I am always amazed how things I read a while ago all of a sudden pop back into my mind.  Over the last few days I have had the phrase “Holy Fool” repeatedly come to mind.   I was first introduced to the term holy fool when I read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Talking to Strangers, which must have been more than a year ago now.  

The Holy Fool is a truth-teller because he is an outcast. Those who are not part of existing social hierarchies are free to blurt out inconvenient truths or question things the rest of us take for granted.Malcolm Gladwell. 

According to Gladwell, the person who we would call a “Whistleblower” is today’s Holy Fool.  While I found his analysis fascinating of what makes a whistleblower a whistleblower, and how we need people who have the courage or crazies to speak the hard truths, I don’t believe he captured the full depth of what it means to be a Holy Fool.  

The Holy Fool concept has its roots in Christianity, particularly in the Eastern (Russian, Greek, etc.) Orthodox traditions.  

The holy fool was an individual who outwardly behaved in an eccentric manner by the commonly accepted standards of his society; inwardly he pursued a religious ideal or was enlivened by mystical experience. Although holy folly is frequently encountered in many cultures, the ideal of cultivating a highly personal spiritual life to the disparagement of mundane existence is most forcefully displayed in the early Christian Church. The Christian promotion of the holy fool surely had its precedent in the Old Testament prophets, whose outrageous behavior came to be considered symbolic of their divine mission.  

Oxford Scholarship Online

Michael W. Dols

Diana E. Immisch

Rod Dreher does a deeper dive into the Holy Fool in a 2014 BLOG post you can check out here: https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/what-is-a-holy-fool-dostoevsky-vodolazkin-laurus/

The origins of the term “Fools for Christ” comes from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.  It appears that the Corinthian Christians had become enamored with the “wise” and “enlightened” ways of the culture.  They did not want to look foolish to their neighbors in what they believed and how they lived for Jesus.  They wanted to keep Christianity cool and relatable to their non-Christian friends.  But Paul reminded them that this is not the way to follow Christ.  Friendship with the world (that is, living by the world’s standards) is enmity to God.  The way of God is foolishness to the world.  

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” 

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (NIV)

26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 (NIV)

14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, 16 for, 

“Who has known the mind of the Lord 

so as to instruct him?” m 

But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 (NIV)

18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile. 1 Corinthians 3:18-20 (NIV)

What I hear Paul saying is that following Jesus means we may find ourselves being called fools!  Holy fools!  Truth tellers to a world going astray, a world gone mad, a world hostile to the good of God.  We have to be willing to be that boy who had the courage to tell the emperor, “You have no clothes on!”  

When everyone else will not speak because of fear, while the powers that be in the halls of government fiddle like Nero, whilst the nation burns with fires they have set, we have to be prepared to be blamed (like those first Christians) because we are the holy fools.  The truth speakers.  The ones who do not belong to the world because our king is Jesus.  

We are going to have to be holy fools who will speak up and live by the truth of God’s Word regarding marriage, parenting, health, money, work, life, discrimination, gender identity, abortion, and politics!  Of course, it is speaking the truth in love.  Meaning speaking the truth with compassion, kindness, and grace.  Speaking the truth because it is really what is best for the other.  

I see the way things are going today, and I am convinced that each of us who choose to follow Jesus according to His Word, following His Will, are going to have to be willing to be holy fools. As a community called the church, we will have to be ready and willing to be the holy fools of our neighborhoods, our communities, our states, our nation.  Remember the promise of Jesus…be a holy fool.

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”  John 15:18-19 (NIV)

“We are fools for Christ…”. 1 Corinthians 4:10