Wednesday, September 9, 2015

What about the fool?: Learning to Pray Psalm 14

Psalm 14 is a powerful testimony to the chaos of our world when the LORD is not at the center of humanity’s intentions. The core of Israel’s ethic is the love of God and neighbor. God transforms God’s people to embody this love in community for the sake of that surrounding nations and for the glory of the LORD.

The fool says in his heart,
    “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;
    there is no one who does good.

The Lord looks down from heaven
    on all mankind
to see if there are any who understand,
    any who seek God.
All have turned away, all have become corrupt;
    there is no one who does good,
    not even one.

Do all these evildoers know nothing?
They devour my people as though eating bread;
    they never call on the Lord.
But there they are, overwhelmed with dread,
    for God is present in the company of the righteous.
You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor,
    but the Lord is their refuge.

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
    When the Lord restores his people,
    let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!

Scripture intimately links love for God and neighbor. One cannot love God and practice injustice to others. Justice and love for humanity and creation flows out of our love for the LORD. This reality is the problem presented in Psalm 14. It opens memorably, “The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God’” (v. 1). In the Bible, the fool is the opposite of a wise person who trusts God and walks in God’s ways. The fool in Psalm 14 is not an atheist. To say, “there is no God” is a denial that the LORD acts in our world or cares about how we live. The focus is on the motives and intention of the fool. The fool’s motivation arises from his heart or will. The fool by acting as if there is no God active in the puts his own cares, desires, and wants above God’s vision of justice. Thus, the psalmist summarizes his life as one who is vile and not able to act for the good.

Verses 2–6 describe the LORD’s response to those who live their lives as if God is incapable or unwilling to act. Verses 2–4 summarize the general lostness of humanity apart from the ways of the LORD. These verses paint a pessimistic but important portrait of our world apart from God’s grace. We do not have to look far to see the brokeness and pain that human decisions cause. The apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans (3:10–12) quotes from Ps 14:2–3 in his argument that culminates in the declaration, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,…”.

In the midst of this, it is important to note that the LORD is seeking persons who will turn to him (v. 2b). God desires to see justice and abundance prevail over all the earth. Verse 4a suggests that the choice of evil is irrational. How can humanity not know the living God? God seems surprised. Why choose to act in ways contrary to the beautiful designs that God has for his world and people?

Yet, much of humanity does choose to live in opposition to God’s reign. Verses 4b–6 describe this in terms of the foolish and wicked oppressing God’s people. Here God’s people find themselves among the poor and marginalized. However, Psalm 14 affirms that God is with the marginalized and serves as their protector and refuge.

Verse 7 proclaims the LORD’s salvation. The psalmist in a statement of trust calls for God’s people to rejoice in anticipation of the LORD’s full restoration of justice and righteousness.

What does it mean to be a fool according to this psalm?

How does Psalm 14 teach us to trust God more deeply?

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