Denying God

Audio Player

Image for: Denying God

I'm not very musical and never have been. When I was about 14 I was upstairs in my room listening to my Walkman with earphones on, having a little sing-along. Probably quite a loud sing-along. Anyway, next thing I know my mum has charged through my door looking really quite panicked and wanting to know what I had done and how had I hurt myself because sounded in so much pain! Charming.

Anyway, I'll put you instantly at ease this evening; I'm not going to sing this 14 to you. But the Psalms of course are songs. And the book of Psalms in the Bible has often been referred to as the hymnbook of the saints. Since this is the first in a little mini-series on the Psalms, I just wanted to give a very little introduction to the Psalms generally.

They were written by a number of different authors over hundreds of years. The main subject of the Psalms is God. They speak of many different things, from different perspectives but front and centre is the creator God. They tell of his character, his deeds and his promises. The Psalms are factually rich about God, they tell us not only to praise God but who this God is who we are to praise.

But as sadly we don't tend to sing the Psalms very much anymore, we easily forget that they are songs – they are musical. And music is intrinsically emotive. It is not possible to listen to any music and not have some kind of emotional response. And the Psalms are incredibly emotional. (It's not easy to say this as a self-respecting man but…) But emotions are God-given – they are something that make us human, that make us in his image. God wants us to bring our emotions, our feelings, before him. And not just feelings of happiness and joy.

The Psalms contain pretty much every emotion imaginable: sorrow, joy, grief, anger, adoration, anticipation, excitement, peace, resentment, despair, betrayal, guilt, repentance, reverence… I could go on. If you've felt it, the Psalmist has probably written about it.

So as we read and study the Psalms I don't want you to switch your mind off, but I do want you to try and feel the Psalms. It is not wrong to come to church and feel sad or upset, or even angry, or scared. But it is profoundly wrong to come to church, to say the words of the confession, to formally pray, to sing songs, to listen to God's Word, and feel nothing. If this is your first time hear, it's great to have you with us, and I doubt very much you're guilty of this. If you come here regularly out of routine, that's great, but stop for a minute and honestly answer me this: how are you feeling?

Let's pray.

We're going to be looking this evening at Psalm 14 and 'the fool'. If you haven't already, why don't you open your Bibles to page [] so we can work through it together? The Bible has a lot to say about the fool. As well as the Psalms, he plays a lead role in the book of Proverbs and Jesus's parables – we all know the story of the foolish man who built his house on the sand. But in all these instances, including Psalm 14, the fool is not a fool because he he's slow or intellectually inferior.

We're going to work through Psalm 14 under three headings: (1) The Fool and God, (2) The Fool and the Righteous and (3) The Fool and the Saviour.

1. The Fool and God (v1-3)

Let's jump write into the passage, verse one:

The fool says in his heart, "There is no God."

The Psalmist starts by giving us the definition of 'the fool'. And this fool is defined in relation to what he thinks about God. That's not how we tend to work. We tend to think about people in relation to other people. "They drive a nice car, they're really clever, they're successful, they're funny". Or "they're troublemakers, they're socially awkward, they're struggling" and so on.  All of which is to say, compared to others, so and so is doing well or not. But that is not how this Psalm starts. The fool is a fool because of what he thinks about God.

The fool says in his heart, "There is no God."

What does 'heart' mean? The Bible talks about the heart a great deal and doesn't always use the word in precisely the same way. However, it generally refers to, including here, the entirety of man's inner nature. This biblical use of the word 'heart' is still in common use - having a good 'heart to heart', meaning something from the 'bottom of our hearts' or someone having their 'heart in the right place'. So our hearts encompass our thinking, our emotions and our desires - essentially our innermost being.

So to say 'there is not God' in your heart is to defy God at your most fundamental state of existence. It is not merely a cerebral act. It is not weighing up the evidence, carefully considering the philosophical implications and then coming to a well thought-through position that there probably isn't a god.

And it's important to remember this because when we think of the outspoken atheists we know, either personally or in the media, they generally appear to be very well-considered and have really spent time thinking it over. But that isn't actually the case. Fundementally, they are atheists, because they are atheists in their hearts. An atheist is an atheist because he hates God.

But notice that the fool is a fool because 'he says in his heart there is no God'. He may say something quite different with his mouth. There wouldn't be many people back when this Psalm was written who would openly deny the existence of God. And while that has most definitely changed in our wider society, it may not inside our churches. How many people regularly attend church whose heart's are not in it? If that is not enough to turn the spotlight on you, then continue reading through the Psalm:

1 The fool says in his heart,

"There is no God."

They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;

there is no one who does good.

2 The LORD looks down from heaven

on the sons of men

to see if there are any who understand,

any who seek God.

3 All have turned aside,

they have together become corrupt;

there is no one who does good,

not even one.

"There is no one who does good, not even one." Really? No one?

I was walking up the boulevard the other day with our three boys. We were making pretty slow progress as I was letting them have a good run around. Behind us a very elderly couple were also walking along, walking sticks in hand. So slow was our progress that the old couple, at least in their eighties, start of overtake us. The next thing I know, Caleb, who's three, jumps out in front of the pensioners and shouts: "You are the baddies!" Astonishingly awkward.

Caleb's verbal assault was clearly ill considered and inappropriate but was what he actually said wrong? Are they, a dear old couple, baddies? Isn't that what this Psalm says? "There is no one who does good, not even one."

Not only is it what this Psalm says, it is what the Bible consistently says. In fact, in his letter to the Romans in chapter 3, when Paul wants to prove that we are all in need of salvation, where does he quote? Psalm 14. Which he then summarises in his own words: "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).

The Bible jumps out in front of every one of us and says: "you are the baddies!"

But we don't like hearing it do we? We baulk against the notion that we are all corrupt, that our deeds are vile and that no one does any good. No one does any good? I think there's two reasons why we don't like it – the answer to both of which is basically the same. First reason: if everyone is implicated, even the 'nice old couple' where does that leave me? Second reason: surely there is at least some good done by those around us? What about all the people clearing up after the riots? What about Mother Teresa? Or beautiful architecture? Is none of that good? The answer to both of these objections is the same. We haven't fully accepted how deep sin goes. And the psalmist is using the word 'good' in a deep way – in the absolute.

Take for example the post riot clean up - hundreds of people coming out voluntarily to repair their communities and help one another. How is this not good? Well it was certainly the right thing to do, it was extremely commendable and as an isolated action it was good. We are all made in God's image and we are all capable in some ways of reflecting God's beauty, order and goodness. And so yes, man does do isolated actions that are, themselves, superficially good.

But it is only superficially good - our actions are not isolated. Jesus said "out of the overflow of [our] heart[s our] mouth[s] speak" (Luke 6:45). Jesus says you cannot separate what someone says from their heart. You can separate what someone does from who they are. Our actions, including our words, come from our hearts. So because our hearts are corrupted, our actions are corrupted – everything is corrupted. Even the ostensibly good things that we do, have deep underneath them corrupted motives. Where the motives of riot the clean-up absolutely pure? Is it possible that was in some self-pride? "The whole world is watching us trash our own cities – this really doesn't look good. What if no one turns up to the Olympics? That's going to be quite awkward. Come on, we're better than this – as a society, we're better than this. Humanity is better than this. We can fix this." Is it not possible that that was a part of what was underneath an ostensibly 'good' act?

So to do something that is truly good in an absolute sense, it must come from perfect motives, which means a perfect heart, which means a perfect person. Which is precisely what leads Jesus to say in Luke 18 "no one is good—except God alone." (Luke 18: 19b)

2. The Fool and the Righteous (v4-6)

The Fool and God, now, point 2, The Fool and the Righteous. Let's read on in Psalm 14, from verse 4:

Will evildoers never learn—

those who devour my people as men eat bread

and who do not call on the LORD?

There they are, overwhelmed with dread,

for God is present in the company of the righteous.

You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor,

but the LORD is their refuge.

So already in the Psalm we've met the Fool and God and now, in verses four to six, a new character is introduced – the Righteous. The hatred of the Fool for God manifests itself in the persecution of his people. It is not that the Fool hates God and his people. He hates God and so hates his people. The aggression shown against the Righteous is because they belong to God – it is nothing more than an extension of the Fool's rebellion against the Lord.

Jesus comforted his disciples with these words (John 15:18-19):

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.

The Fool, who in his heart says 'there is no God', will often afflict those who love God.

Some statistics were released a few years ago on the estimated number of martyrs, that is Christians killed for being Christians, since the time of Jesus. The estimates were broken down by the group who was responsible for the Christians' death. So, the estimated number Christian killed, since the time of Christ, by Jews is 60,100. By Hindus 676,000, Buddhists 1.6million, Pagan religions 7.5million and Muslims 9.1million. But in the last 2,000 years, the estimated number of Christians killed by atheists is 31.7million.

My point is simply this: those states which have most explicitly rejected the existence of God have also most clearly threatened, and on occasions tried to completely wipe out, the church. Every step our country takes away from God is a step closer to persecuting the church.

So in this Psalm, and, as we have seen, often in history, the Fool is the aggressor and the Righteous are the victims. Yet notice how they are contrasted in verses 5-6.

There they are, overwhelmed with dread,

for God is present in the company of the righteous.

The Fool is terrified - "overwhelmed with dread" yet the Righteous have God with them. Verse 6:

You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor,

but the LORD is their refuge.

The Fools turns his aggression on the weakest, seemingly the most vulnerable yet they have the security of the Almighty – 'the Lord is their refuge'.

It's like a small child who's being picked on by older children. But the child is in the arms of his father. He knows that for as long as dad holds him he's not in danger.

My prayer is that the church and Christians in this country will not lose their freedoms because, while God can use it, I don't think persecution of the church is a good thing. However, in living as Christians and operating as a Bible believing church does bring ridicule and isolation, if evildoers do look to 'devour us' we have great comfort: God is with us (he is present in the company of the righteous) and he will protect us (he is our refuge).

3. The Fool and the Saviour (v7)

So we've looked at 'The Fool and God' and 'The Fool and the Righteous', thirdly and finally 'The Fool and the Saviour'. The first six verses of this Psalm are like a lament, bemoaning the condition of the fool and the affliction they cause, but verse seven is a dramatic departure. The final verse of the Psalm is a prayer filled with hope and even praise. So we read in verse seven:

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!

When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people,

let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!

The Psalmist concludes the Psalm praying that Israel would be saved from out of Zion. Zion was an Old Testament name for the city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was significant because it was Israel's capital but it was also the location of the temple – where Israelites would go to worship and offer sacrifices to God, and where God dwelt, was present, in a very special way. Zion spoke of God being with his people. It could almost be summed up by a statement repeated throughout the Bible: "My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people." (e.g. Ezekial 37:27) Zion spoke of right relationship with God.

To paraphrase the Psalmist is saying "Oh that God would save us, and that that salvation would come from among us!"

There is strong evidence that this Psalm was used, or at least adapted for use, during the time of Israel's exile. This was when Jerusalem was besieged, overrun and many of the inhabitants forcefully taken to foreign lands such as Babylon. God's people would have seen this as a prayer for restoration of Jerusalem and the temple that they might again worship God as he had prescribed. Well that prayer was answered. The books of Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah speak of God returning Israel to Jerusalem and them rebuilding the temple. However, the fix was temporary and superficial – God's people didn't stay in right relationship with him and again Jerusalem was overrun and occupied by foreign powers.

So this closing prayer in the Psalm was not fully realised in the return from exile or any other temporary deliverance. No, the Psalmist was looking forward, however distantly and dimly, to a greater salvation from within Zion. And notice, although yet to be realised, how the he encourages God's people: "let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!" - in praise.

It's a bit like an Olympic athlete who has won a race, but is yet to receive his medal. Does he not celebrate? Of course he does!

But what the Psalmist saw dimly, we see clearly, across the pages of the whole Bible. The salvation that he prayed for, hoped for and even rejoiced in, was ultimately brought to reality in the person of Jesus Christ. And it is in Jesus that the underlying tension of this Psalm is answered.

If you have read this Psalm carefully you will have noticed a rather big problem. Verses one to four say that no one does good, no one seeks God, all are corrupt. We are the baddies. Yet verses four to six speak of God's people - of the Righteous. How can these two truths be reconciled?

And it is in Jesus, the salvation that comes out of Zion, that we see the answer. He is the good man, the man with good actions and completely pure motives, the man with the uncorrupted heart. The man who was, who had to be, God. He came from Zion, He came from perfect relationship with God the Father, perfect submission to his will, and came to save God's people. We all, in ourselves, stand before a holy God as The Fool. We have all in our hearts rejected God as God and lived as if 'there is no God'.

Yet, on the cross Jesus was the perfect sacrifice for our infinite sin. He, the righteous one, suffered on the cross with our sin, that we might be called 'The Righteous'.

What the Psalmist saw dimly, we see clearly. How much more reason do we have to rejoice and be glad?

Back to top