Psalm 14 (and its doublet, Psalm 53) always fascinate me. I have commented before on Psalm 53, and today I found the following meditation lying around—something I started but never finished or posted. So here it is. First, the text:
אָ֘מַ֤ר נָבָ֣ל בְּ֭לִבּוֹ אֵ֣ין אֱלֹהִ֑יםPsalm 14:1 in Hebrew
Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”Psalm 14, NRSV
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
there is no one who does good.
The LORD looks down from heaven on humankind
to see if there are any who are wise,
who seek after God.
They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse;
there is no one who does good,
no, not 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 shall be in great terror,
for God is with the company of the righteous.
You would confound the plans of the poor,
but the LORD is their refuge.
O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!
When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people,
Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.
“There is no God”—the prime directive, the defining credo, of The Fool—has more alternative forms than Kant’s categorical imperative.
First, let us be clear that “there is no God” does not signify the contemporary secular atheist. No, contemporary secular atheists are mostly conscientious and moral, and more than a little right: they reject the God (i.e., the duplicitous claims to being Christ-followers and God-followers) of the real ’en elohim crowd, which consists of people who do not call themselves atheists, which includes, perhaps primarily, Church People like you and me.
How do we know who the real God-deniers are? This Psalm tells us.
It is neither the semi-intellectual New Atheist crowd (who deserve what the lion David Bentley Hart gives them in the den called Atheist Delusions) nor the ordinary moral, nongullible people you and I know who won’t accept BS of any variety, including the varieties served up by incompletely integrated (the more generous understanding) or hypocritical (the harsher diagnosis) Christians. (In connection with which: Has anyone else among my Christian friends been feeling what I have been feeling? namely, that I have more spiritual kinship with some of my frankly agnostic and even atheist friends than with some professing Christians?)
Rather, the real God-deniers are people who “eat up” (treat abusively, for their own advantage) the poor, aka the righteous, who are God’s own people.
Alternative forms of credo of The Fools:
- There is a God, and God has blessed the prosperous, which is why they are prospering and why it is OK for them not to mind that others are not.
- There is a God, and God wants me to flourish while you suffer.
- There is a God, and God wants me to exploit the poor.
Those corollaries are derived rather directly from the words of the Psalm. We could go one step further and derive another corollary by trying to imagine the reaction of the people about whom the Psalmist is praying if they could hear his prayer:
- There is a God, and God wants me to accuse other people all the time but never to accuse myself. God wants me to react angrily, and never just sit quietly and listen and pray for insight, when other people accuse me, because God knows I’m always right.
And we can go even further and preface “There is a God” to any statement that we ourselves or people around us take as axioms to guide our thought about and conduct in the world—as a way of stimulating self-critical reflection:
- There is a God, and God has empowered the powers that be, so don’t question them.
- There is a God, and God wants me to vote, but wants me to do everything I can to make it hard for you to vote.
- There is a God, and God wants me to change the channel when the news shows suffering in the world, not to sit with the suffering and pray and ponder what I can do to help.
- There is a God, and God created this earth and the seas and skies and all the wondrous creatures that inhabit them, but God doesn’t mind if I join in trashing the whole thing for short-term profit.
- There is a God, and God created all of humankind, and God in the person of Jesus Christ laid aside every advantage and came to us in the form of a servant for the salvation of all humankind, but God wants me to shout “[My country] first and greatest!” whenever topics pertaining to our coexistence with the rest of the world come up for discussion.
How many of our commitments and slogans become obviously untenable when we set them next to our claim that we believe in the God of the Bible?
The list could be extended. We have so many elaborate ways of saying “‘en elohim”—there is no God, i.e., no God-as-described-the-Bible, as opposed to the god of our own self-serving conceptions.