Many people are familiar with Psalm 14:1 and 53:1, where an ancient song-writer named David wrote “The fool says in his heart, ‘There’s no God.'”
You may have used it to Bible-bash a modern atheist when she was giving you detailed scientific and philosophical arguments against God’s existence which made you feel insecure. Or perhaps you once made a Christian uncomfortable with your own doubts about the supernatural and he called you a fool, citing these words. Or quite possibly you heard it in a Church service or in a passing conversation where someone was trying to shame away another person’s doubt about God’s existence and said that only fools doubt God.
It is a tragedy that many people have Bible-bashed non-Christians with this verse, more often than not comforting their own niggling doubt and confirming to themselves that they are not a fool, like “them”.
But is this really what the verse means? I think not.
Around 3000 years ago in the ancient Near East (when and where Psalms 14 & 53 were written) there were likely no intellectual atheists. None. The concept of a world without supernatural forces and gods and spirits and sacrifices and temples would have been inconceivable in their minds. In the same way that a time without wi-fi and instagram is inconceivable to the average high school student in 2018. Okay, maybe not quite, but you get the idea. There was little to no scientific or developed technological thought!
Everyone had gods and/or goddesses that they prayed to, sacrificed to and trusted in. They fearfully wanted to please these capricious deities so that there would be rain and crops and food and happiness. It seems to be a historical fact that there were no atheists (in the modern sense) 3000 years ago.
So what does David mean?! How could a person in 1000 BC say that there is no God? The words after this famous phrase are “They are corrupt; they do vile deeds.” David writes about their actions, lifestyle and deeds instead of their detailed arguments and intellectual philosophies.
The “fools” that said there was no God were really the people who lived as if there was no God. Those who carried out their day-to-day life without acknowledging or honouring or respecting or caring about the God of Israel. The ones who perverted justice and took part in corruption and did vile deeds, thinking that no one (especially not the God of their people) would care or know! These people were the “fools” that David writes about.
That reminds me of…..well, myself sometimes.
I may not profess an intellectual atheism or espouse anti-supernatural ideas, but there are moments and there have been days (if I’m honest) when I have lived as if there is no God. According to David, sometimes I am an atheist.
When my wife is sick and I don’t even think to pray for her.
When I pass a homeless person and I judge him instead of helping him or meditating upon his intrinsic value as a reflector of God’s image.
When an entire day passes where I don’t even acknowledge the Holy Spirit’s presence (much less pray to him)!
When I accept and endorse a major political/cultural idea without even considering how it lines up with the Bible and the heart of God.
When I spend my time and energy seeking after wealth, comfort and security instead of God’s kingdom.
When I stress about finances without even asking Jesus for help and insight.
When I make a major life decision without welcoming my Father into the process.
I could go on…
Even the most devout disciples of Jesus can occasionally live as if there is no God. Live as ‘fools’. Live as atheists. But I am extremely grateful that God is Immanuel (meaning “God with us”) and that he is actively present in our lives even when we choose to neglect him.
So fellow Christ-followers, let us live as if the God we give so much lip-service to truly lives! And please let’s not Bible-bash intelligent people made in the image of the God they don’t believe in.
And atheists, please forgive us for wielding our Bibles like weapons. We probably need to turn over to Matthew 5:22 and read about what Jesus says about angrily insulting the intelligence of others.