Psalm 14: What Fools These Mortals Be
“Lord, what fools these mortals be!” Puck, Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night Dream, Act. III, Sc. II
What fools indeed! We think ourselves wise, when we are not. We think we don’t need God, that God is the invention of feeble minds.
A fool, according to Webster, is a person who lacks sense or judgment: a jester, dupe, an idiot. As a verb it is to spend time idly or aimlessly, to meddle or tamper thoughtlessly or ignorantly, joke, deceive, fritter (as in fritter away time).
Our psalm for today says, “Fools say there is no God.” Psalm 14 and 53 are virtually the same psalm with small differences. Originally they were in two independent collections of psalms, which were combined. Basically the psalm is about a person who sees God as being absent and therefore may be disregarded. It’s a form of practical atheism, most likely written during a time when irreligiousness was becoming more common in Old Testament literature, probably post-exilic time when Greek influence had been growing and weakening the faith of many.
The psalm follows a downward development. You start by saying there is no God, then out of that lack of belief comes all kinds of evil, their deeds are loathsome and corrupt, they even go so far as to “devour my people like bread.” (vs. 4) The implication is that once you stop believing in God, you have lost the normal safeguards against evil. As one commentator states, “It is a straight path from practical atheism to gas chambers.” (Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 4, p. 76)
Amidst this, God looks down and wonders if any are wise and finds none. “The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there be one who is wise and seeks God.” (2) This is reminiscent of God looking for ten just men in Sodom and Gomorrah. Certainly most Jews would be familiar with this story and would take note; God could destroy them for their evil deeds just as he smote that city.
The psalmist asks: “Have they no knowledge?” (vs. 4) Don’t they realize, God could do to them what he did to Sodom and Gomorrah? Psalm 53 states: “For God will scatter the bones of the ungodly; they will be put to shame, for God has rejected them.” (vs. 5a) The psalm ends with the psalmist crying for deliverance and for God to restore the fortunes of his people. “When the Lord restores the well-being of his people, then shall Jacob exult and Israel be glad.” (7b)
C. S. Lewis
One of the greatest theological minds of the twentieth century was an atheist at first, C.S. Lewis. They say there are no atheists in foxholes during times of war, yet C.S. Lewis came home from WWI still a confirmed nonbeliever. His autobiography, Surprised by Joy, is the story of his conversion. Being a philosopher and learned man, it was through philosophy and his studies that God finally broke down the barriers between Lewis and himself.
Lewis was led into atheism through his studies and the influence of teachers and in the same way was led out of atheism. He found that the writers who most inspired him had this one problem: being Christian. Whereas, “those writers who did not suffer from religion and with whom in theory my sympathy ought to have been complete – Shaw and Wells and Mill and Gibbon and Voltaire – all seemed a little thin.” (Surprised by Joy)
In spite of their Christianity he was drawn to Johnson, Spencer, Milton, Plato, Aeschylus, Virgil. “Chesterton had more sense than all the other moderns put together; bating, of course, his Christianity. Johnson was one of the few authors whom I felt I could trust utterly; curiously enough, he had the same kink.”
Another remarkable event happened in 1926 when “the hardest boiled of all the atheists I ever knew sat in my room on the other side of the fire and remarked that the evidence for the historicity of the Gospels was really surprisingly good. ‘Rum thing,’ he went on. ‘All that stuff of Frazer’s about the Dying God. Rum thing. It almost looks as if it had really happened once.”
Giving into Joy
All of his life Lewis had searched for what he termed “joy” – a certain sense of “unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction” It was this desire that ultimately led him to God. “A desire is turned not to itself but to its object.” He finally realized that that which he sought, was seeking for him, had been seeking him all along. “If Shakespeare and Hamlet could ever meet, it must be Shakespeare’s doing. Hamlet could initiate nothing.”
So finally in 1929, Lewis wrote, “I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps that night the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”
Lewis fought God. In his pride he did not want to appear naïve or foolish. He wanted to be “intellectual” and count himself among the learned. Yet this learning was ultimate foolishness, wisdom could do no less than fall in faith before God.
God’s Search for Us
Our God will use whatever means available to reach his people. He spoke to Lewis using the words of great writers, for others he uses other means. Some find God in nature and the wonders of the universe; others find God through relationships. God works quietly and yet profoundly to get our attention.
Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 that the wisdom of the world is foolishness – that the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. Jews seek signs and wonders, Greeks seek wisdom, but we proclaim a Christ crucified.
Psalm 14 and 53 are not treatises on atheism. They are a treatise on a certain kind of atheism, practical atheism which rejects God and belief in practice, if not in theory. Practical atheists believe in God yet act as if there was no God. Outright disbelief in God was not common during the time this psalm was written, but there were those who lived their lives as if God did not exist.
Our God loves us and seeks us out, but he will not coerce or force belief on anyone. Still we resist God’s love; we look for proof of God’s existence rather than taking that ultimate leap of faith. As C.S. Lewis states in “Dogma and the Universe,”: “Really, we are hard to please. We treat God as the police treat a man when he is arrested; whatever he does will be used in evidence against Him.” Foolishness, pure foolishness.
Who are the True Fools?
A fool, as stated at the beginning, is a person who lacks sense or judgment, a jester, dupe, idiot. It is to spend time idly or aimlessly, to meddle or tamper thoughtlessly or ignorantly, joke, deceive, fritter away time. What fools we mortals be. We fritter away our time with things of this world which will fade away, which leave us with no joy, rather than spending our time on the things of God. We think ourselves wise when we are not.
The things of God may appear foolishness to the practical atheists who think only of themselves and their personal gain, rather than being kind, helping others, putting other’s needs before our own. But they are the fools, for in gaining the world, they lose their soul. So let us be fools for Christ, bearing our own crosses with love for He loved us first. Then we shall see in the end who is the true fool.
This post is part of a series on the Psalms. Click on the button to follow the blog and receive a free copy of the book, Dancing on a High Wire, book 1 of the Dancing Through Life Series! click here to follow blog