"The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good." (Psalm 14:1)
A few years ago, I came across a street preacher on the city square where I live. He had a decent-sized group of people gathered around listening to him, so I decided to stop and catch an ear full. “The Bible says that you are a fool if you’re an atheist!” the man shouted. “You’re all fools!”
On the one hand, he’s right; that is what Psalm 14 says. But I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’s words in the Sermon on the Mount: “Whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:22). I suppose I understand the temptation to stand up and call yourself wise and everyone else an idiot (isn’t this why social media exists?). But what Jesus says there ought to give us pause. Jesus’s words don’t mean there are no fools but rather that there are only fools and hypocrisy is damnable. That day the city square was occupied by only fools, myself and the preacher included.
When David says “The fool says in the heart, ‘There is no God,’” he is speaking about everyone. He is talking about himself and the whole of the human race. This is made clear when he follows that statement with: “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 all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:2–3).
God has searched the earth looking for one person who “understands” there is a God and who “seeks after” that God. But he has found no one. Not you. Not me. Not David. All he sees is an all-inclusive mess of selfishness, corruption, and fools pretending to be wise. So what does God do? He sends someone who believes in him to save us. He sends himself.
Jesus is the one who has not “turned aside” and “does good.” But we don’t want a God so unlike us. So our foolish hearts cry out, “Crucify him!” In this crucifixion, Jesus (the one who was not “corrupt”) became the corruption of the world to save it. Jesus died to redeem a world of unbelieving fools, and through the preaching of this message, he overcomes our foolish hearts.
We are tempted to think “believing” is the thing we’ve done that separates us from all the fools. But nothing could be further from the truth. Faith is a gift from God. It’s not flashy or boast-worthy. It’s total dependency on the God who saves utter fools and only utter fools.
I confess, I still hear my heart whisper, “There is no God.” I sometimes live like I am my own God. I sometimes look at others and think, What a fool. It turns out my foolish heart is still being overcome by the love of the God it fights against. I may not be wise, but perhaps, like David, I’m just wise enough to know I’m a fool in constant need of being overcome.