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I’m happy to introduce this guest post as the first in a series by none other than my husband, Nathaniel Scott. He’s been studying and teaching through the Psalms and the life of David in our church for the past five years. In this introductory post, he invites us to take another look at the oft-quoted early verses of Psalm 14.
Whose Day is It?
There is a running joke on the Christian interwebs that April 1st is “International Atheist’s Day”–a pointed jab based on the opening line of Psalm 14: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” While I don’t question the validity of this application, I would suggest that we Christians often fail to recognize when the joke is on us.
Atheism has two dominions. That of philosophical atheism is the mind. It is here that the famous atheists dwell, building arguments and spewing hatred against a Being whose very existence they deny, but who has managed nonetheless to get them rather perturbed. The occupants of this realm make up a relatively small percentage of the human population.
The second dominion of atheism is the heart and the actions. This we call practical atheism. This dominion is occupied not only by the famous atheists, but by the men, women, and children throughout history who disregard God and His will and pursue their own ways. This describes all of humanity.
So today, amidst the cream pies that are being thrown at Richard Dawkins, Voltaire, and Christopher Hitchens, we as Christians need to consider Psalm 14 as a call to check our own God delusions.
Here’s the full text to get us started:
The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’
They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds;
There is no one who does good.
The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men
To see if there are any who understand,
Who seek after God.
They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt;
There is no one who does good, not even one.
Do all the workers of wickedness not know,
Who eat up my people as they eat bread,
And do not call upon the Lord?
There they are in great dread,
For God is with the righteous generation.
You would put to shame the counsel of the afflicted,
But the LORD is his refuge.
Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion!
When the LORD restores His captive people,
Jacob will rejoice, Israel will be glad.
The NET Bible, in one of its characteristically succinct and profound Translators’ Notes, says of the Psalm’s opening line:
‘There is no God.’ The statement is probably not a philosophical assertion that God does not exist, but rather a confident affirmation that God is unconcerned about how men live morally and ethically.
This practical atheism — living as if there is no God who will hold them accountable for their actions — makes them fools, for one of the earmarks of folly is to fail to anticipate the long range consequences of one’s behavior.
How many of us, as Christians, live as if there is no God who will hold us accountable for our actions? How many of us fail to anticipate the long range consequences of our behavior? We ourselves are under a delusion. As we contend for the existence of God in the public square of cyberspace, let’s check our hearts and our lives to make sure we are living in the light of that existence.
Us Versus Them?
Using this Psalm as an insult against philosophical atheism is not new. The meme goes back for generations. In Charles Spurgeon’s Treasury of David you can find a collection of many writers over many eras barbecuing the atheist with a myriad of insulting terms. These writers differentiate strongly between themselves and the atheist, much like the Christian internet warriors of today.
But there are a few writers in Spurgeon’s compendium who see the fool as representing the practical atheism of which we are all guilty. These writers are much more gentle, and while clearly condemning the error of the fool’s ways, they do so with more humility. They cautiously look to themselves lest they too be caught in foolishness.
As we dig deeper into Psalm 14, let’s follow their example.
Let’s not draw too sharp of a distinction between “us” and “them”. To do so would be an attempt to write ourselves out of the line “They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one.”
And if you go on to Part Two, you’ll see why doing so would be quite problematic.