A Meditation on Psalm 14
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
there is none who does good.
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.
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.
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.
The fourteenth psalm complements our study of the Proverbs. The opening line declares the theme of the psalm: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” The psalmist rephrases the theme about halfway through: “Have they no knowledge?” We should hear echoes of the theme from the Book of Proverbs, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” and, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”
We should be careful not to read modern atheism back into this psalm, as if Psalm 14 were first and foremost a repudiation of modern atheism. Modern atheism is but one example of the foolishness that the psalmist is talking about. As the psalmist demonstrates in the remainder of the psalm, saying in one’s heart that “there is no God” means more than just saying it with one’s lips.
Consider what the fool atheist does. The psalmist twice characterizes him as “corrupt” and twice says “there is none who does good.” This is the true mark of the atheist. The man who lives his life as though there were no God to punish him, that man truly says in his heart, “There is no God.” An atheist may never confess his atheism with his mouth, but he always confesses it with his hands.
Consider what the psalmist says about the atheist in the second half of the psalm. They “eat up my people as they eat bread.” They “would shame the plans of the poor.” Again, the mark of an atheist is not just what he says but what he does. The oppressor must not believe in God, or else he would cease his oppression, because God has said that He hears the cries of the oppressed and the poor and answers them. As the psalmist puts it, “the Lord is his refuge.”
Thus our understanding of Psalm 14 should not be, “Being an avowed atheist makes you do these things,” but rather the reverse: “Doing these things makes you an atheist.” The psalm is not another opportunity for us to beat on a favorite whipping boy. It is a challenge to examine ourselves and ask whether we really believe in God. Are you given over to any kind of corruption? Have you turned aside from the Way by following your sinful passions? Do you shame the poor with your rich living? The psalmist says that you are an atheist.
Do not think that any will escape His notice or His judgment. Remain guiltless of the atheist’s folly! The atheist’s lack of fear creates an irony: “There they are in great terror.” The fool does not fear the Lord—does not revere Him, withholds from Him—so the Lord terrifies him. He shall likewise terrify any among us who have turned aside after their own way.
“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory throgh our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15.57). “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Cor 9.15). “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet 3.9). “Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God—and such were some of you! But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6.9b-11).
Let those who are righteous put their trust in God. Do not fear the wickedness of the wicked. “God is with the generation of the righteous.” “The Lord is [the poor man’s] refuge.” “When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.” Only take care not to fall into disbelief.