Psalm 14

Yes. God is around

Friedrich Nietzsche was angry.  The famous German philosopher, a strident critic of Christianity, had sent the manuscript of his latest book, Thus Spake Zarathustra, to the publisher months earlier but it still had not been published.  In this book, Nietzsche famously proclaims, ‘God is dead!’  He wondered if the book was too controversial for the publisher.  But a month later he learned the real reason: the printer had shoved Zarathustra aside in order to meet a rush order for 500,000 hymnals!  That the madman (in the story) who had the nerve to proclaim the death of God should have been temporarily smothered beneath the collective weight of 500,000 Christian hymnbooks struck Nietzsche as richly comic. *

Psalm 14 famously begins:

Only fools say in their hearts,
    “There is no God.”

When we read such a line we immediately think of famous         contemporary atheists such as Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins.  But this is a kind of intellectual atheism unknown in Biblical times.  The reference here is to a practical form of atheism, that is, people who believe there is a God but that this God is remote and unconcerned with human affairs, thus we are free to act as we please.

Our culture knows such practical atheism.  What the psalmist calls foolishness and wickedness (v.1-3) are essentially what our culture teaches people to be – autonomous, self-directed, self-sufficient.  These wicked have no moral restraint.  With God on the sidelines, they are free to oppress the poor and needy and amass wealth unjustly.  Such practical atheism is commonplace.

OT scholar, Walter Brueggemann says this about practical atheism:  ‘When the Creator is not honoured, creaturely life disintegrates and degenerates.  The end result is a life filled with terror (v.5).  There are no guards, limits, or boundaries, but everything is continually at risk.’

While Psalm 14 may be a sharp rebuke to practical atheists , it is also a warm encouragement who pray the heartfelt words of v. 7 …

        Is there anyone around to save Israel?
    Yes. God is around; God turns life around.
Turned-around Jacob skips rope,
    turned-around Israel sings laughter.  [MESSAGE]     

So the psalmist encourages us to organize our lives in God’s kingdom ways.  And to celebrate the God who governs for the poor and the righteous.  This is Good News indeed!


*Story in The Age of Atheists, by Peter Watson, 22.