"Fools mock at sin, but among the upright there is good will."
At first blush this proverb doesn't seem to say much but digging beneath the surface one finds a deep and profound truth about life.
fools mock at sin
The word for fools is the standard person who is selfish, rebellious, impulsive, and proud. It is their pride that causes them to mock. It is the cynical, critical, the “I am above everybody else and can act as judge” that causes the person who mocks to get into so much trouble. Nobody wants to be around this type of know-it-all.
The word that is translated sin is the word asham, and it can be translated as trespass or sin; but it can also be translated as guilt. It makes much more sense to understand the meaning as guilt. The foolish person does not believe in guilt. They mock and heap scorn when someone says that they will feel guilty if they commit adultery or steal or lie. They do not want to admit that there is this invisible thing called guilt that will not let them forget what they have done. They push into sin with reckless abandon believing that if they do not get caught, there is no price to pay. But the load of true moral guilt continues to build up and weigh down their life.
Guilt is like the extra bites of food that we eat. It just slowly builds up until we are severely overweight and cannot do the things we used to do. Guilt is real and attaches to the life of the person who does not respect God's moral boundaries. The fool is unwilling to admit the reality of guilt until they are covered with guilt. It is the idea that one evolutionist stated as his reason for embracing evolution: "The idea of a God and judgment did not fit with our sexual desires."
Now it is true that people attach guilt to trivial things in different cultures. It is this trivializing of real sin that misleads the fool into believing that all guilt is just cultural trivialities. But there are supra-cultural boundaries which God has put in place. These are best understood as the Ten Commandments, and a man or woman is truly guilty before a holy God when these are violated.
If we are to become wise, then we must not mock at true moral guilt. All mankind stands guilty before a holy, righteous, and powerful God. It is our true guilt that will condemn us on judgment day. But God in His infinite mercy has provided a way to escape our just death sentence. He has provided a perfect substitute for us who will take the wrath of God upon Himself. This perfect substitute is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became a man that He might live a perfect life and voluntarily give up that life to as many as would receive Him as their Lord and Savior. We make a trade of Christ's perfection for our sin, and through this we escape the righteous judgment of God regarding our sinfulness.
but among the upright there is good will
The most interesting words in this phrase are good will. They are the words for delight, favor, pleasure. When contrasted with the opposite word in the first section of this proverb, the meaning becomes clear. There is a light and wonderful blessing and favor and delightfulness to the inner being of the person who is righteous and has not been living in sin. They don't have all the guilt to work through. They don't have all the regrets of the sinner. They don't have all the really bad choices haunting them. They don't have the bitterness and pain that what they did caused. They enjoy the fruits of good relationships. They enjoy the opportunity to do good. Living an upright life does not have the flash of sin and open selfishness, but it does have a delightful lightness of guilt and regret.
Solomon is here telling young people that guilt is real even though it doesn't look like much. Live an upright life. There are blessings and pleasures in that life that the fool can never know or understand.