Sermon preached on Psalm 14 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 7/14/2013 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“The Fool Has Said In His Heart: There Is No God”
There seems to be a growing sense in our society that atheism or agnosticism are the positions of the enlightened, and that the belief in the God of the Bible is the position of the ignorant or backward. Now, I didn’t bother to try to find any statistics to make that claim — I’m not sure how well polls and stats could even accurately measure something like that. But when you talk to people, especially in our area, this seems like a very common perspective. People who claim to be an atheist or an agnostic often act like these are the most intellectually tenable positions. People of faith, particularly faith in the Bible, are often treated as if their position is the least rational, the least educated, and therefore the most foolish. As a Christian we should be encouraged that God has a different take on the matter. We see that here in this Psalm. An atheist, by the way, is someone who claims to not believe in the existence of God. An agnostic is someone who says they don’t know if God exists or not. Both of those positions are somewhat addressed here in Psalm 14. But the atheistic position that says there is no God is not presented as the position of the wise. The atheistic position here in Psalm 14 is actually lumped together with the agnostic position. To say there is no God, according to Psalm 14, is a position of ignorance — the very thing essentially claimed by the agnostic. Atheism from the Greek etymology literally means without God. Agnosticism from the Greek etymology literally means without knowledge. That’s a key point of this Psalm — to claim atheism is to be literally agnostic — without knowledge!
So let’s begin to dig into Psalm 14 today by observing the foolishness of mankind as it pertains to the atheistic claim. Beginning in verse 1, we see the initial case being addressed. Verse 1, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.'” Right at the start, this psalm says it’s man’s foolishness that would have him to assert in his heart that there is no God. Not man’s wisdom or learning. It’s his foolishness. In the Bible, this description of a fool is a pretty broad label. For example, we see the book of Proverbs constantly compare the wise person with the fool. There we see the fool is someone that lacks wisdom and knowledge in regards to truth. But that fool is also someone who lacks wisdom and knowledge with regard to morality and ethics. Well, that same description is seen here too. This fool of Psalm 14 is someone who lacks both knowledge and morality. As for knowledge, in verse 2 these fools are the ones without understanding, and in verse 4, they are the ones said to have no knowledge. In other words, their atheism isn’t a sign on their superior intelligence, but of their inferior intelligence. As for their morals, verses 1 and 3 both talks of their corrupt, abominable works. They do not do good it says twice. In verse 2, they of course don’t seek God – you don’t seek the one you don’t believe in. In verse 4, they are called workers of iniquity — iniquity is another word for sin. In verses 4 and 6 you see that their immoral behavior extends to how they improperly treat others. And so these fools lack morality — but of course this rationally follows from their atheism. If they don’t believe in God, then they don’t believe in an ultimate lawgiver. So they are going to be breaking his laws since they don’t acknowledge his Lordship. I see this today with atheists, even atheists who want to try to find some basis for morality without God. At the end of the day, they don’t have any real foundation for their morality, and so whatever they end up deciding is moral, is whatever seems right in their own eyes at the time. But it’s necessarily a flawed and lacking definition on what is moral.
And so the Bible here calls this position of atheism as something foolish. This foolishness is seen in a lacking knowledge of God, and in a moral perversity. And yet here’s where things get interesting. Why call them foolish, instead of mistaken? Well, the Bible calls them foolish with good reason. And that reason is important for us to understand. The book of Romans, especially the first three chapters provides some excellent commentary on this psalm. In Romans 1, Paul makes the simple point that everyone ultimately knows that God exists. He’s talking about what is called “general revelation.” That the existence of God can be understood simply by looking around at the world around us. It shows forth the work of a creator. Romans 1:20 says, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” Romans chapter 1 goes on to say that people nonetheless suppress this truth. The result it says, is that “claiming to be wise, they became fools.” Add to this fact that not only can God be seen through his creation, his existence is also testified to via special revelation. I’m talking about the Bible. This book contains many revelations of God over an extended period of time and has been confirmed by supernatural miracles, fulfilled prophecies, and eyewitness testimony. And so why call the atheist here foolish and not mistaken? You see, if someone is genuinely convinced for good reason that there is no God, but they are wrong, then maybe you’d call them mistaken. But if someone deep down inside has every reason to believe there is a God, and in fact has known there is a God but has turned a blind eye to it and ignored the truth — then that is foolish. Well, that is the Bible’s perspective on this atheism.
Well, as striking as that is, what comes next in this psalm is even more sobering. Because, it essentially takes this description of the atheist’s foolish depravity and applies it to every natural human being. There is a picture here of a universal depravity among humans. Whether or not each person has explicitly said in their heart there is no God or not, God has looked down from heaven and seen the general sense in all of us. See the universal terms here. Verse 1, there is none who does good. Verse 2, are there any who seek God? Verse 3 says “No,” they’ve all turned aside. There is no one who does good; not even one. Not even one! This is universal language. In other words, man in his natural state lives apart from a real knowledge of God. Man in their depravity doesn’t seek after God or to keep God’s moral commands. Whether or not they explicitly say in their hearts that there is no God, that is certainly the practical import of this. That they don’t really know this one true and living God and therefore their sinful actions reflect that.
Romans chapters 1-3 provides commentary on this, particularly chapter 3. It makes it clear that this is really a universal thing. The point of Romans chapter 3 is that man is a sinner. And chapter 3 even pointed this passage back to the Jews of his day, and said that even though they might claim to be seeking after God, that if they are trying to do it on their own strength, they too are falling short. That this definition applies to them as well. What Psalm 14 acknowledges, and what Paul writes about in Romans, is that every single person in this world is a sinner. We’ve all disobeyed God in different ways. None of us can measure up to God’s standards. Whether overtly or not, we’ve all lived like there is no God in one degree or another. Whenever we break one of God’s commands, that’s living like there is no God — no sovereign king and judge to tell us how to live and to hold us accountable. This is the reality of all humans in their natural state, and the Bible says it is foolish.
So this is the universal foolishness of all mankind that we see in this psalm. And yet, as soon as I say that, and as soon as this psalm says it, we see something surprising here. The psalm asserts that there is none who seeks God and that there is none that does good, not even one! Then in the last half we suddenly see that there is nonetheless a group of people who are in a different standing before God. Verse 4 refers to this other group of people as “God’s people.” In verse 4, the implication is that these are people who do call upon the LORD. In verse 5, God is said to be with them and that they are called the righteous! In verse 6, they are said to have the LORD as their refuge. This should strike you with a bit of surprise. On the one hand, this psalms describes a universal depravity among man. It shows how all have sinned and don’t on their own seek after God. Not even one who does good. On the other hand, this psalm then starts talking about a people who are called righteous, who call upon the LORD and take refuge in him, and are his special people. This is surprising. How is it that this other group, this group of God’s people, exists? How can a group of God’s people exist amidst the universal foolishness among man?
Well, it’s this tension that brings out the whole message of the Bible in one sense. Listen very carefully at how the Bible explains this. It all starts back in the beginning. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve lived in a state of innocence. But they fell into sin by disobeying God. Ever since then, every human born into this world is born into that fallen estate. Our minds and souls are infected by sin. We don’t think as we should. We don’t act as we should. The result is that our natural inclinations is to not seek after God, even though we know we should. Our natural inclination is to serve ourselves and do whatever we think is right, instead of worshipping and honoring the one true God. The continued message in the Bible is that if God doesn’t intervene, each of us will stay that way for our entire lives.
And yet the good news is that the Bible is a record of God’s continual intervention. In the Old Testament, God’s intervention focused largely around one group of people — the Israelites. God repeatedly intervened in their lives. From a national level, we see that when he brought the people out of Egyptian slavery into the Promised Land. He did that in such a way as to drive out the previous inhabitants of the Promised Land. But when God did that, he told the Israelites that they shouldn’t conclude that it was because they were so righteous that God was driving out those other people and giving them the Promised Land. No, God told the Israelites in Deuteronomy 9 that it was because of the wickedness of those other peoples that he was driving them out. But he told the Israelites that they themselves were stiff-necked people. God’s point to them essentially was that God’s special relationship with them was all about grace. They needed to recognize this. And that is what it’s all about throughout human history. All who have been in special relationship with God should come to realize that it’s God’s graciousness to them that has made it possible. That ultimately is was God who sought them out to save them from their foolishness.
That’s Paul’s point as he comments on this psalm in Romans 3. That if all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, then none of us can be considered righteous by our own work. That we all need a righteousness that comes in some other way. We all need some way to be right before God in another way. Paul says that there is another way. A righteousness that comes by faith. Paul points back to the Old Testament, to Abraham, the father of the Israelite people and says that is how the Bible says he was justified before God — by faith. And Paul says that’s how anybody will be able to be right before God — through faith. Paul says that’s what the Christian faith is all about. That God always had this in mind — that sinners needed a way to be saved. And so God sent a savior. Jesus Christ came to earth and died on the cross to save sinners from their sins. Jesus did that by becoming a sacrifice for sin on the cross. For all who turn to him in faith, he is their substitute. He paid the price of our sin by his death on the cross. This is the gospel, the good news of the Christian faith. We can be saved by faith. In this salvation, we then are made to be a part of God’s people. Jesus is this savior of Zion promised in verse 7. He has freed us from the captivity of our sins.
Though to be clear, we’ve already noted that we still need God’s intervention in our lives even to come to a point of saving faith. You see, the Bible repeatedly says what we find here in this psalm. That in our natural state, we are each but fools. We are each ignorers of the truth of God. We each have gone our own way and are content with that. None of us seek out God, so that is why we need him to seek us out instead. That is what Jesus did when he came to this earth. He came to seek and save that which was lost. And that is what Jesus continues to do by his Word and Spirit. It’s God’s intervention in people’s lives when his Word is proclaimed. His Spirit through the preaching of the Word draws people to faith. And so as the gospel message from the Bible is preached, and the Spirit is at work, we recognize that this is God reaching out to fallen humans. And so if you came here today as a non-believer, God is calling to you to believe in him, to repent of your sins, and to turn to him for salvation. This is God’s intervention in your life to confront you that there is a God and that you can know him; that you can be in a real relationship with him.
Okay, so in our sermon so far today, we’ve observed the foolishness of man in our unsaved state. We’ve then observed that though this depravity is universal, there is salvation available through faith in Christ. Those who by the Spirit have turned and believed in God, are his own people. This results in two groups of people. You could call them unbelievers and believers. God’s people, and those who do not seek the one true God. And so in our last main point for today, I’d like to observe the ongoing conflict that exists between these two groups. This is a conflict that we’ve already in part been talking about as existing today. But, we see it right here too in Psalm 14. It’s described here as the foolish workers of iniquity devouring the people of God, verse 4. Verse 6 says they shame the counsel of the poor; that’s like talking about how the world can persecute people of faith, who may be poor in the world’s standards but still trust in God — the world can respond to such with the challenge that their faith has not helped get them out of poverty. But such people of faith know that life is far more than about earthly riches. Verse 7’s description of captivity is also suggestive of how the enemies of God’s people have often enslaved them in various ways throughout history too.
The bottom line is that this psalm shows the hostility that has existed between God’s people and the world. That is something we’ve already acknowledged still exists today. I mentioned some of the debate earlier between atheists and believers. Take for example an outspoken atheist like Richard Dawkins. He’s openly hostile toward faith in God. He’s said things like, “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence.” Well, that’s what we are talking about today. We have two contrary claims. One that claims faith in God is foolish, such as Richard Dawkins. The other claim, the claim of Psalm 14, that faith in no God is foolish.
The conflict is real. The perspective of Psalm 14 is that the position of the ungodly leads to fear, verse 5. And the position of the godly leads to joy, verse 7. Two very different outcomes. But why the two different outcomes? Well, for the unbeliever, verse 5 says the fear is in light of the fact that God is with his people. In other words, God is not with the unbelievers, but he is with those believers they are persecuting. Though most days the fool in his heart might say there is no God and try to convince himself that there will never be a reckoning for his outlook and actions, the reality is that there will be. Deep inside the unbeliever does know that a judgment is coming upon him from God. There is a sense of fear somewhere inside him about this. And that fear will only become all the more clear when that final judgment day comes. When at last they stand before their God and creator and must give an account. Then that fear which is already here in part for them will come to its fullest expression.
On the other hand, for the believer, they may face much trouble and persecution in this life for their faith. They might be ridiculed by the so called learned in society that they are deluded. At times believers have been thrown in jail by unbelievers, or even put to death. But verse 7 predicts a salvation — a savior out of Zion. Back when Psalm 14 was first written, verse 7 was a prophecy – a prediction of a future deliverance. Now a big aspect of this prophecy has already been fulfilled, when Jesus Christ came out of Zion to die on the cross for our sins. He then overcame by rising from the dead. The final aspect of this prophecy’s fulfillment will be when Jesus comes again. Then he will raise up all believers into a blessed resurrection life. And the non-believers will be cast into the eternal lake of fire. Then any sorrows the believers had in the past will be turned to joy.
And so in conclusion today, we see the simple call of this passage. To the unbeliever, don’t be a fool! God is confronting you today with this truth so you would turn and be foolish no longer! Call upon him for salvation. Repent and believe in the gospel! Be saved. You see, this is a challenge today to the world. As we’ve said, the world wants to assert that faith in God is the foolish thing, and that atheism is the knowledgeable position! Today the unbeliever has been challenged in this thinking. If that is you, are you sure you are as really smart as you think? The fool says there is not God; But the wise says, “I need a savior!” If you turn today in faith, your fear will be replaced with joy!
And to the believer, this passage also speaks to you today. It especially speaks to the believer who may be tempted to be downcast amidst a world of fools who say there is no God: Don’t let your joy turn to fear or sadness! Instead, trust more firmly today in God’s salvation. Believe God’s perspective who looks down from his heavenly vantage point: that you are his and he is with you and will save you in the fullest sense! I love that picture here in this psalm. The fool thinks what he thinks about God and says that God is nothing. But God looks down from heaven and knows that the fool is nothing. And though the wicked might trouble God’s people for now, God will yet have the final say. He will save his people and vindicate them. So, be encouraged. I know today many Christians are tempted to despair the growing wickedness of our culture. We are tempted to panic at what appears to be a growing persecution that is going to be coming against Christians. But have the prophetic perspective of this psalm today. Know that God reigns from on high. Know that you are safe and secure in him, even if for a little while you suffer for his sake.
Take heart then oh Christian. Trust in your heart that there is a God. Be encouraged that you have not been a fool for trusting in Christ. Know, oh Christian, that salvation has come and will yet come out of Zion, in Christ! Then the LORD will bring you into the freedom of the New Heavens and the New Earth. Rejoice oh believer at this certain future. Amen.
Copyright © 2012 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.