Old Testament are case laws - examples of legal principles. The exact examples may not fit our Western society but by studying the examples we can learn the principles which apply to all societies and all time. For example, the application of the ceremonial laws today is found in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross not in literal observance - we don’t still offer animal sacrifices or have a High Priest and Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus is our Sacrifice, our High Priest, etc.
Don’t expect a “fair” debate. Often people pushing atheistic ideas are promoting their own radical religious agenda. Like the Pharisees in Acts 7:57-58, if they think the facts are going against them they will often try to use intimidation and violence to achieve their ends [giving evidence to who is really behind them].