Atheism has become quite fashionable in western societies. In his 2006 book The God Delusion prominent atheist Richard Dawkins said of the traditional God that, ‘God, in the sense defined, is a delusion, and, as later chapters will show, a pernicious delusion’. The Bible says something profoundly different. We consider Psalm 14 The fool exposed.
1. God’s enemies
The psalm has a dramatic beginning: ‘The fool says in his heart, “There is no God”’ (v1). We see and hear the outworking of the fall described in Genesis 3. Human depravity is depicted in all its darkness. In the Bible the designation ‘fool’ is not a matter of intellect, but of spiritual evaluation. It speaks of the spiritual lostness and deadness of the sinner. David makes the connection found throughout Scripture between belief and conduct.
(i). The claim. ‘There is no God’. In its historical setting, this is probably practical atheism – living as if there were no God, whether he exists or not. Today we also encounter theoretical atheism – the assertion that God does not exist. Both entail living without reference to God and such people are viewed by God as ‘fools’ (cf Luke 12:20). They ignore the evidence from creation and conscience for God’s existence and use the minds the Creator gave them to deny his existence.
(ii). The character. Every aspect of life is corrupted by denial of God’s existence – ‘They are corrupt, their deeds are vile’ (v1). Even when sinners do what God’s law requires (Romans 2:14), it is not done for God’s glory. In Romans 3:10-12 Paul quotes v1-3 regarding the universal sinfulness of mankind. They cannot abide the presence of ‘my people’ (v4) and oppress them in various ways – ‘eating’ them.
2. God’s evaluation
No denial of God’s existence prevents his thorough examination of all men (v2). His verdict – ‘All have turned aside’ (v3). The root cause is man’s spiritual deadness (Ephesians 2:1). Even efforts to satisfy God by our efforts are themselves sinful, the ‘filthy rags’ of Isaiah 64:6. But ‘God is present in the company of the righteous’ (v5) – his presence is with them in the face of all attacks. It is full of comfort for believers to know that they are precious to the Lord and are never separated from him.
3. God’s equity
The faith of the Lord’s people is in him – ‘the Lord is their refuge’ (v6). He is committed to them in a bond of everlasting love. In justice he will act to deliver his people. Hence David’s longing – ‘Oh that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion’ (v7). The Lord liberates his people from sin, from oppression, from all their enemies and from death. At Christ’s return persecutors will be ‘overwhelmed with dread’ (v5), whilst believers will ‘rejoice…and be glad’ (v7). God’s equity ensures full salvation and deliverance.
Words are very powerful – even in an age that has such a high regard for the visual. Words can do great good, but they can also do great evil. The language people use and value can tell us a great deal about them or about a whole society. That was understood as well in Bible times as it is today and provides the background to the psalmist’s cry in the psalm we will study: Psalm 12 The Lord will arise.
1. The plight of the godly
‘Help, Lord’ (v1, lit. ‘Save’) – a heartfelt cry. It is an urgent appeal and the reason is spelled out – ‘the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men’. God’s people seem to be an embattled minority. A symptom of the prevailing evil is the speech of the ungodly – ‘Everyone lies to his neighbour; their flattering (lit. ‘smooth’) lips speak with deception (or ‘double heart’)’. All around he hears dishonesty and hypocrisy, rooted in hearts that are not committed to the Lord. Those committed to the covenant Lord – ‘the faithful’ – seem on the road to annihilation. Note the arrogance of the ungodly (v4). They reject accountability to God or to anyone else. This may reflect the experience of David himself (1 Samuel 23:11, 26:19). We live in a world where there is much dishonesty and evil communication. Christians are often the victims of misrepresentation, and their beliefs are ridiculed. Our only hope is the Lord – ‘May the Lord cut off…’ (v3). It is not wrong to pray for the downfall of evil. That does not preclude a concern for conversion, but God’s glory is our chief concern.
2. The response of the Lord
The Lord speaks (v5). He is not indifferent to sin or the plight of his people (Exodus 2:24). God is faithful to his faithful people. The Lord will take action – ‘I will now arise’, doing whatever is required. For those he loves – ‘I will place him in the safety for which he longs’ (v5 ESV). All hardship will not necessarily be removed, but he is in loving control of whatever comes to his children. We can have absolute confidence in the promises of God – ‘the words of the Lord are flawless (v6). Free of all falsehood, they will never deceive or disappoint. We must give attention to his word and live in the light of it. We must not be deceived by the voices around us, but we should test everything by God’s word since ‘your word is truth’ (John 17:17).
3. The confidence of the psalmist
Building on God’s promises – as we must always do – David can express Spirit-given faith. ‘O Lord, you will keep us safe’ (v7). He takes God at his word – ‘you will guard us from this generation for ever’ (ESV). David is able to take the long view. Often we focus on the immediate situation, which can seem overwhelming. We need to fix our eyes on the Lord and remember that his promises extend into eternity. Our confidence in the Lord is not that he will remove all trials now – he may do so later or at the last day – but we know he will provide the grace we need. The ungodly will remain for now, like the weeds of Matthew 13:30, but his hand will protect the godly.