Psalm 14 begins, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” Not much of a prayer is it? It’s important to realize that in the ancient world, there were no modern-day atheists. No one had rationalized themselves to the point of thinking No God. The question then was, How many real gods are there? or Which ones should I devote attention, sacrifices and service to? We might scoff – but we do the same sort of thing. We have our gods, our deities we believe are ultimate reality, to which we bow down, vest our time and energy – those gods we believe can deliver the goods.
There is no God? When we hear this, we might think of the phrase “practical atheism.” It’s not an intellectual deduction that there can’t be a god. It’s living as if there’s no God. Psalm 14 believes your life is disordered if you live it without reference to the living God. Derek Kidner spoke of “indirect contempt of heaven.”
The Hebrew word for “fool” is nabal – a foolish man who appears in the story of David in 1 Samuel 25. The fool is always a real person. Question is: is it the other guy? The Psalm isn’t a typical prayer – unless we envision ourselves with Jesus’ disciples at the Last Supper, all asking about the betrayer, “Is it I?” The Psalmist seems to be condemning the fool who lives as if there’s no God. But maybe the prayer is asking, “Is it I?”
Paul was puzzled people might live as if there were no God. Romans 1: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools… What can be known about God is plain to them, but they did not see fit to acknowledge God.” We understand – and rightly worry, Is it I? What would it look like to live as if there really is a living God?
The Psalm rambles over the troubles we see out there due to so many who don’t live as if there is a God. Finally, in verse 7, the ramble turns into a prayer: “O that deliverance would come!” Maybe, if we gaze at and shudder over the manifold troubles and foolishness out there in our world, we (a) understand our own complicity, what part we indulgently play in what makes us exasperated, and then we (b) plead with God for rescue, for a new day, for us, even for our world and culture.
The futility of us fools thinking we might hide from and live as if there were no God is well envisioned by the rabbi from the Middle Ages, who pondered Psalm 14 and wrote, “An architect built a city, with secret chambers and hiding places in it. He was then made the governor of that city. When he learned there were thieves in the city, he heard they were hiding in secret chambers. He said ‘Fools! I built this city, and its hiding places.’”← See All