“Neither man nor woman can be worth anything until they have discovered that they are fools. This is the first step toward becoming either estimable or agreeable; and until it is taken there is no hope.” – William Lamb (British Prime Minister from 1834-1841)

Whenever I read the Book of Proverbs, I get uncomfortable when “the fool” gets mentioned. I feel a desperate need to dissociate myself with the fool at all costs. A fool lacks sense and good judgement. He turns his eyes from the truth. He’s lazy and proud. He doesn’t learn from his mistakes. If there’s one moral of the Book of Proverbs it’s, “Don’t be like the fool. Whatever the fool does, do the opposite.”

Leave it to this international pandemic to, with impeccable timing, remind us that we are all fools. For starters, none of us were at all prepared for what is currently happening. And very few of us have reacted in the way we wish we had hoped. I, for one, have not become the hero I had always been waiting to be, but have become more irritable, anxious and absent-minded. One of the ongoing truths of the COVID-19 virus is that nobody knows what’s going to happen. Every single one of us is in the dark. Meanwhile, the most famous fools — those of the Shakespearean persuasion — are having a field day. Shakespeare’s fools began a long lineage of which the most recent descendants are meme-ists. I don’t mean to make light of people who are suffering — as the situation gets more serious, the tone may appropriately grow more somber — but there is good reason why humor is thriving right now. Our defenses are down and, in our vulnerable state, we need all the glimmers of hope we can find.

What gives the fool his power is a firm belief that nothing is sacred. This belief — that even a pandemic has a funny side — is the fatal flaw to our collective Death Star of respectability. The difference between us and the fool is that he has nothing to defend whereas the rest of us think we have everything to defend (our dignity, our opinions, our lives). The fool may be hired to perform slapstick entertainment, but he often uses his own foolishness as a tactic to lower our defenses in order to deliver a crushing blow of truth.

The fool understands that the walls of the human heart must be flanked in order to penetrate this highly trained system of self-defense. As Chesterton once said, “His soul will never starve for excitements who is wise enough to be made a fool of. To be ‘taken in’ everywhere is to see the inside of everything.” Once taken in, the fool exposes vanity and pokes fun at self-seriousness until people can’t help but have a chuckle at themselves. Needless to say, COVID-19 has succeeded in helping take down our defenses, and we are all in need of a laugh (a cry, too, but also a laugh).

And yet, as the quote at the top suggests, this kind of humor doesn’t have to be nihilistic, but the very gateway to hope. Once we acknowledge that we are fools, we can begin to look beyond our own respectability for the answer to life’s problems. We can give up performing as the heroes we’d like to be and admit that we are, in fact, far from heroes.

Only then do we begin to see that the real heroes are the last ones we would suspect because many of them are fools. The 19th-century English novelist Samuel Butler once said, “The great pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself too.” What a beautiful picture. Here you are, deserving judgment, and not only does the dog not judge you, but he becomes subject to the judgement you deserved. And he does it all for your sake! Just because he loves you and really appreciates your company. I don’t need to press the metaphor any further to help you realize that “the dog” in this case is none other than Jesus Christ. We have all made fools of ourselves, yet Jesus did not come to scold us. He did not come to tell us that this was our fault. Instead, he became the ultimate Fool.

From the very beginning, the Christian life has always looked foolish: the worship of a crucified man; forgiving someone when they keep wronging you time and time again; banking on God’s promise that all will be made well someday. Foolish though these truths may seem, they are all that I have to hold onto right now. The Apostle Paul admits the all-or-nothing nature of the Christian belief in Christ’s resurrection and our eternal hope, that, “if only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Cor. 15:19). That’s not meant to nullify our present situation, but it does mean that, even in our suffering, we have hope that God is real; that God is bigger than the coronavirus; and that He will one day wipe every tear and right every wrong. He is actually going to do that. I don’t always believe it’s true, of course, but I pity the fool who’s never been given that kind of hope.

Featured image: Stańczyk by Jan Matejko