A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

The Evil, the Foolish, the Wise – some helpful teaching by Henry Cloud

The book of Proverbs – God’s book of psychology – abounds with references to three kinds of people: the evil, the foolish and the wise. Henry Cloud has some good teaching on this topic which he presented to organizational managers. I’ve slightly edited his material in the version below, to make it more applicable to marriage. I trust I have been faithful to Cloud’s principles, but as always, I’m open to correction or tweaking.

You can  read Cloud’s original teaching here or watch it on Vimeo.
Thank you to our reader Song for putting me on to these links. 🙂

* * * * *

Some people are WISE, some are FOOLS, and some are are EVIL. … The reality is also, all of us have all of these parts (and some make a career out of them).


When light comes to them, that person adjusts themselves to match the light. When truth comes, they change something. “Correct a wise person, and he will be wiser still.”

Another quality is that they smile, and thank you when you give them feedback! When asked, “Would you like some feedback?” the WISE will say, “Yeah, give me a gift.”

So, what do you do with the WISE? Talk to them, feedback, resource them, etc! …


A fool is basically someone who is gifted, talented, producing… but…

When the light shows up, they adjust the light. They try to dim the light, and adjust the truth. The FOOL will try to change the truth (minimize it, excuse it) or shoot the messenger. They deny it’s reality, they minimize, externalize it, shoot the messenger, and you don’t get a smiley face, and a lot of the times they get angry, and have the meeting after the meeting, triangulation, and now you’re the problem, and they split the company/organization. And every time you talk to a person like this, they do not own it.

Here’s what the Bible says, and here’s what all research supports: Do not confront or correct a fool, lest you incur insults upon yourself. Stop talking!

Let’s talk, rather, about how talking doesn’t help. You can say to the foolish person: “I want to know how I can talk to you so that what I talk to you makes a difference.” It may be that they are foolish for shamed reasons. If they reveal this, you can ask yourself: “What will I do if I talk to them about the need for them to change, and then it doesn’t happen (they don’t change). I want to plan for the conversation after this conversation if there are non-effective consequences. Fools do not change when truth comes to them, they change when they must camp out in truth, and the pain of change is less than the pain of not.

There is great hope for fools. Fools you can change. But this takes guts. Sometimes these are the hardest calls to make.

Limit your exposure, make it clear about the consequences, give them a choice, then follow through. “You know what we need … is someone who will listen to truth and reality. I hope you’re that person.”


They have destruction in their hearts and they want to inflict pain. It’s hard for optimistic people to believe this, but there really are bad people in this world. You can’t talk to them, you can’t fix them.

Here, you have lawyers, guns, and $. Sometimes you have to call the police.

[ Note from Barb: living in Australia where we don’t have a gun culture, I don’t endorse the idea of guns unless they are used by law enforcement officers. But I know the US has a different culture.]


  1. Paula Silva

    The concept of people being either wise, a fool, or evil comes from Henry Cloud’s book, Necessary Endings. I highly recommend this book. If anyone wants to do a study on the word fool which in my opinion lines up with the characteristics of a fool, I would suggest reading Foolproofing Your Life by Jan Silvious. We use these truths in our FOCUS Ministries support groups for women.

    • Thanks Paula. It’s nice to know the book where Cloud wrote about that.

      I have not read “Foolproofing Your Life” yet, but some of the rest of our team at this blog have, and have said that it does not allow divorce for domestic abuse. Can you confirm that? If so, how do you address that when using it at FOCUS Ministries?

  2. Brian

    How about “you can’t fix them”. You are wasting your precious time and other resources if you try, not to mention the danger you will put yourself and others in. I’m not sure that we are even supposed to pray for these evil ones.
    I hope that was a typo.

  3. MeganC

    This is excellent. Thank you for sharing this, Barb. It truly helps to clarify my thinking. I allowed “the fool” and “the evil” too much overlapping. The lines were blurred. This helps me! (PS I still struggle to imagine that there are purely evil people in this world. I have to remind myself of it often !)

  4. Bethany

    The evil fool!! I’m with Megan about the lines being blurred. This does help but I have come to the conclusion that my abuser is both evil and a fool. I wonder if there could be an evil wise man? If so I fear that would be very dangerous! I thing God reserves wisdom for himself and his people though? What do you think?

    • Not answering your question here, Bethany, as I want to mull over it first. But your comment got me speculating.
      Maybe some abusers are mostly fools but a bit evil – they would be the ones who are on the less extreme end of the abusive spectrum. And others are mostly evil and a little bit fools – they might be on the middle of the abuse spectrum. And others are fully and solely evil, no fool characteristics at all – they would be the monsters at the most extreme end of the spectrum. I can think of a few of us on this blog whose abusers (so far as I can tell) are at the extreme end of the spectrum.

      But this speculation of mine may be as silly as the medieval scholars trying to figure out how many angels you could fit on the head of a pin.

      However, my speculation fits with what they are finding in men’s behavior change programs: the programs appear to be making some impact with men who are at the less severe end of the spectrum (at least, they’re making a short-term impact, not enough research has been done to know whether the improvement is lasting). But they are not having any impact on the men who are at the more extreme end of the spectrum. The die-hard abusers.

      And I’ve heard of one expert (wish I could remember who, but Jeff C quotes her in his Sermon Series on Domestic abuse) who said that in all the perpetrators she’s dealt with (both male and female abusers) she has never once seen a female abuser reform, but she has seen small numbers of male abusers change for the better.

      • Bethany

        That’s interesting for sure, Barbara. I think my abuser falls around the middle somewhere but I know for a fact that he is more evil then a fool because he is VERY manipulative and cunning! He had very elaborate mind games that would last weeks even months and he got a sick pleasure watching the children and me fall for them. He would brag about his “skills” and show me by using them on others… I get physically sick thinking about some of the games he would play.

      • Mama Martin

        I think the author you mention is Patricia Evans,

      • Thanks Mama Martin.

  5. AJ

    The mantra I hear right now is how I am the fool because I no longer listen to him and am not willing to “get help” in counseling with him. I’m evil because of what I’m doing to our family. He is wise because he is seeking the counsel of wise people and he is willing to look at the things he needs to work on.

    • Jeff S

      Yes, this is a really good point because all of this depends on what our definition of “the light” is. That was pretty much my core struggle. I so wanted to see “the light” that my church was presenting, but ultimately that “light” was a darkness.

      I would suggest that until the church at large becomes better educated as to the nature and effects of domestic abuse, church leadership may not claim to have “the light”.

      • Leslie

        I love these distinctions. ! Thanks for the reminder. My concern , insecurity and or confusion comes when I believe I know the truth ( that my husbands actions are abusive). But of course he believes he knows the truth. How do you discern and stand in that against constant comments questioning and challenging my concept of truth ?

      • Mama Martin

        Oh, Leslie! I also struggled in discerning because his words were so right (and I knew my own heart). In the end, I had to look at actions. Which parent – mom or dad – was supporting the children in understanding the situation and which was adding confusion (again, not in words but in actions)? Which parent was consistently there for the children and which was there only when convenient? Did my husband’s actions towards me really show the love he kept declaring or were they trying to manipulate me into doing what he wanted? Is that something a loving person would do? Taking away the words and observing the actions helped me greatly.

      • Just Me

        Hi Leslie, “How do you discern and stand in that against constant comments questioning and challenging my concept of truth?” Who’s questioning your concept of truth? Is it your husband or someone else?

        “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” I Cor 14:33. I regularly have to tell myself that. I agree that it’s difficult to discern truth from lies when someone is telling you that what you believe to be truth is not truth. It makes you feel crazy, doesn’t it? And abusers are experts at doing that. I had to get myself to a point (and I still backslide) where I no longer try to convince him that what he’s doing is sinful or abusive or hurtful. Hurtful things hurt, no matter what the abuser says the truth is. But when I finally and truly believed (on a heart level) that I did not need to convince him of his wrongdoing, I found much more peace than I had ever found before. Peace is from God. Confusion is not.

        You don’t need to convince him that he’s abusive. If you feel that you should speak up to him, you can say “I feel hurt.” It’s much more difficult for him to argue with that, although he probably will argue with that. My husband just tells me that I’m too sensitive, don’t know how to take a joke, or that our marriage is stale. But if I feel hurt, I acknowledge that I’m hurt. That’s truth. I don’t need him to agree with that.

        We won’t have a good marriage unless he makes huge changes and gives me the necessary time, space and lack of pressure that I need to heal. But the onus is on him.

        There’s a book by Lesle Vernick called “The Emotionally Destructive Relationship” that is excellent in showing you exactly how to stand up to an abuser and what to do after you stand up. I highly recommend it.

      • Still scared

        Mama Martin, yes, actions…that is where I have to look and over and over his actions don’t match his words. Also, I make him email everything so I can backtrack when he changes history. He changes it in his own mind so he believes it and SOUNDS believable, even if you have a written document stating otherwise.

  6. AJ, I agree with the others who say look at the person’s ACTIONS more than their words. It’s hard to do, when abusers put so much static on the line with their words and their nice-guy act in front of others. But it can be done; keep practising. Another good reminder is to keep listening to your gut and giving respect to your own gut feelings.

    Also, read and re-read Lundy Bancroft. He makes it all fall into place.

    Abusers attempt to define reality for their victims. If his victim says “That hurt” or “Stop it!” or “Stop abusing me!” an abuser will not be willing to let the victim’s feelings and beliefs and wishes stand, he will try to eradicate, override, criticise or mock the victim’s understanding of reality and the victim’s preferences and boundaries. This is disrespect to the uttermost and it is often relentless, albeit disguised in lots of bamboozling confusion and red herrings that are designed to make you attend to his “pain”.

    Does he respect your “No”?
    Does he consistently respect your “No”, or does he only respect it when it suits him, for example, when he’s trying to act the nice guy to recruit allies for himself?

  7. Song

    What I took away from the chapter on “The Wise, the Foolish, and the Evil” was that there are other types of people in the world that are motivated differently and out of that motivation behave differently than I do. I naively assumed that since people attended a church, or professed a relationship with God, or was a pastor of a church that their desire and motivation was to be interacting with God, receiving life from Him, and then becoming a person who brings life to others. The chapter summarized the scriptures I’d read and the experiences I’ve had with people and brought the two pieces together for me to see how they fit together. I now understand that there are people who are wise, people who are more wise than they are foolish, people who are foolish but can become wise, foolish people who will stay foolish, foolish people who are becoming evil, people who are evil, and probably varying degrees of each in between. The caution for me is that both the foolish person and the evil person can be destructive to me as a person emotionally, spiritually, and/or physically– the foolish person unintentionally, the evil person from their desire to cause destruction. The more foolish a person is, the more we need to set boundaries and consequences for their behavior. The more evil a person is, the more protection I need from them.
    The chapter was helpful for me to understand that there are inherently evil people who would like nothing more than to see other people experience some kind of a death emotionally, spiritually, and/or physically, either through a slow methodical method or through a quick method.
    Thank you, Barbara, for posting this. I hope it helps others understand we are dealing with different kinds of people and to be on the watch for them inside and outside of the church, and inside and outside of our families. Also, the phrase “lawyers, guns, and $” I think is part of a song lyric, and in the book Cloud uses it to symbolize the need for strong help. The “guns” he uses as a symbol for the police. 🙂

    • Leslie

      Thanks for your thoughts. I agree, I have to focus on his actions. ( yes it is my husband and a few others perhaps, but mostly my
      Husband that is challenging the truth of abuse). It’s just a hard, exhausting shift, always being on guard mentally to his words. ( I naively ” trusted his words for 22 years). His actions indeed make me crazy and don’t match his words, his undying claims of love . I love the idea of the peace of not feeling like I need to convince him. And agree 100% that confusion is NOT of God. I’m not the one pushing that conversation though and I get dragged in without seeing it. ( he’ll take it there out of any topic it seems). So frustrating. I m so tired of the debate but don’t know how to get away from it with him.

      • Patricia Evans’ book taught me these simple words to use to avoid the debate/explanation trap: “Stop it!”
        A less fiery way of saying it is “I’m not having this discussion.”
        and then walk away, if it’s safe to do so.

        It was Evans who taught me the phrase ‘the explaining trap’. What a light-bulb moment! Isn’t it amazing how once we a word for something, we can understand it so much better? Words can crystallize an intuitive gut feeling and make it operational. 🙂

  8. cpsoulsoul

    Dear Barbara, “correct a wise person and he will be wiser still”, is this your quote, or Henry Cloud’s. I love it!

    • It’s Cloud’s. The big blue talking mark in the post signifies the beginning of Cloud’s words, and they are all indented. Hope that makes it clear.

  9. cpsoulsoul

    and I pray that my children will be wise, and when I pray for them I ask God to give them teachable spirits! If they have teachable spirits, they will never be a fool!

  10. Finding Answers

    Perhaps discerning the people on the WISE – FOOL – EVIL spectrum is simpler in some venues. The overall characteristics may be similar, but the relational context needs to be considered.

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