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How to not live a stupid life

There are some people who seem to attract trouble like nails attract hammers. They simply get pounded by trouble over and over again.

6bb43470-ca93-4919-8565-6b8037418c1c.jpgI love the old John Cleese TV show Fawlty Towers, but my wife hates it. Its 12 episodes (broadcast in two 6-episode seasons in 1975 and 1979) feature Cleese as Basil Fawlty, the incompetent and arrogant owner of a mediocre hotel in England. What my wife hates about the show is the tension created by Cleese as he digs himself into deeper and deeper holes by his pride and stupidity. That, of course, is exactly why I love it.

There’s something about watching other people live badly which makes me feel not so bad about my life. In fact, I believe this is the main reason why celebrities exist. Sure, we love the talent and beauty and power of our celebrities, but even more than that, we love watching them crash and burn. Even those of us who never buy supermarket tabloids get a kick out of reading the headlines as their high profile lives spin out of control because of just plain bad living.

The biblical term for the stupid life is foolishness. The fool lives stupidly. But the Scriptures point to just one source for the stupid life: Godlessness.

Psalm 14 is one of our brief explorations into the stupid life which points us to the good and wise life. It starts out with this:

The fool says in his heart,
    “There is no God.” (Ps. 14:1)

The definition of folly is living as if there is no God. This kind of life misses out on the most basic reality every single one of us deals with at every moment of our lives. Other people walk in and out of the room, but God is always here. If there’s an elephant in the room, it’s God. And the stupid life consists of living as if the elephant isn’t there.

It’s like the family that doesn’t talk about their mother’s cancer or about their son who ran into the street to get his ball and was run over by the next door neighbor. These kinds of realities dominate people’s lives and yet many try to live as if they don’t exist. It’s foolishness. And the even greater foolishness is living as if God doesn’t exist.

The Godless life is a life without consequences. Not real consequences. Regardless of what you believe about heaven or hell, if there’s a God, there are real consequences for rejecting him. Similarly, there are real rewards for following him.

Psalm 14 paints a grim picture of the stupidity of humanity and its result.

They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;
    there is no one who does good.

The Lord looks down from heaven
    on all mankind
to see if there are any who understand,
    any who seek God.
All have turned away, all have become corrupt;
    there is no one who does good,
    not even one.

Incredulous, our psalmist asks, “Do all these evildoers know nothing?”

We’re pathetic! None of us are good. None of us seeks God. Not really. Not completely. Every single one of us turns away from him and walks our own poor path. Every one of us is corrupted by our godlessness. None of us is truly committed to goodness and the life that flows from it.

Ignoring God and living as if he doesn’t exist begs the question of whether we’re just plain stupid.

The stupid life is aggressive, like Basil Fawlty, and prayerless: “they never call on the Lord.” There may be so-called spiritual practices for personal enrichment. But taking God seriously requires active attention given to him.

True spiritual practices aren’t about personal enrichment or self help, they’re about reorienting our lives toward God and his kingdom. They’re about living as if God truly exists.

The biblical term for living a life as if God exists is “fear of the Lord” (Hebrew: yirath yahweh). It’s not about being afraid of God at all. Rather, it’s about a mindfulness of God in any and all situtions which turns our lives into a response to God instead of a self-initiated self-life. Fear of the Lord isn’t mentioned in Psalm 14, but it’s generally paired with human folly as a contrast elsewhere in Psalms and Proverbs.

As Psalm 14 ends, it looks for salvation. This is not soul salvation, this is more along the lines of the salvation in the Exodus and throughout the Old Testament: God actively intervening for the sake of his people and especially the poor and vulnerable. But where will this salvation come from?

Most of us in our godless folly look for salvation to come from changes brought about by politics, education, medicine, and economic renewal. But shaped by Psalm 14, we look for these salvations to come from Zion, from the temple. We expect salvation to arise from worship, from taking God seriously, from prayer, from a life oriented toward God.

In a godless world, the pray-without-ceasing life that’s oriented toward God is the only way to maintain a glad heart. For living among the harried and the violent who live as if there is no God can easily bring us down. But the Lord who restores his people sustains our hearts when our eyes are on him and our lives move in his direction.

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