How Bad is it Really?
So the scriptures are clear. There is no one who does good, not even one. We are all corrupted, which according to Adam Clarke, cited in Spurgeon’s Treasury of David, is a picturesque and vivid “metaphor taken from milk that has fermented and turned sour, rancid and worthless.” Does this match our experience? Am I really as nasty as rancid milk? That is a pretty hard statement to swallow…
And here’s the other quandary… on the one hand this Psalm is telling me that we are ALL corrupt, practical atheists who do abominable deeds instead of what is good, but it’s pretty hard for me to get that concerned about it if everyone else is doing it too. But on the other hand, I can look around at everyone else, and I actually feel pretty good about myself. I’m not nearly as corrupt as some of them are… especially those nasty atheist fools!
The problem here is my standard of measure. I am comparing myself to other people. The result is that I either think, “Hey, I’m not that bad!” or “Hey, we’re not that bad!” But when the Lord Himself looks down from heaven in Psalm 14:2, He’s not grading us on a sliding scale. He is comparing us to His standard of perfection, and not only moral perfection, but perfect devotedness to Himself. And His conclusion? “There is no one who seeks after God.” That is the root of everything else wrong in the world.
If we really sought after God, if we valued what He values and hated what He hates, if we weren’t so inclined to neglect Him to pursue our own agendas, then moral perfection would be possible. But there is not one of us that can dodge that label of “practical atheist” and therefore not one of us that can attain that moral perfection. And it is repulsive, like rancid milk, to our Holy God. We must face up to the fact that the root of all our sin, even as Christians, is practical atheism.
Jerry Bridges, in his excellent book Respectable Sins, confronts the many abominable deeds which Christians are inclined to tolerate in themselves, because “they aren’t the heinous sins of unbelievers”. The book tears down the Us Versus Them mentality, and reminds us again and again that we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. One of the first sins that Bridges addresses is Ungodliness. He contends that Ungodliness, rather than Pride, is the root of all sin. He explains:
Contrary to what we normally think, ungodliness and wickedness are not the same … Ungodliness may be defined as living one’s everyday life with little or no thought of God, or of God’s will, or of God’s glory, or of one’s dependence on God.
Oh that cuts deep! How rarely are my thoughts on God, His will, His glory, or my need for Him! How rarely do I consider my actions in the light of His character, His word, His purpose in the world. I am such a fool! Back to the NET Bible’s note:
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.
If we deny the applicability of Psalm 14 to our own lives, or refuse to admit our own practical atheism, we can turn aside into some dangerous places! I have been studying the Psalms in tandem with the life of David. In one of David’s crowning moments of godliness described in 1 Samuel 24 he spares the life of King Saul, the man who is unjustly pursuing him to death. Saul abandons his hunt for David, and David has some room to breathe. But in the very next chapter, David interacts with an evil man named Nabal whose name is the very same word for “fool” that is used in Psalm 14. When David allows himself to scorn Nabal from the moral high-ground of having just spared King Saul’s life, he foolishly decides to slay Nabal and all his servants! Thankfully a wise woman interposes herself into the pending deadly confrontation and in 1 Samuel 25:23-31 Abigail reminds David of God’s promises to him, of God’s will for him, and of the danger that shedding blood without cause brings both to his relationship with God and to his coming kingdom. She delicately confronts David with his own foolishness, his own failure to anticipate the consequences of his behavior, and his own practical atheism. David, the man after God’s own heart, was about to commit mass murder because of a verbal insult.
Brothers and sisters, fellow Christians: if you really believe that God will hold you accountable for your actions, that there are long range consequences for your behavior, how differently should you live? I have already quoted in passing Romans 3:23 twice in this article. We must face up to this reality daily, before we can daily move past it to our calling in Christ. All have sinned, and beyond that, all fall short of God’s glory! He deserves our full attention, our full submission, our deepest love, and our highest worship.
And we all fall so short.
And then, instead of seeking His mercy and grace (which ought to be the most natural response for those who have already tasted it), we look for someone who is even worse than us, and we mock the philosophical atheists so that we can avoid feeling so bad over our own practical atheism. This blame shifting hearkens back to Adam’s response to God’s first confrontation of his sin, reflecting the very opposite of the trust and repentance that should characterize our walk with Christ just as much as it did the initial moment of our salvation.
Check out Part Four for the conclusion of this series.