"SIN IS BASICALLY AN ACT OF MORAL FOLLY"
By A. W. Tozer
The world has divided men into two classes, the stupid good people
and the clever wicked ones.
This false classification runs through much of the literature of the last centuries
from the classics to the comic strip; from Shakespeare's Polonius, who furnished his
son with a set of good but dull moral platitudes; to Capp's Li'l Abner, who would
never knowingly do a wrong act, but who would rather fall on his head than on his
feet, because there is more feeling in his feet than in his head.
In the Holy Scriptures things are quite the opposite. There righteousness is
always associated with wisdom and evil with folly. Whatever other factors may be
present in an act of wrongdoing, folly is one that is never absent. To do a wrong
act a man must for the moment think wrong; he must exercise bad judgment.
If this is true then the devil is creation's prime, fool, for when he gambled on his
ability to unseat the Almighty, he was guilty of an act of judgment so bad as to be
imbecilic. He is said to have had a great amount of wisdom, but his wisdom must have
deserted him at the time of his first sin, for surely he grossly underestimated the
power of God and as grossly over estimated his own. The devil is not now pictured in
the Scriptures as wise, only as shrewd. We are warned not against his wisdom but
against his wiles, something very different.
Sin, I repeat, in addition to anything else it may be, is always an act of wrong
judgment. To commit a sin a man must for the moment believe that things are different
from what they really are; he must confound values; he must see the moral universe out
of focus; he must accept a lie as truth and see truth as a lie; he must ignore the signs on
the highway and drive with his eyes shut; he must act as if he had no soul and was not
accountable for his moral choices.
Sin is never a thing to be proud of. No act is wise that ignores remote consequences,
and sin always does. Sin sees only today, or at most tomorrow; never the day after
tomorrow, next month or next year. Death and judgment are pushed aside as if they did
not exist and the sinner becomes for the time a practical atheist, who by his act denies
not only the existence of God but the concept of life after death.
History is replete with examples of men whose intellectual powers were great but
whose practical judgment was almost nil: Einstein, for instance, who was a mathematical
genius but who could not look after his own bank account and who absent mindedly ran
his little motorboat aground, with the excuse that he "must have been thinking about
something else." We can smile at this, but there is nothing humorous about that other
class of men who had brilliant minds but whose moral judgment was sadly awry. To this
class belong such men as Lucretius, Voltaire, Shelley, Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman and
thousands of others whose names are less widely known.
The notion that the careless sinner is the smart fellow and the serious minded Christian,
though well intentioned, is a stupid dolt altogether out of touch with life, will not stand up
under scrutiny. Sin is basically an act of moral folly, and the greater the folly the greater the
It is time the young people of this generation learned that there is nothing smart about
wrongdoing and nothing stupid about righteousness. We must stop negotiating with evil.
We Christians must stop apologizing for our moral position and start making our voices
heard, exposing sin for the enemy of the human race which it surely is, and setting forth
righteousness and true holiness as the only worthy in pursuits for moral beings.
The idea that sin is modern is false. There has not been a new sin invented since the
beginning of recorded history. That new vice that breaks out to horrify decent citizens and
worry the police is not really new. Flip open that book written centuries ago and you will find
it described there. The reckless sinner trying to think of some new way to express his love
of iniquity can do no more than imitate others like himself, now long dead. He is not the
bright rebel he fancies himself to be but a weak and stupid fellow who must follow along in
the long parade of death toward the point of no return.
If the hoary head is a crown of glory when it is found in the way of righteousness, it is a
fool's cap when it is found in the way of sin. An old sinner is an awesome and frightening
spectacle. One feels about him much as one feels about the condemned man on his way to
the gallows. A sense of numb terror and shock fills the heart. The knowledge that the
condemned man was once a red-cheeked boy only heightens the feeling, and the knowledge
that the aged rebel now beyond reclamation once went up to the house of God on a Sunday
morning to the sweet sound of church bells makes even the trusting Christian humble and a
little bit scared. There but for the grace of God goes he.
I am among those who believe that our Western civilization is on its way to perishing.
It has many commendable qualities, most of which it has borrowed from the Christian ethic,
but it lacks the element of moral wisdom that would give it permanence. Future historians
will record that, we of the twentieth century had intelligence enough to create a great
civilization, but not the moral wisdom to preserve it.
Yours in Christ,
Paul N. F.