“Fools mock at the guilt offering, but the upright enjoy acceptance.” (Prov. 14:9)
How do you handle being wrong? What do you do when you realize you are guilty of something? More often than not, we respond with anger or bitterness. We might become defensive and start pointing out the things other people do wrong so that our error does not seem so bad. Or we might try to justify ourselves by explaining why our “wrong” was not really wrong. If we can convince ourselves that we did not do anything wrong, we assume that we can escape the guilt. Or we may feign sorrow and remorse so that others will feel bad for us or leave us alone…even if we have no intention of changing.
All of these are common responses of guilty people. While they might be understandable, that does not make them right. And at root, they all share one thing in common: the refusal to rightly acknowledge wrongdoing and seek forgiveness and reconciliation.
Proverbs 14:9 speaks directly to the issue. In the typical proverbial form, it contrasts the actions of the fool with the actions of the upright person. And the issue in this verse is the very issue of guilt. As with almost everything, the fool responds differently to guilt than the righteous person. So what is the difference?
According to Solomon, the fool “mocks at the guilt offering”. The guilt offering was one of the offerings instituted by God in the life of Israel. When a person sinned and realized their guilt, they were called to “make restitution” for what they had done. That is, they were called to “make it right” – whatever that might involve. Then, they were to take a ram to the sanctuary so the priest could make a sacrifice and secure atonement and forgiveness (Lev. 5:14-6:7). Notice the details: when a person realized their guilt, they were called to make it right with the person they sinned against, and they were called to make it right with God. They needed to fix the horizontal relationship and the vertical relationship. But notice Solomon’s words in Proverbs 14:9: the fool “mocks” at the guilt offering. Instead of recognizing the reality of sin, seeking to make it right, and seeking the forgiveness of God, the fool refuses even the need for those things. He laughs at his wrong.
This is a sobering reality. We might try to assuage ourselves by arguing that we don’t “mock” or “laugh” when we do something wrong. But we should consider: do we acknowledge our sin and respond rightly by mourning over it? Do we seek to make right what we have made wrong? Do we seek true reconciliation – the restoration of relationship – both with the person we wronged and with God? If not, we are acting like the fool.
Instead, we should notice the rest of the proverb: “the upright enjoys acceptance”. The unspoken assumption is that this person – in contrast to the fool – does not mock the guilt offering. Presumably, they do what God said: they acknowledge guilt, seek to make it right, and seek the forgiveness of God. And the result? They enjoy acceptance – presumably, both from others and from God. Instead of sowing seeds of resentment and bitterness, the upright person deals with the issue and knows the joy of reconciliation. Instead of a broken relationship which comes from refusing to acknowledge sin, the righteous person enjoys a relationship that is in harmony and peace.
Brother or sister, we need to heed the words of Solomon. How do you respond when you are guilty? Do you try to defend yourself or justify your action? Do you bottle up and refuse to admit wrongdoing? Or do you confess your sins? Do you seek to make it right? Do you seek reconciliation? Don’t act like a fool who refuses to deal with sin. Confess your sins…because you know that God is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse you. Confess your sins to others, so that there can be true forgiveness and reconciliation. Walk in the light rather than covering your sin. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all unrighteousness, so we don’t have to hide our sin. We can bring it into the light and bask in the merciful, gracious gift of God’s forgiveness. And the result will be that we get to enjoy acceptance…instead of fearing rejection.