Read Psalm 14
“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”
Ah, the fools. What sad people they must be as they wander through life saying in their heart, “there is no God.” How comforting to have a Psalm that reminds us how much wiser we are because we know God is real. Don’t you wish you could forward this Psalm to someone who has wronged you and doesn’t believe in God? They probably wouldn’t listen. Fools.
But, now that I think about it, there is one problem with reading Psalm 14 this way: there were no self-proclaimed atheists in the ancient near-Eastern world.
When this Psalm was written, everyone believed in something. Every city had a temple. Every community had religious traditions and rituals that were part of what it meant to be a member of that society. Every civilization had epics that helped make sense of the world – all of them were connected to some sort of deity.
The Psalmist might be writing about those who don’t believe in Yahweh, Israel’s God, but it seems like he is more concerned with people who believe in God but don’t believe He is involved in the everyday stuff of life. We all have a worldview, a way of making sense of the world. According to the Psalmist, we are fools if we know that God is real but our in our heart—the core of who we are—we makes sense of the world by believing we are on our own.
“They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good.”
How does this play out in our lives? By becoming corrupt and acting in a way that ignores God and His Kingdom. It starts in our core and moves out to our desires, affections, and choices. That is how we were made – “A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.” (Matthew 7)
Oh, and “abominable” simply means “repulsive.” It doesn’t matter if our actions or desires seem moral or good. Sometimes, “righteous deeds are like soiled clothes.” (Isaiah 56)
“Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread and do not call upon the LORD?”
The Psalmist seems even more sad about how this way of living in the world leads to oppression. It makes sense. If we believe we have to create Goodness and Wholeness for ourselves then we see other people as allies, enemies, or resources in our story – fear of man becomes the default setting of our hearts.
“You would shame the plans of the poor, but the LORD is his refuge.”
Most likely, none of us will foster oppression by own slaves or extorting our coworker. In our city, we we foster brokenness by failing to engaging some form of oppression that is already present around us. We avoid conflict and difficulty, driven by a fear to protect what little good we think we’ve created for ourselves.
“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.”
Remember Jesus and the woman who has caught in adultery? (John 8) The Pharisees delivered conflict to him while he was teaching a group of people at the Temple. What do you think you would have been thinking if you had been in Jesus place?
“Oh man, this is so awkward. I was doing such a good thing. What if I mess up? I could ruin this great ministry (or job) that I have. I need to get them out of here.”
Jesus is the salvation the Psalmist was expecting. God with us, he was aware and attentive to God’s goodness, power, and work in our everyday lives. Without hesitating, he engaged both the pharisees and the woman to offer them a chance to worship God and foster Goodness and Wholeness. He believed that God exists but—more importantly—Jesus feared God, trusting that He is at work in the world for His glory and our good.
Where fear of man tries to take us out of conflict, fear of God takes us into conflict to make it better.
Who are we—in our heart—going to fear today?
-– Ben Larzabal