Summary: There is a worldwide awareness that God exists, but also a worldwide infection of sin. God in Christ comes to get our attention so that never can anyone say, in foolishness, that God is absent or does not matter.
Takoma Park Baptist Church, Washington, DC October 5, 1986
In some of the more strict religious communities there is the practice called “shunning.” When someone is shunned, usually because he or she has violated the moral code or has broken the way of behaving expected in that group, it means that no one, absolutely no one, is to have anything to do with the object of this punishment. If you are to be shunned, say by one of the stricter and more conservative Amish groups, no one is to speak to you, no one is to do business with you, no one is to recognize that you exist. If you are married, your wife or your husband is expected to cancel out all normal marital relationships. If you have children, even they are to be barred from conversation or from being disciplined by you. Shunning is a devastating punishment because it directs people to act as though you did not exist. They look past you and through you, rather than at you; and it's worse, far worse, than being fought or being argued with or even being hated. To be ignored, to be left out, is vastly more damaging than to be fought. The human mind has thought of few punishments more thorough and more destructive than shunning.
Imagine, then, if someone were to shun God. How would God feel? Imagine, if you can, that someone were to act as though God did not exist, if someone were to refuse to speak to God, were to erase the name of God from his lips as well as from his books. Imagine if that person, working at shunning God, putting God in a corner, were to go on his merry way, pretending that God is nothing, God is nonentity. How Would God feel? What would that do to God?
Well, the psalmist gives us an insight into that here in the 14th Psalm. “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” Actually the Biblical scholars tell us that that is not quite the right translation of the text, that there's a better way to say it. The Biblical scholars tell us that there really is nothing like atheism or agnosticism in the Bible; for these people the experience of God was too immediate, too direct and too personal, and so never does anyone deny that God exists. But the better translation would be something like, "There is no God here.”' or “God can't reach me here," or even “God doesn't matter." The fool has said in his heart, "God doesn't count". The fool, the man who never learns from experience, has said in the secret places of his being, "I can get along without God".
Now when you begin to read it like that, does it sound a little familiar? Does it sound less like know-it-all atheism and more like the everyday garden-variety foolishness with which our world is infected? Of course it does, because, you see, very few people anywhere around the world will stand up and say for all to hear, “There is no God.” Very few societies are without some form of religion, very few peoples in history have been without reverence for some sort of God; that's important to remember on this Worldwide Communion Sunday, as we celebrate a worldwide Gospel. There are folks allover the world with God's name on their lips and with these symbols of Christ set before them, millions of them. Very, very few would say, right out loud, "I don't believe in God.”
But if I hear the Psalmist correctly, it is just as true in our day as it was in his that scores of us shun God. Scores of us are foolish enough, rash enough, to act as though God did not exist, practically speaking. Scores and hundreds of us, even Christians, even those who gather at the Table of the Lord on this day, scores and hundreds of us will look right past our God instead of looking at him and will say in the secret places of the heart, “God doesn't count. God doesn't matter. I’m doing very well on my own, thank you." The fool, we fools, have said in our hearts, "Oh, come on, I can agree there must be a God, but practically speaking, He doesn't matter, not really.“ The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”
In the beginning of this idea, I asked, what does God think of this, how does God feel about it? When you shun God and sail right on past without a nod, what is God's response? The psalmist has it, "The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any that act wisely, that seek after God. They have all gone astray, they are all alike corrupt, there is none that does good, no, not one. “