In Proverbs 24:4-5 we read,
Don’t answer a fool according to his foolishness
or you’ll be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his foolishness
or he’ll become wise in his own eyes.
What does this mean?
The two contested ideas are side by side, which makes the tension between them appear to be deliberate. So I think it takes a bad-faith reading to see this as a contradiction.
Rather, I think we’re being invited to explore a mystery of life. How does one engage with a fool?
As much as these verses might stump us, if we reflect on them, they show us a deeper truth: life stumps us.
Sometimes we are presented with conundrums where this is no evident right answer.
Wisdom is to discern when to ignore a fool - and when to challenge the fool - and how to do it without imitating the fool’s way.
But what do you make of these two verses?