Summary: Everyone has played the fool. How does one become wise?
Anatomy of a Fool
Psalm 14 is one of two Psalms which begin with the words: “The fool has said in his heart: ‘There is no God.” The two very similar psalms each describe the characteristics of a fool. The Bible says that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. The contrast here is that the root of all foolishness is the rejection of God. The term here is the generic word for God “Elohim” rather than the covenant name “Yahweh.” This makes the application more broad than denying the existence of Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel, even though do deny the Lordship of Yahweh is to deny the one and only God. So, one should see the opposite fruit develop from one who has this atheistic or agnostic view of the existence of God than the blessing the LORD bestows on those who fear Him. And this is just the case. One’s view about God has implications.
David had an encounter with a man named Nabal who refused Him hospitality. The name means “Fool” and is the same word here in this Psalm. Nabal did not recognize that the LORD had anointed David to be the leader of his people and treated David roughly. The result of this behavior is that Yahweh struck him down dead. Likewise, the fool who refuses to acknowledge God and show him the proper respect is marked for death. And this death is an eternal one. Jesus describes this place of the wicked as a place of eternal torment. What could be more foolish than going to hell?
The psalm states that the first fruit of atheism is corruption. This should come as no surprise. People who do not feel that they have to give account to God, or anyone else for that matter demonstrate this corruption. As soon as people think they can get away with something, their true character comes forth. I remember seeing an account of Providence Rhode Island during the aftermath of a great hurricane. The stores were all flooded. All law enforcement was busy trying to save lives. So the people went out and looted the shops. Some of the looters were even wearing suits. Corruption knows no social rank. The only difference might be in how this corruption is carried out. There is the corruption of street violence and mugging people. But the corruption also exists in human governments that deny God. They think they are gods, and that the laws they make do not apply to them.
God calls the deeds of men abominable. And the LORD does not just apply this to some people as if only some bad people do abominable things. The next sentence clearly states: “There is none that doeth good.” Paul uses this truth in his argument in Romans about the sinfulness of all humanity. This has enormous implications as it accuses all humanity of atheism. People might worship one god or idol, but if one is not worshiping the True God, then they are regarded as atheists and fools. Many may claim to be theists or even a follower of Yahweh or Jesus, but what does the LORD say? From His heavenly vantagepoint, as One who sees and knows everything, He declares all of humanity insufferably corrupt. Not a single person is excepted, no not one. They neither know God personally, and are ignorant of His way. This is true of everyone, whether Jew or Greek. Everyone is an atheist at heart in their unregenerate nature. All are filthy. All have turned their backs on the LORD.
But as we go along in this psalm, we see that there are some who are righteous before the LORD. The wicked consume God’s own people. So God does have a people whom He calls “My people.” These people must be other than what is described as the fool. These people are persecuted by those who refuse to call upon the name of the LORD. In a sense, the wicked are not atheists as far as textbook definition is concerned. Romans tells us clearly that God has impressed the knowledge of Himself indelibly upon every human heart. Rather they are atheists in the sense that they say “No!” to God. In particular, they are saying “No!” to the rule of Yahweh in their hearts. This rebellion against the rule of God is called “sin.” So there is a link between sin and atheism.
The atheist has shamed the counsel of the poor. In fact, the atheist despises the poor in general. This is true even among those who cry against the victimization of the poor while they live themselves in expensive houses. Instead they use the plight of the poor to their own advantage. One should also perhaps think differently than the world does about what poor actually means here. It seems the context describes those who are oppressed because they believe in Yahweh rather than people of one economic condition or another. The economic poor who do not believe in Yahweh are actually just as much fools as those who are rich and take advantage of them. All means all. The corrupt rich man who has opportunity grabs millions while the poor from limited opportunity grabs what he or she can. Again, corruption is at the center of everything man does, so even his or her acts of charity are tainted. This indeed is a miserable picture.