Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
there is no one who does good.
The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind
to see if there are any who are wise,
who seek after God.
They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse;
there is no one who does good,
no, not one.
Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
who eat up my people as they eat bread,
and do not call upon the Lord?
There they shall be in great terror,
for God is with the company of the righteous.
You would confound the plans of the poor,
but the Lord is their refuge.
O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!
When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.
Reflection – This psalm often comes up in discussions of why one should not randomly quote isolated bible verses to prove a point. After all, the Bible itself says ‘There is no God’!
Leaving aside that rather cute way of demonstrating the folly of proof-texting, this is one of the grimmest of the psalms, one we may genuinely have a hard time praying. Personally, I know several people who ‘do good’, at least once in a while. In fact, I am blessed as a priest and a member of Madonna House to be in constant contact with many, many people who pour out their lives and energies in works of mercy continually.
So how do I pray this psalm? This is a good example of how, in our prayer, we are not to only be praying as individuals about our own subjective experience. In prayer, we are to be in solidarity with all humanity, in all of its situations.
And this psalm certainly does closely correspond to the situation of many people. We can think of people victimized by historical atrocities like the Holocaust or the killing fields of Cambodia. We can think of people living in situations of terrible abuse and violence, extremities of poverty and injustice, desperation in its many forms.
And of course we can certainly think of people suffering right now under the violence and fanaticism of ISIS, for example. It could well be that this psalm would fit almost perfectly for such people, being eaten up as bread by evildoers. And we can pray this psalm with and for them, a cry for deliverance, entreaty to the Lord to save them.
The other way to pray this psalm is as a check against our own too ready complacency. I am pondering this much these days—one lesson I have personally derived from the tensions around the Synod on the family is that I cannot—we cannot—declare ourselves to be ‘the good people’, while those other people who have made morally wrong choices are ‘the bad people’.
No. We’re all just people, and are any of us truly wise, truly seeking God, truly not astray in any big or small way? We all need deliverance. We all need a savior. Whether our lives are hellish nightmares of violence and terror or essentially comfortable, whether we are living with a certain measure of moral order and sanity or in grave disorder and sin, no matter what—there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’, no ‘good guys and bad guys’, none of that nonsense.
Just a bunch of human beings who God loves, who need His mercy, and who are offered His mercy over and over again. And this psalm brings us there, in its rather blanket dismissal of humanity as being of no great account. It is the Lord and his saving work that makes us glad and rejoice, not our own rather fragile virtue. And the Lord’s saving work is anything but fragile, but is strong and abiding and inexhaustible, offered for all people, everywhere, no matter what.