The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ (Psalm 14:1)
To be clear, the word fool does not refer to a person who lacks intelligence. What he lacks is understanding. He may be an otherwise brilliant man, but he’s simultaneously senseless regarding certain spiritual or moral matters. Namely, he claims, “There is no God” (Ps 14:1).
Unsurprisingly, this verse makes most of us immediately think of the practical atheist. We think of someone such as Richard Dawkins, who is an outspoken critic of religion. In 2006, he published a book titled, The God Delusion, in which he argues science has rendered belief in God useless. He has said, “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence.”
Mr. Dawkins is looking at things upside down. The book of Hebrews says, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God” (Heb 11:3). It isn’t tangible evidence that compels us to believe. We believe, then we understand. We trust in God, then the world begins to make sense.
The fact is, no amount of tangible evidence will ever convince the atheist. Consider the unbelieving Jews who saw sign after sign from Christ. They couldn’t possibly deny his power, yet they still refused to believe. Instead, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons that this man is able to do what he does” (Mt 12:24).
The practical atheist doesn’t exist because he lacks evidence. You’ll notice the fool in this text doesn’t deny God merely with his lips. The fool says in his heart, “There is no God” (Ps 14:1). This denial comes from within. It’s a part of the very fabric of his being. This defiance of God, and it is defiance, is his very nature.
In Job 21, Job says:
They spend their days in prosperity,
and in peace they go down to Sheol.
They say to God, “Depart from us!
We do not desire the knowledge of your ways.
What is the Almighty, that we should serve him?
And what profit do we get if we pray to him?” (Job 21:13-15)
That’s defiance. Paul says, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Ro 8:7). In the Hebrew, this verse in Psalm 14 literally says, “The fool says in his heart, ‘No God.’” The fool blatantly defies God.
To be clear, though, David is not exclusively describing the practical atheist, or the one who altogether denies God’s existence. This kind of denial and defiance comes in many forms. Yes, some people openly deny God, but many others profess to believe in either a god or the God while still playing the part of the fool, who says in his heart, “There is no God” (Ps 14:1).
Consider Romans 1, where Paul describes the pagan Gentiles. He says:
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (Romans 1:21-25)
Notice some of the similarities that passage has with Psalm 14:1. Paul, too, calls them fools. They lack understanding specifically about God. It’s from their hearts this foolish defiance comes. And the end result is, they deny God. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie (Ro 1:25).
Even so, you’ll also notice these Gentiles still practiced religion. They still believed in and worshiped various gods. They didn’t altogether deny the existence of a spiritual, heavenly being as Richard Dawkins would. Does David have them in mind when he writes Psalm 14:1? Absolutely. They denied the one true God.
In fact, we can go even further. Through his prophet Isaiah, God said of the people of Judah, “This people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me” (Isa 29:13). That’s a euphemistic way of saying, “They don’t know me. They defy me. They deny me.” Their lips said one thing, but their hearts revealed something else altogether.
In other words, there are people who profess to believe in the one true God, yet they are fools, who say in their hearts, “No God.”
David isn’t exclusively talking about the outspoken, practical atheist here. The fact is, he’s talking everyone. He’s talking about Adam’s entire fallen family. We are all corrupt by nature (Ps 14:1). We are all rotten from within. We all do abominable deeds because that’s what an inherently corrupt person does. There is none who does good.