In 1908 The Times asked a number of authors to write on the topic, “What is wrong with the world?” G.K. Chesterton’s answer was the shortest one submitted. He simply wrote:
— James Johnston, The Psalms: Rejoice, the Lord Is King
Psalm 14 begins, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Ps 14:1). Reading this verse, our minds likely jump to thoughts of the practical atheist. We think of people in this world such as Richard Dawkins, who wrote The God Delusion. We think of the most vocal critics of God and religion.
David, however, is talking about himself. He’s talking about G.K. Chesterton. He’s talking about me. He’s talking about you. Every last one of us is corrupt and guilty of abominable deeds; there is none who does good (Ps 14:1).
There are plenty of people even within Christendom who believe we are born morally neutral. We are neither good nor evil, they claim, but that’s not what the Bible teaches. We have all turned aside; together humanity has become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one (Ps 14:3). As David says elsewhere, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps 51:5).
Until we can humbly admit the truth of our depravity, we will never sincerely call upon the LORD and seek his refuge (Ps 14:4, 6). Instead, we will continue blindly marching toward the great terror we deserve (Ps 14:5).
If, on the other hand, we confess we are the fool of Psalm 14, we will finally be able to see Christ for the Savior he is and trust in him alone for salvation (Ps 14:1). Then, we can rejoice with David, saying, “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” (Ps 14:7).
What is the great terror?
Those who do not call upon the LORD are in great terror, or dread, because God’s judgment against them will come sooner or later (Ps 14:4, 5). Technically, the great terror in Psalm 14 is not an explicit reference to the judgment to come but the current path toward judgment the unrighteous are on.
Is that eternal hell or referencing some other punishment?
I would say both. While many Old Testament passages point to a near fulfillment (i.e., “some other punishment”), they also allude to a distant fulfillment (i.e., “eternal hell”). In light of Paul’s usage of Psalm 14 in Romans 3, eternal punishment is certainly in view.