The Wisdom of Fools
The [empty-headed] fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”They are corrupt and evil, and have committed repulsive injustice;There is no one who does good. God has looked down from heaven upon the children of menTo see if there is anyone who understands,Who seeks after God [who requires Him, who longs for Him as essential to life]. Every one of them has turned aside and fallen away;Together they have become filthy and corrupt;There is no one who does good, no, not even one. Have workers of wickedness no knowledge or no understanding?They eat up My people as though they ate breadAnd have not called upon God. There they were, in great terror and dread, where there had been no terror or dread;For God scattered the bones of him who besieged you;You have put them to shame, because God has rejected them. Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion!When God restores [the fortunes of] His people,Let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.
During the days of the Soviet Union, Russian astronaut Gherman Tito’s reflected on the existence of God following his return from orbiting the globe: “Some people say there is a God out there….but in my travels around the earth all day long, I looked around and didn’t see Him…I saw no God nor angels.”
Of course, had Tito’s climbed out of his craft without a spacesuit, he would have quickly met God, the Eternal One who exists in a dimension beyond the created order of space and time.
Psalm 53 openly ridicules the atheist by calling him a fool. However, the atheism condemned is that which is expressed “in his heart” and not in public.
This psalm and Psalm are identical except for verse 5. The fact that in all the Psalter only two duplicate psalms exist should underscore for us the importance God places on our believing Him-not just with our minds, but with our actions.
George Wood says, “We misread Psalms 14 and 53 if we apply them exclusively to individuals like Tito’s or the American atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair. David is concerned with the religious atheist: the one who goes through the motions of external religion while privately acting as if God does not exist.”
Psalm 53 tells us that the rejection of God doesn’t flow our of brilliant intellect or reasoning. The atheists David describes aren’t smart; they are just simply sinful. Verse one says, “They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; there is no one who does good.” All of us at some point have practiced this brand of atheism.
Whenever we choose to ignore God’s instructions, our behavior says, “I don’t believe in God.” When we believe that we can pick and choose which of the instructions God has given and ignore or overlook the ones we don’t wish to do, we are in essence practicing atheist. The apostle Paul applies this psalm to the religious person who believes they receive God’s approval because the have faithfully and correctly performed religious rituals. “No,” Paul says, “your actions give you away.”(Romans 3:9-12). There is no one including you and me who isn’t in some way corrupt.
“Well then, are we [Jews] better off than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks (Gentiles) are under the control of sin and subject to its power. As it is written and forever remains written,“There is none righteous [none that meets God’s standard], not even one.”
In verses four through six, Psalm 53 makes a distinction between “evildoers” and “my people.” Everyone does evil- but they belong to one of two groups: those who acknowledge their evil and those who “never learn.” These of the latter group are those who “devour” God’s people and those who “do not call on God.”
George Wood tell us: “The antagonism against God’s people prevails to this moment. Followers of Jesus Christ are frequently labeled as fanatic and intolerant for proclaiming Jesus is the only way to God, for promoting the sanctity of human life,band for living by a biblical morality.” George wrote the words in 1997.
Although we as Christians in the Western world have not been openly persecuted for their faith yet, that day may well be upon us. The Nazis began their atrocities against the Jews by first dehumanizing them with ridicule, blame, and false caricature and the dehumanizing of Christians is well underway through the distortion of believers by all form of media.
This should not result in needless fear of evildoers for God will ultimately put them to shame and “scatter their bones.” It is only the people of God who truly have a future.
Psalm 53 reveals that rather than intellection brilliance being the reason people choose to not believe in God, in truth it is their moral disobedience.
The unbelief of those who were eyewitnesses of Christ serves as an eloquent illustration of this point:
The first to reject Jesus rising from the dead that first Easter morning were the religious establishment. When the guards posted at the tomb went to the chief priests and reported the earthquake and the angels, the spin doctors paid them sums of money to lie. The priest launched a coverup the eclipsed Watergate like Nixon attempted to do. This reaction reflects the kind of atheism that both Psalm 14 and 53 portray. The evidence of the resurrection was so powerful that intellectually they should have believed. In spite of the evidence being overwhelmingly persuasive, they chose to suppress the truth. To add further to the cover-up, they purchased perjured testimony.
We might wonder why anyone- especially a religious person act this way? It stems from an evil heart and unbelief because “they are corrupt and their ways are vile.”
But for us this has to be more than a history lesson in which we wag our heads at such conduct. What about us? More specifically what about me? Do we (I) keep on sinning even after I am aware that such is wrong? Do I understand that I am excluding myself from God’s presence when I include in my life the things that aren’t pleasing to Him? Does God completely possess me as His temple or have I attempted to hold in reserve even one tiny closet where I can go to escape His presence and do what I wish even if I know it’s not pleasing to Him?
Religious atheism is the endeavor to set aside God’s ways, God’s principles, God’s truths, and create our own understandings and acceptable conduct without ever measuring them by biblical teachings. Whenever we choose views and opinions over the truths of Scripture or attempt to invalidate it in some way- whether it’s simply ignoring it and continuing our own way or trying to bend it to validate our personal views or values- we are religious atheists. The only cure is that we come before God and totally surrender our lives and wills to Him. The power of religious atheism can only occur when we truly believe that His ways are right and just. Perhaps today you might need to confess and repent of your own atheism. Someone has rightfully said, “Saying so doesn’t necessarily make it so.” And just calling Jesus Lord isn’t the same as making Him Lord. Righteousness isn’t something we can negotiate with God. He sets the boundaries and we choose whether we will comply or not but we have no power to move the standards.
Most of us would think that someone who would argue with a ruler about how long an inch is, are indeed foolish. We are glad that when our home was built that we actually got the exact square footage specified and the builder couldn’t adjust measurements according to his desires. Otherwise we’d probably have a much smaller structure and we wouldn’t like that at all. What a mess it would be if everyone were given the privilege of deciding just how long an inch really is.
By the same standard, our world and even the church is in the mess it is because people believe they are intellectually capable of setting their own standards even when they are in conflict with the Word of God. The only solution to get a home built correctly is to agree that the ruler determines the length of an inch and the only way to live our lives successfully is to measure them by the standards of Scripture.
Until we choose this way we are in essence practicing atheists.
Dr. John Thompson