Right in Our Own Eyes

How Pride Keeps Us from Counsel

When it comes to making important decisions or working through difficult, complex, and painful issues, experience has taught me two lessons about myself. First, if I wisely seek counsel — meaning I really attempt to inform myself with the necessary information and perspectives — the outcome is always better than if I don’t. Second, I frequently don’t want to do this.

Now, in light of the first, why do I struggle with the second? It seems foolish, and it is. For Scripture says,

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
     but a wise man listens to advice. (Proverbs 12:15)

The truth is, thanks to my remaining sin nature, I have an inner foolish part of me that believes I don’t need advice, or that seeking it will expose me in ways I don’t want others to see. Which means pride, fear, and shame can play roles in why I’m tempted to avoid seeking counsel.

My experience has also taught me that this is more or less true of everyone. We all need help in recognizing when our inner fool is influencing us to take a destructive course of action. Given my limited space here, I’ll save the issues of fear and shame for the future and focus on how pride can distort how we listen to advice. Let’s consider how the kind of foolishness we’re all prone to led one man to disaster.

Learning from a Bad Example

In 2 Chronicles 10, King Solomon has just died, and his son, Rehoboam, is preparing to assume Israel’s throne. All the people of Israel had gathered for his coronation. But before pledging their allegiance to him, the people present him with this request: that Rehoboam relieve the burdensome load of forced labor they had endured under Solomon. If he would grant this, they pledged, “We will serve you” (2 Chronicles 10:4). Before Rehoboam gives his answer to the people, he seeks out counsel first. By all appearances, this seems wise.

This is a defining moment for the heir to the throne. Rehoboam is about to illustrate the truth of Proverbs 12:15, but not in a flattering way.

First, he gathers the older men who had advised his father, men whose knowledge is surely seasoned with years of hard-earned experience, and he asks their advice. They offer this recommendation: “If you will be good to this people and please them and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever” (2 Chronicles 10:7).

What we’re told next, however, should set off our “wisdom level low” warning lights: Rehoboam “abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him, and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him” (2 Chronicles 10:8). Abandoned? Already?

The younger advisors give Rehoboam different advice: what he really needs to do is flex his regal muscle and subdue the people with brutal force (2 Chronicles 10:11). This is precisely what he does, and it results in a royal disaster. When he announces to the people his intention to be harder on them than his father was, most of Israel’s tribes renounce all allegiance to Rehoboam and choose their own king, splitting the nation in two.

“The wise man listens to advice even (and especially) when he thinks he knows what’s best.”

Now, we should want to learn from Rehoboam’s disastrous example, since we have the same sinful pride dwelling inside us. We’ve all at times played the fool, believing we were right in our own eyes. I believe this story shows us three all-too-common ways our sinful pride can tempt us to foolishly turn away from listening to sound advice (Proverbs 12:15) and destroy the joyful deliverance and benefits God promises to those who walk in wisdom (Proverbs 28:26).

1. We underestimate our ignorance.

First, pride can tempt us to underestimate our ignorance. It’s amazing how much unfounded confidence we can place in the very little we know. We see this in Rehoboam. Regardless of how many decades the older men had in actual governing experience and their urgent sense of the people’s deteriorating trust in his father’s administration, the new king and his peers believed they knew better.

Their foolishness is clear when we read this story, but have we not also made poor decisions and errant plans, having ignored or neglected to even seek counsel, all because our uninformed perspective appeared right in our own eyes at the time? That’s what makes this manifestation of pride so dangerous: we often don’t perceive our error till it’s too late. Therefore, the wise man listens to advice even (and especially) when he thinks he knows what’s best.

2. We avoid appearing weak.

Second, pride can tempt us to avoid appearing weak. In the ancient Near East, the most respected, successful kings were typically strong and ruthless (and projected that image loud and clear). Rulers didn’t allow subjects to set the terms. What message would Rehoboam send domestically and internationally if he capitulated to his people’s demands?

Fear was likely at play too, since weak kings were targets for coups. And then there was that long shadow cast by his strong, famous father to escape. Therefore, Rehoboam’s decision was made not with faith in God’s power, nor with his people’s good in mind, but with his desired reputation primarily in view.

We, like Rehoboam, tend to be inordinately influenced by how our peers and cultures define strength and weakness. Our prideful reluctance to be viewed as weak can easily distort our decisions and plans. Therefore, the wise man seeks out and listens to advice that helps him to fear the Lord more than he fears appearing weak (Proverbs 1:7), and to love people more than he loves his reputation.

3. We predetermine the counsel we’ll accept.

Third, pride can tempt us to predetermine the counsel we’ll accept. We can see indicators in Rehoboam’s story that he already had determined what he wanted to do before seeking any counsel. It’s hard to imagine him carefully listening to both advisor groups, taking into consideration their relative experience, judiciously weighing each piece of advice in the context of his people’s condition, and reaching the conclusion he did.

His foolishness can’t even be chocked up to youthful naivete, since Rehoboam was 41 years old by that time (1 Kings 14:21). He already knew his young counselors’ perspective because they “stood before him” (2 Chronicles 10:8) — they were his team of advisors. And since we all know how power dynamics work, it’s likely these advisors were feeding Rehoboam what they already knew he wanted to hear. He wasn’t really looking for advice; he was looking for official validation of his predetermined plan.

“The path to joy is often through self-denial, while the path to misery is often through self-indulgence.”

This symptom of pride is subtly deceptive, both for us and for our counselors. We are prone not only to seek advisors who already agree with our perspective, but we can also frame an issue to more objective advisors in ways that invite the advice we desire. In other words, we can appear wise, while foolishly pursuing what’s right in our own eyes. Therefore, the wise man does not pack the jury or skew the evidence, but listens to advice offered by honest advisors from multiple perspectives who have heard all the relevant information.

Joyful Promise of Wisdom

Another proverb that puts a slightly different twist on the lessons from Rehoboam’s failures is this:

Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool,
     but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered. (Proverbs 28:26)

This proverb contains a precious promise for us if we’ll choose not to underestimate our ignorance, avoid appearing weak, or predetermine what counsel we’ll accept: deliverance from disastrous decisions. Rehoboam’s example illustrates the kind of devastating consequences that result from walking in foolish pride — pride we all recognize in ourselves and are tempted by.

The challenge of walking in wisdom, of seeking out wise counselors and listening carefully to their advice, is that on the front end it usually feels challenging and humbling. We’re told things we don’t want to hear. And yet, if we’ll walk this path of wisdom, it will, like “all the [faithful and loving] paths of the Lord” (Psalm 25:10), lead to joy and deliver us from self-inflicted disaster. Jesus says, “The way is hard that leads to life” (Matthew 7:14), and “Whoever would save his life will lose it” (Matthew 16:25). The path to joy is often through self-denial, while the path to misery is often through self-indulgence.

That’s why, when it comes to important decisions and plans, only a fool will trust his own mind, but the wise man will listen to good counsel.