God and the Fool
God and the Fool
"There’s probably no God..."
Back in 2009, some well-known atheists and the British Humanist Association, ran an advertising campaign, emblazoning the sides of English buses with the words, “There’s probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”
And so these signs became quite a common sight, across London and other major cities.
Actually the bit that I liked best was that some smart alec made up a website, where you could enter your own phrase, and it would generate a photo of your slogan pasted onto the side of a London bus.
“There’s probably no sermon, but come to church this Sunday anyway, ”
That sort of thing!
“There’s probably no God”,
It’s slightly different to what we find in the Psalm here, isn’t it, the fool says in his heart “there is no God”, but actually, when that advertising campaign was being planned, one leading atheist said, “Really, we can say for certain that there is no God, and so the signs on the buses ought to read ‘There is no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life.’”
Apparently it was only for fear of the Advertising Standards Authority, that the word probably was left in.
Don’t ever let anyone say the Bible is outdated, irrelevant, out of touch, with what people are saying in the 21st century!
Were it not for fear of the British Advertising Standards Authority, these exact words from Psalm 14 would be plastered across buses and advertising billboards across the world.
The fool says “There is no God”
Of course, you don’t need to be a paid-up member of the British Humanist Association to agree with this opening statement of Psalm 14.
Lots of people we know say this. Either out loud, or, in their hearts, “There is no God”
And maybe even it’s a thought that you have.
You maybe don’t call yourself a Christian.
If you really got put on the spot, maybe you’d say, “No, I don’t think there is a God”, but you’ve come here today, just to make sure you’ve got that right.
Of course, if that is you, and for anyone we know who thinks this, it is potentially quite offensive, isn’t it, to say those words are the words of a fool!
The fool says in his heart,
“There is no God.”
It doesn’t sound very complimentary, does it?!
The celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins is trying to get us to refer to atheists, not as atheists, but as “Brights”!
So if that were you, you wouldn’t say “I’m an atheist”, you’d say, “I’m a bright!”
It’s supposed to imply something about you, and by extension, imply something else about those who disagree with you!
But the Bible is pretty clear isn’t it?
This isn’t something that a bit of spin can fix.
To say there is no God is utterly foolish.
Who are you calling a fool?!
When we hear the word fool, we perhaps imagine someone acting like a bit of a clown, Think of John Lennon “I play guitar, sometimes I play the fool”, you know, mostly harmless.
Or perhaps we think a fool is someone who is intellectually deficient, someone who can’t see the obvious,
Unable to process information.
But in the Old Testament, a fool is not, the class clown,
It’s not someone who can’t put 2 and 2 together, a fool is someone who rejects God.
They may be, the smartest person in the room.
They may have a string of letters after their name,
They may be frequently called upon to share their insights and observations,
But according to the Bible, if anyone makes a conscious decision, to ignore God, or convince themselves that he doesn’t exist, they are being foolish.
See it’s nothing to do with intellect,
It’s about an attitude towards God.
See it really is utterly foolish, to say “there is no God” when our ability to probe and discern the entirety of reality is so limited.
When this person says, “there is no God”, he or she is in effect saying, I have observed all of reality,
I have infinite knowledge,
There is nothing in the entire realm of all that exists, that is beyond my reach,
Nothing that is hidden from me,
So I can tell you definitively, “there is no God”
You know, “I’ve been everywhere, man!, and I know God is nowhere.”
The Bible doesn’t see this statement as a genuine, but perhaps misguided conviction, but as a deliberate act of defiance against God.
Because the Bible is absolutely clear, that the truth about God can be known.
That means to reject God,
To deny his existence,
Even to say he’s probably not there,
is not to act in ignorance, but in defiance.
,, God has woven evidence for who he is, into the very fabric of creation.
Let’s have a look at what God himself says about that in his Word, First of all, in Psalm 19, printed on your outline.
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
3 They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
Psalm 19:1 - 4
The created order declares, not just the existence of God, but the glory of God.
Not content simply to communicate that God is, creation says, “Let me tell you something about what God is like. Let us speak to you of God’s glory.”
Or if we turn to the New Testament, the Apostle Paul writes to the Christians in Rome, and he says, Romans 1, The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
Romans 1:18 - 20
Every person can see, what God has revealed about himself. Every person.
So to say, “there is no God”, is not to be uneducated,
Or even misguided.
To say “there is no God”, is to reject what God himself has chosen to make known.
Bertrand Russell was another celebrity atheist, of days gone by. He was once asked, when he died and came face to face with God, what would he say to God about why he didn’t believe,
What excuse would he give, for saying “there is no God”?
And Russell’s answer, was to say, “Not enough evidence, God, not enough evidence.”
“No,” Paul says,
God has made himself known.
No one can say, “I didn’t know there was a God. Not enough evidence, God”
Now, we need to remember, God hasn’t revealed everything about himself in creation,
He doesn’t reveal his saving purposes, for example, in the heavens, or the stars, or the beauty of a sunset,
Paul says God makes 2 particular things known, his eternal power and divine nature, and those 2 things, are sufficient for any person with honesty and integrity to conclude God does in fact exist.
To reject what God has made known, is wrong, and foolish.
1 The fool says in his heart,
“There is no God.”
As if to remind us, just how widespread this rejection of God is, the Psalmist starts talking in plurals,
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;
there is no one who does good.
He’s not having a go at any particular person,
But he’s distressed at anyone, who lives their life as if God is not there,
God looks v2
But it’s not just the Psalmist who sees this pattern of life and its terrible consequences, see verse 2, The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind
Here is God’s perspective on the world,
See, from a human perspective, many of those who live like this, look well, successful,
But the person who lives in open defiance of God, is called a fool, when seen from God’s perspective.
What God sees: Rejection of God leads to rejection of good.
So what is it that God sees, when he looks down from heaven?
Well it’s a pretty bleak picture isn’t it?
From God’s perspective, a rejection of God, leads to a rejection of good.
Put it another way, denying the existence of God, has consequences.
Verse 1 told us what the fool says about God, now we hear what God says about the fool:
Verse 3, 3 All have turned away, all have become corrupt;
there is no one who does good, not even, one.
To reject God, means to reject all that is good, and not just to do wrong things, but for an inward change to have occurred, to have become corrupt.
But I’m sure you noticed, our field of view has widened again.
The field of view includes all of humanity
Right at the beginning we were looking at one person, an example, perhaps a more extreme example, of someone who rejects God,
Then, remember the plurals, here’s a category of people,
Now who does God hold up in front of us?
All have turned away,
all have become corrupt;
there is no one who does good, not even, one.
In the movie Gone With the Wind, there’s only one scene I remember, other than the famous one, you know, “Frankly, my dear”, but the even more astounding scene, is a shot of the wounded soldiers after the Battle of Atlanta in the Civil War, and the shot opens with just one or two wounded men, laying on the ground in the railway yards,
And then from those one or two, the camera slowly pulls back, and there’s a few more injured,
Then the crane pulls back some more, and there’s dozens of injured,
And the camera keeps pulling back and back relentlessly, and the screen just fills, with these hundreds and hundreds of wounded and dying soldiers,
All we can see are injured and lifeless bodies, stretching off into the distance.
Did you see, that’s what the Psalmist has just done?
Started with one, the militant atheist; “there is no God”,
Then a group, a type, they are corrupt,
Then all we see, no matter where we look, is people who have rejected God, All have turned away
No doubt some of us, were feeling pretty good at the beginning, . 1 The fool says in his heart,
“There is no God.”
I feel good about myself, when I read those words.
Well I at least believe in God,
This is all about someone else.
And even those of us who aren’t Christians, can probably read those words and think, “well, at least I believe in some kind of God”,
This isn’t about me,
But the camera keeps pulling back and back, and eventually we find ourselves in the frame.
God’s assessment of humanity: corrupt and without good
You may never have spoken those words, out loud, or in your heart, but left to your own devices, you have turned away from God.
God’s assessment of us,
On our own, our best efforts, is: corrupt, and without good.
I don’t know, maybe we think that’s unfairly harsh,
It doesn’t mean, though, of course, that an individual person can’t do things that we would call good,
We’ve heard all kinds of stories in the past weeks, of kindness and goodness in the wake of the bushfires, and terrorist attacks, and the like.
This isn’t saying for a moment that people are incapable of doing things that are helpful to others, we know that’s not true!
But isn’t it true, that the good deeds that we see and hear about, are often against a backdrop of corruption and evil, that’ the reason we hear about them?
And the point is, those things count for nothing before God, if our entire life is based on the premise, that God doesn’t exist, or that God doesn’t matter!
See, if we make even a single decision, with no thought, for God, it exposes our assumption, that we know better than the God of the universe.
That’s what the Psalmist means when he talks about corruption; The assumption, the arrogance, that we know better than God, and therefore can forge ahead with a pattern for life that leaves him entirely behind,
Or perhaps we take him along for the ride, a good luck charm, as long as he’s convenient.
That is, the Psalm tells us, every person’s attitude to God.
No one is good enough to be in relationship with God, or to earn God’s blessing and favour.
Even those of us who were feeling pretty good about ourselves at the beginning, by the time we get to here, we find that we too have fallen short of God’s standard.
Psalm 14 is not “Us and God against the fool”!, Us and God against the atheist.
Psalm 14 pictures, all of us, against God.
Without God’s gracious action, that is the standing of every dingle person.
And God would be entirely right, to pour out his judgment,
To punish our rebellion against him,
To call us to account for our arrogance, for living as if “there is no God”
And if this were all we knew, it would be a terrible picture indeed.
God has gathered people to himself
But as we move into the second half of the Psalm, we see that actually, from among this massive expanse of humanity, all of whom have rejected God,
God has in fact gathered a people to himself.
Listen to God speak, in verse 4, Do all these evildoers know nothing?
They devour my people as though eating bread;
Or verse 5, for God is present, in the company of the righteous.
Verse 6, 6 You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor,
but the Lord is their refuge.
We’ve just been told in verse 3, we’ve just been given God’s perspective, All have turned away,
all have become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one
That is, there’s no one who’s genuinely gone looking for God,
No one who meets God’s standard for life,
No one who deserves relationship or blessing from God,
No one actually, who’s even capable of a relationship with God, because our sin and rebellion, necessarily keeps us away from God.
The penalty for sin and rebellion, is separation from God and his blessing.
And yet now, in verses 4 to 6, the Psalmist presents us with a group of people who are in relationship with God,
There are people who, if you like, are on God’s side.
There are people called righteous, that is, in a right relationship with God,
There are some whom God calls my people,
There are people even, for whom God acts. The Lord is their refuge, verse 6.
If no one seeks God,
If all have turned away from God,
If no one is capable of a right relationship with God,
Then for God to describe some people as righteous, as my people, then clearly it’s God’s work, not the people’s work that has brought that change.
It is God who has gone looking for the people,
It is God who has bridged the divide and separation between a rebellious humanity and a perfect God,
It is God who has turned people around,
God who has made them good,
God who makes, and declares, people to be righteous.
That’s the only way this could be possible.
We had a pet lizard for a while, a bearded dragon. ‘
It escaped once, out into the wilderness that is our backyard.
When it was out in the yard, the lizard was in no way at all seeking its way back to us,
The lizard wasn’t trying to find us.
We were the ones seeking the lizard!
We were the ones searching through the garden,
We were the ones talking to the neighbours, “Have you seen our lizard?”
Sunny, the lizard, did not work her way back to us,
We got her back eventually, not because she found her way home, but because we had been looking, on hands and knees, no stone unturned literally, in the pain and aching of searching, we found her, and brought her back.
If we cannot be good enough for God, and in fact if we want nothing to do with God, if we are the lizard bolting from the back door, the only way for God to be present in the company of the righteous verse 5, is for God himself to make a way.
For God to seek us, on his hands and knees, no stone unturned, for God in the pain and agony of searching, to gather a people for himself.
See, here in Psalm 14, is the gospel of Jesus encapsulated.
Humanity is far from God, and rejecting God.
We have our eyes fixed on things other than God, and we think that’s just great,
And so the only way for the chasm between us and God to be bridged, is for God himself to bridge it,
And we know, living where we do in salvation history, that the way God acts for restoring relationship, is through the cross of Jesus,
Where Jesus takes the punishment for sin and rebellion that we deserve,
Where Jesus, who always lived under the rule of God his Father, takes the penalty that we earned, through living as if “there is no God”.
The Psalmist trusts in God’s future deliverance
Of course the Psalmist, a thousand or, 500 years before Jesus didn’t see the cross that clearly.
He just knew that God had made a people for himself.
He knew that God could be trusted to provide refuge for those who suffer at the hands of wicked men
He knew that people who opposed God, would also oppose God’s people, They devour my people as though eating bread; verse 4
But notice where God is when those people he has made his own are suffering?
Verse 5, God is present in the company of the righteous.
6 You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor,
but the Lord is their refuge.
The Psalmist’s confidence, and remember, this was the hymn book, the prayer book, for the ancient people of Israel, this was the confidence that God’s word gave to them,
Their confidence, was that God was real,
God was present,
God would act for them,
God would bring justice.
That is a real hope, isn’t it?, and so far, from the feeble hope of the atheists,
“There’s probably no God, so stop worrying and enjoy life?
Do you hear what they’re asking us to do?
The British Humanist Association, wants you to enjoy the fact, that if there’s no God, no one who hurts you will necessarily ever be called to account for that.
Go on! Enjoy that!
Enjoy the fact that the perpetrators of genocide in Iraq and Syria, and so many other countries that don’t even make it into the headlines any more, enjoy the fact that most of those guilty of such atrocities will get off scot-free?
I email back and forth with the Anglican Bishop of the Middle East, shall I email him that, next time? Enjoy the fact that most of your people who are getting slaughtered will never receive justice.
Enjoy the fact that violent husbands and abusive parents, those who destroy the very lives they’re supposed to be protecting, well if there’s no God, they can continue their abuse with impunity.
Sure, we have a criminal justice system, and ours is excellent, superb, by world standards, but pick one crime, sexual assault, as an example, in South Australia, up to 91.3% of sexual assaults aren’t even reported! There’s no legal system on earth that can bring justice for crimes that don’t even get reported!
These monsters just get away with it!
Our sense of justice, our desire for justice, is spat upon, when we’re told, “there’s probably no God. Now enjoy life.”
Ah, but the Psalm is different isn’t it?
The Psalm says there is a God, and he has great concern, and shows great care for his people,
There is justice, for those who are oppressed and persecuted.
And it’s all because, God is very much there.
And it seems like God is shaking his head in utter disbelief, “Do they know nothing?”
And yet, they do know something.
Because a spotlight is shone into the deepest recesses of the hearts of those who reject God, and do evil,
Hidden away, perhaps very very deeply hidden and rarely, if ever acknowledged, there is a tiny seed of knowledge,
Something they know to be true,
Verse 5, But there they are, overwhelmed with dread,
for God is present in the company of the righteous.
Perhaps occasionally it rears its head as a gnawing fear,
Perhaps it’s a momentary panic,
Maybe it gets uncovered by the peace and confidence of the people they’re opposing,
Earlier this year we heard of a Muslim woman who converted to Christianity, she was charged with apostasy, and sentenced to death.
To the amazement of those prosecuting her, she calmly told the court that she had no fear of death, no reason to fear death.
One can only wonder, what kind of dread that must strike into the heart of those persecutors, that their very worst weapon, is powerless, for God is present in the company of the righteous.
And maybe even it’s that seed of doubt, that gnawing thought, that has brought you here this morning, wondering, “Well, can we know God?”
And if so, we really hope and pray, that that inner wondering, will be the beginning of you coming to know God, as he really is, as he has made himself known in the person of Jesus.
I’d love to give you a copy of Matthew’s eye-witness account of Jesus’ life, and to read it with you. Come and see me afterwards, so I can put this in your hand.
But make no mistake, even though the Psalmist stands there in history so many hundreds of years before Jesus,
And even though he sees God’s presence,
God’s action, so much more dimly than we do,
Even so, he knows there is more to come.
He knows that the refuge and deliverance he sees and has experienced, will pale in comparison with the deliverance God will one day bring,
He knows even that the way he sees God’s presence, is nothing in comparison, to the final restoration of relationship he longs for.
These last lines really make it clear that in the Psalmist’s day, the story was unfinished.
7 Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When the Lord restores his people,
let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!
If you’ve been with us since before Christmas, this is really the non-stop message that we’ve seen, isn’t it?
God’s work for his people,
His saving acts, some of which were pretty huge and impressive, they were various pieces of a puzzle,
And, yes, each piece made some sense on its own, but each piece is part of a larger whole,
And it’s the finished picture that gives the individual pieces their truest and most complete meaning.
One day salvation did come out of Zion, that is, Jerusalem.
And that final salvation that God won for his people through Jesus’ life, and death, and resurrection, shows us in the clearest way imaginable,
What it is, and what it costs to be righteous,
What it takes for God to be able to call us my people
It shows us just how God can be, forever present in the company of his people.
And by God’s grace we see it, and can understand it in a way, well, beyond the Psalmist’s wildest dreams.
We’re in danger from practical atheism
Friends, we can read a Psalm like this, and we can talk about the militant atheists, and there’s a risk that we can feel, all at sea, batten down the hatches,
I don’t want us to be at all afraid of the fool who says in his heart, “There is no God”,
I don’t want us to feel endangered by the celebrity atheists, and their campaigns,
One Christian leader in the UK even donated 50 pounds to the atheist bus campaign, because he knew the ads would get people talking about God and faith. And as a Christian he was all for that!
I’m not saying we’re going to add a budget line for the Humanist Association in our church budget! But I don’t want us to feel endangered by them.
There is however, an enormous danger, that I want us to be absolutely and completely on guard against.
I want us to look out for it in our own lives,
I want us to guard against it in our church life,
I want us to allow each other to call it out when we see in each other’s lives,
I want us to commit, to pulling it up by the root whenever we see it.
Have I made my point?!
The danger we must be on constant guard against, is the danger of practical atheism.
Theological atheism, or dogmatic atheism, that’s verse 1.
The fool says in his heart,
“There is no God.”
That’s what’s on the side of the buses.
Practical atheism is much more insidious,
Practical atheism is when people do believe in God,
When people do call themselves Christian,
When people are part of a church,
They don’t deny the existence of God,, they deny the relevance of God.
They say God exists, but they live as if he doesn’t.
They say God is real, and powerful, and in control, but they shut God out of their lives, so that the power and control lies with them.
The practical atheist, reads his Bible, her Bible, and then ignores every command and exhortation God speaks.
To make decisions;,
What job should I take?,
Which relationships do I invest in?,
How do I think about money?,
How do I evaluate what sporting or social activities my kids will be involved in?,
What do I do in my spare time?,
What do I watch on TV?,
How do I conduct myself with boyfriend, my girlfriend, my work colleagues?,
What care do I offer my aging parents?,
Do I get out of bed early on a Sunday, or do I roll over and go back to sleep?
What do I think of sin? How seriously will I deal with it?
Those are all questions, and there are plenty more, those are all questions that need to be answered, knowing that, The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind
To think about how I spend my money,
Or my time,
Or how I manage my family, without reference to God, the God who gathered us to himself in Christ in such a costly manner, that is practical atheism,
To leave God out of the picture.
To live as if God is irrelevant.
And it is a great danger for us,
Our whole society encourages it, teaches us to think like this, to leave God out of our decision making and planning.
We need to deliberately guard against it,
To ask the question:,
How does the reality of the God who looks down from heaven on all mankind,
The reality of the God who is present in the company of his people,
How does that reality,
Shape my life?,
Shape your life?
Shape our life together?
The fools says in his heart, “There is no God”
The practical atheist says, “there is a God, but I’m ignoring him”
Which of those 2, would you call the bigger fool?