“The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt; they have committed abominable deeds; There is not one who does good.”
What atheist hasn’t had the words of Psalm 14:1 (paralleled in 53:1) hurled in their direction at some point in a debate with proselytizing Christians? And were they not, on occasion, dispatched with a haughtiness bordering on contempt?
But all is not what it seems. There is a side to Psalm 14:1 that atheist-disparaging Christians may find embarrassing. A look back at Psalm 13 is needed, however, to understand the words of Psalm 14:1 set in their proper context.
Psalm 13 reveals an agonized, yet uplifted Israelite who feels that his God has forsaken him. Present are signs that his faith has undergone assault as well.
How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O LORD my God;
Enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
And my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
And my adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken. [Vv. 1-4: NASB]
Feeling overwhelmed and dejected, at least initially, by a God he sees as agonizingly unresponsive and distant, our beleaguered Israelite turns, in Psalm 14, to belittling his non-believing adversaries in kind; labeling them ‘fools’ (and worse) for failing to embrace belief—not in a supreme deity per se—but belief in*his* supreme deity! The Psalmist is not referring to some abstract metaphysical construct devoid of substance in Psalm 14:1 but to the God of the OT book of Genesis. Or to be more precise: the non-Trinitarian version of that God.
The author of Psalm 14:1 wasn’t saying, “Anyone who believes that NO ‘God’ exists is a fool.” That is a relatively modern-day spin on the text. He was saying that anyone unconvinced of the reality of the God of Israel—that is to say, Yahweh—was a fool! The Hebrew word nabal (נבל = ‘fool’) being used here to designate someone morally deficient.
So how does this all relate to atheist-disparaging Christians?
Regardless of whoever the Job-like Israelite in Psalms 13 and 14 (or its author) was originally, it is quite clear that his antagonists were not real atheists. They were individuals who believed in some deity (or deities ) other than Yahweh. True atheists—as the term is understood today—are a product of far more modern times, for the most part.
The fact is, if one were to insert Christians amid the collection of those not fully accepting of the non-Trinitarian ‘God’ of the Israelite of Psalm 14:1, they would be deemed ‘fools’ as well! They would be seen as polytheists and dismissed right along with the rest of the “atheists.”
Now tell me they wouldn’t.