But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? (Luke 12:20)
That seems like a rather harsh assessment considering that Jesus Himself said, “but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matthew 5:22). What would cause God to look upon an individual and make such an assessment? What qualifies as a fool in the eyes of God?
To begin with, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Psalm 14:1, 53:1). Actually the words “there is” have been inserted in the English for readability, but they are not found in the original Hebrew. Therefore, the strict literal translation would be: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘No God.’” This implies more than just denial. It is outright rejection. The Bible teaches that there are no true atheists, i.e., someone who truly believes there is no higher power, i.e. God; “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them” (Romans 1:19). Every person knows that God, or some “higher power” exists. So when the fool says, “No God,” he is not simply in denial, or ignorant; he is in rebellion. And when one considers against Whom he is rebelling, he really is a fool!
Fools display distinct characteristics. A fool prates; that is, he utters empty or foolish talk and talks excessively and pointlessly (Proverbs 10:8, 10). A fool utters slander (Proverbs 10:18). “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes” (Proverbs 12:15). “A fool’s wrath is presently known” (Proverbs 12:16). A fool readily displays his silliness (Proverbs 13:16). “A fool despiseth his father’s instruction” (Proverbs 15:5). A fool is hard-headed (Proverbs 17:10); he doesn’t learn (Proverbs 26:11). A fool is contentious and his mouth often gets him into trouble (Proverbs 18:6-7); he continually gets into arguments (Proverbs 20:3), and he is always happy and eager to speak his mind (Proverbs 29:11). A fool does not seek nor listen to advice (Proverbs 23:9). One can also recognize a fool by his self-centeredness or self-focus as seen in one of Jesus’ parables.
Our beginning verse concludes the parable Jesus told starting at verse 16. He recounted a story of a rich land owner who experienced a bumper crop one year, and rather than give thanks to God for the blessing, he took the credit for his success upon himself and planned on what to do with his profits. In the course of this short parable, the protagonist employs personal pronouns (I, me, my, mine) thirteen times in only three verses (vv. 17-19). Like any fool, he boasted of his own success. His plans for the future were “right in his own eyes,” and he had no qualms about taking all the credit for his gains.
God called him a fool. In all of his efforts he discounted God – the One who gave him the very basis for obtaining his wealth – his very life. Now, at the height of his self-perceived success, God comes to claim what belongs to Him – the fool’s life. And what about all of his stuff? “Then whose shall those things be?” What a fool! Jesus said, “So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21). Jesus admonishes, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). The fool is self-focused rather than God-focused. The fool lives his life in either overt or covert rebellion against God. He behaves as though God does not exist, and presumptuously assumes credit for all of his achievements. How terrible it would be to hear God say, “Thou fool! Today your soul is required of you.” In the words of the Doxology: “Praise God from Whom all blessings flow,” and you may not hear those awful words, “thou fool !”