The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man,
to see if there are any who understand,
who seek after God.
They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
not even one. (Psalm 14:2, 3)
First of all, whom is God examining here? He’s examining the children of man (Ps 14:2). This word man in Hebrew is the same word translated elsewhere into Adam. God is examining the children of Adam. Who are Adam’s children? All of us. Every last one of us.
Second, what is God looking for? He’s looking to see if there are any who understand, who seek after him (Ps 14:2). He’s looking for people who are looking for him, but he doesn’t find any.
God’s evaluation of humanity here is all-inclusive—all, together, none (Ps 14:3). While he certainly sees many religious people, people who profess to believe in him, and people who appear to do good in this world, God’s infallible conclusion is that all have sinned and fall short of his glory (Ro 3:23). I can’t remember who said it, but I remember the line that goes, “God finds nothing in man to turn his heart, but more than enough to turn his stomach.”
Many people are prone to push back. They would argue humanity isn’t that bad. To be clear, David isn’t suggesting that we are all as wicked or sinful as we could be. In Romans 1, Paul implies that God restrains the wickedness of men. We are only as wicked in this world as God allows us to be.
David is also not suggesting we are without a conscience or any sense of right and wrong. Sometimes we refer to God’s moral law—namely, the Ten Commandments—as his natural law. It is a natural law because God built it right into his creation. “As a result,” Paul says, “people are without excuse” (Ro 1:20).
Lastly, David doesn’t mean we’re unable do what appears to be good works. According to Paul in Romans 2, even Gentiles, who do not have God’s prescribed law, sometimes do what the law demands (Ro 2:14). However, there’s a significant problem with their so-called good works.
No amount of good works will ever be good enough. God is holy and perfect. His law is holy and perfect. God and his law demand perfection. The book of James says, “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” (Jas 2:10). Let’s not forget what David says in Psalm 51. “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps 51:5). Paul says, “In Adam all die” (1Co 15:22). In other words, we do not merely commit sin. We are sinners. As Adam’s children, we share his fallen nature.
We may not like to think of ourselves as depraved, evil people. We’d much rather think we all have a little good in us, but that could only be true if we are evaluating ourselves by a standard other than God’s law. According to God’s law, each one of us is guilty.
When the LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, he is judging according to his law (Ps 14:2). He’s evaluating us by his perfect standard, and we all fall short. We are all fools, who say in our hearts, “There is no God” (Ps 14:1). Our very nature rejects him even if we never say it out loud.
That is the true condition of humanity. We are not born good. We are not even born neutral. Despite what our appearances may suggest, we are wicked sinners who reject God.