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Psalm 14: The Folly of Atheism

For woodworking projects, I try to select lumber that is straight and square. Sometime I can spot a board that is cupped or twisted. Other times a slightly skewed piece may look fine to the naked eye. Comparing one board with another does not help. I must utilize a straightedge and a square that perfectly conforms to the standard I am trying to meet. In Psalm 14, David laments the depravity of those who ignore God — they are so twisted they are easy to spot. But when God applies his impeccable standard, we see that evil is much more insidious and pervasive. Yet there is hope. 

The Heart of Foolishness

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
 They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
 there is none who does good. (v. 1) 

In David’s day, it was unlikely many would profess to be philosophical atheists. The atheism that the psalmist labels folly is not a doctrine but a disposition. To be a fool, one need not proclaim there is no God. Living unmindful of God is the essence of foolishness. John Calvin said, “There is no stupidity more brutish than forgetfulness of God.” Yet in our day, such stupidity increasingly dominates public schools, courtrooms, legislatures, corporations, media, and entertainment. Wherever people seek to live without regard for God, they form a brotherhood of folly. 

There is no stupidity more brutish than forgetfulness of God.

John Calvin

God’s Assessment

What David sees in the outward actions of the fool, the corrupt, and the abominable, God sees in the heart of every man and woman: 

The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man,
 to see if there are any who understand,
 who seek after God.
They have turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
 there is none who does good,
 not even one. (vv. 2-3) 

This is consistent with the proverb “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child” (Prov. 22:15). We tend to judge ourselves as basically good, but God’s perfect assessment says we all have the seed of practical atheism in our hearts. Whenever we sin, we seek something other than God, we ignore him, we turn our back on him. The condition is systemic to the fallen human race. There is no avoiding it. If we look for hope among the children of man, there is “none… not even one.” Our only hope must come from the One who “looks down from heaven.”

An Unwelcome Conversion

Somewhere between this life and the next every atheist will experience conversion. Some will repent and call upon the Lord joining the ranks of the righteous who take refuge in him (Rom. 10:10-13) and inviting the scorn of fools. For the remainder, whose forgetfulness of God leads to abuse of God’s people, the conversion will be an unwelcome one: 

Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
 who eat up my people as they eat bread
 and do not call upon the LORD?

There they are in great terror,
 for God is with the generation of the righteous.
You would shame the plans of the poor,
 but the LORD is his refuge. (vv. 4-6) 


David longed for that great universal *conversion* when God’s champion would ride out from Zion in blazing glory to dispel willful ignorance and restore what folly has destroyed. 

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
 When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people,
 let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad. (v. 7) 

We have seen him! He alone has no trace of folly and perfectly conforms to God’s righteous standard (John 8:29; Heb. 7:26-28). We find refuge in his perfection (2 Cor. 5:21). He has conquered sin and death (Rev. 1:17-18) and sits on the throne of universal dominion (Matt. 28:18; John 17:1-2). We rejoice and await the consummation of his victory. Come, Lord Jesus!

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