Psalm 14: Hymn to the Atheist
January 14, 2022
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Genesis 32-33, Psalm 14, Matthew 6:1-15, Acts 8:26-40
This psalm is paralleled in Psalm 53 and is memorably called “a hymn to the atheist” by the preacher Dick Lucas. It is in three parts: what the fool says, what the LORD sees, and what the Lord does.
First, what the fool says, verse 1. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” The impression given by this way of describing the phenomenon of atheism is that it is something that requires regular self-persuasion. The evidence for God is so strong and so personal—deep within the structures of our own thinking, acting, and feeling—that to deny his existence necessitates constant argument with your own self. You need to “say in your heart.” This is why atheism is so often accompanied by a lot of verbal, often aggressively proselytizing, rhetoric. The implication of this way of phrasing the atheist is that, to use Shakespeare’s way of expressing, “Methinks he protesteth too much.” When you see people vehemently, aggressively, constantly denying that God exists, you know that the ones they are most trying to convince are themselves.
Second, what the LORD sees, verses 2 to 4. The LORD sees that at the root of this denial of his existence is moral rebellion. They do not “understand,” they do not “seek after God,” because “they have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt.” This does not make someone who is an atheist any more fallen than anyone else naturally; it just means that atheism is one expression of the natural rebellion of all humanity. As Paul makes clear in Romans 3:9-20, there is no one righteous, not even one. But ultimately the reason for the rationalization of atheism (which was described in verse 1) is a moral rebellion against God. Clearly, there are many complicated arguments that are put forward for the non-existence of God. But when you understand that the property of being able to argue at all is one of the strongest evidences for the existence of the Logos, the underpinning supreme being of the universe, then it becomes necessary to seek other explanations for atheism than the purely rational. And the explanation of atheism—in the end, at root—is the rebellion against God of all humanity naturally. This is also why the atheist, in particular, is often, though not always, so antagonistic to God’s people (“who eat up my people as they eat bread,” verse 4). They cannot “live and let live,” but must stamp out all evidence of God’s existence, even the people of God around them.
Third, what the Lord does, verses 5 to 7. God judges, and he saves. God judges; therefore, those who persist in rebellion against God are in great “terror.” The fear of God is far too seldom preached today. We put the fear into people to stop them from taking drugs. We put the fear into children to keep them from crossing the road without looking and listening for traffic. We put the fear into teenagers to ensure they work hard for their exams. Why would we not put the fear into people to attempt to persuade them not to have to face hell and judgment? God saves; therefore, he is with the righteous as a powerful presence. He is a refuge for the poor, a protecting bulwark. And he listens to the prayer of the psalmist, and of God’s people, to restore the fortunes of his people, save them, and bring them a season of renewed rejoicing.
Would you therefore pray for atheists? They are in rebellion against God, seeking to persuade themselves that God does not exist so they can calm their conscience. Pray that instead they would turn to God and be saved.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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