Friday, March 20, 2009

Psalm 14 – For All Levels of “Atheists”

The Bible says so much about the God-believer and to the Jesus-believer, but what does it say about the person who doesn’t believe in God? Strangely the Bible does say a fair bit about the character of the person who refuses to believe in God. Here is but one small but salient psalm that cuts to the chase on the subject of Atheism--and cheekily that ‘atheist’ within each one of us, when, by our thoughts, words and deeds, we deny God.

Firstly, some background about the psalm. To the casual reader both Psalms 14 and 53 are identical and are not unlike Psalm 1 in form and purpose;[1] though there are subtle, in most ways insignificant differences between the two, again, for the devotional reader. For the purposes of simplicity I’ll focus on Psalm 14.

This psalm concerns possibly two types of people; one is the person who has totally renounced God i.e. the practical atheist,[2] and not simply only the intellectual atheist, who says all sorts of things (including “OMG”) but still lives a basically good life, believing tacitly in God, or at least in his purposes of justice and righteousness. This psalm speaks to the fool who really lives as if there’s no God i.e. they don’t live an accountable life. There are even many so-called Christians who live like this.

Then, the second person is the redeemed and sanctified, genuine believer, who, by God’s grace alone, being saved, and recognising the fact of grace, interacts with God in thanks every single day. Still, they sin and do the wrong thing from time to time, but they’re saved and live that way, as a saved person.

Psalm 14 begins:

Fools say in their hearts,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;
there is no one who does good.

The LORD looks down from heaven
on the human race
to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God.

All have turned away, all have become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.
–Psalm 14:1-3 (TNIV)

The first three verses above tell a pretty woeful tale, and to some extent this is what God sees literally; even his Church is at times corrupt. Only recently there was a pastor from a fundamentalist charismatic denomination who’d apparently swindled some of his congregation; some for all they had! It happens; it shouldn’t, but it does. This underscores the true gospel message of repentance, and that only by God’s grace can we be cleansed. The good church immerses itself in a spirit of continual repentance and turning back to God; this is done that they might not sin against anyone.

But the literal target of the psalmist is the person who doesn’t even try to please God. They are the truly vile. Paul quotes the expanded version of verse 3 from the Greek Septuagint. This description of what the vile do is very insightful:

“Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.”
“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”
“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
ruin and misery mark their ways,
and the way of peace they do not know.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes”
–Romans 3:13-18 (NIV).[3]

I think you’d agree this is a pretty harrowing list, but one that describes a vast amount of characters in our society. So, this is the practical atheist. And, yet, to a certain extent, this list describes everyone--(“there is no one who does good, not even one”)--and this is why Paul concluded that, “All have sinned, but those who believe in Jesus Christ are justified by grace.”[4]
Psalm 14 continues from verse 5:

But there they are, overwhelmed with dread,
for God is present in the company of the righteous.

You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor,
but the LORD is their refuge.
–Psalm 14:5-6 (TNIV)

There is reassurance in these above two verses, for the persons abiding in God. This invites Jesus’ words from John:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples”
–John 15:5-8 (TNIV).

When we choose not to abide in Jesus, in God, by default we choose against God’s purposes, and separate ourselves from his Presence. This choice intuits a decision made.

A Comment on “the Fool” viz, Nabal (Hebrew)

The “fool” in verse 1 is not simply a dumb or inept person. They have made an important life decision, and have acted, on the basis of a wrong assumption. They make “a mistake about reality.”[5]

A world of practical atheists is “eating up” the true “people of the LORD,” as the Old Testament prophets and Jesus attested; this includes both religious and secular people.[6]

W. Graham Scroggie (1877-1958) stated that, “There can be no good where there is no God.”[7] He adds a selected piece:

“Is there no God?--The stream that silver flows,
The air he breathes, the ground he treads, the trees,
The flowers, the grass, the sands, each wind that blows,
All speak of God; throughout, one voice agrees,
And eloquent, His dread existence shows;
Blind to thyself, all see him, fool, in these.”

God is everywhere, in all things, explaining what our very senses and feelings and overall experience tell us to be true. Why would anyone reject the obvious?

And for the believer who acts on occasion like an atheist (by virtue of speech and acts denying God), we can but rest in the grace of God, seeking a way back to him who forgives everlastingly. Our faith is a penitent faith.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] These three psalms juxtapose the wicked with the righteous.
[2] Allan M. Harman, Psalms – A Mentor Commentary (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 1998), p. 98.
[3] In the Hebrew Bible these verses are covered in various psalms i.e. Psalm 5:9; 140:3; 10:7; 59:7, 8; 36:1 respectively.
[4] James L. Mays, Psalms – Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, Tennessee: John Knox Press, 1994), p. 83. Citing and paraphrasing Romans 3:23-24.
[5] Mays, Ibid, p. 81.
[6] Mays, Ibid, p. 82.
[7] W. Graham Scroggie, A Guide to the Psalms (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1995), p. 100.
[8] Scroggie, Ibid, p. 100.

No comments: