Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they commit abominable acts;
there is no one who does good.
God looks down from heaven on humankind
to see if there are any who are wise,
who seek after God.
They have all fallen away, they are all alike perverse;
there is no one who does good, no, not one.
Have they no knowledge, those evildoers,
who eat up my people as they eat bread,
and do not call upon God?
There they shall be in great terror,
in terror such as has not been.
For God will scatter the bones of the ungodly;
they will be put to shame, for God has rejected them.
O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!
When God restores the fortunes of his people,
Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.
Reflection – Well, we’re heading into a bumpy patch of road on the Monday Psalter, that’s for sure. If you look ahead at the next bunch of psalms (as I did on my poustinia day last Friday) you will see that the 50s find the psalmist in a pretty sour mood, pretty darned beleaguered, pretty unhappy with humanity in general.
While none of us would want to live in the world of Psalm 53 ff., I suppose few of us have wholly avoided these moments in our life. ‘You’re all a bunch of idiots! The whole world is insane! It’s all going to hell in a handbasket!’ And so on. And so forth. My own country is having a federal election today, and I have been lamenting in various virtual and real world conversations the real lack of any good outcome. Lots of fools, for sure, but very few indeed who are ‘wise, who seek after God.’
It is this whole business of saying in one’s heart ‘there is no God’ that is the root of all our human folly. And I am not thinking here of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens (RIP) and the like, although certainly they are part of it. I’m thinking of myself, and you. But mostly me.
Folly is living as if God does not exist, and a person can be going to church twice daily and living a life that seems to be all about God one way or another (I don’t personally have too much else going on in my life)… and yet, that folly persists.
The folly of not praying in the face of a difficult situation. The folly of thinking it’s all on us and our intellects to figure things out, that God has no help for us, the Spirit no guidance to offer us. The folly of maintaining a stubborn little corner of autonomy, that one place in our life where we erect a pathetic little sign, ‘No Trespassers – And God, That Means You!’
The folly of investing our value, our sense of self, our meaning, purpose, happiness, life goal and life project in creatures, one way or another, rather than in the Creator and our communion with Him. The folly of living as if this world and what is in it is all that there is, and there is no world to come, no gravitational pull of not just our own life, but the whole life of the cosmos, towards the future kingdom of God. The folly of thinking that there is anything whatsoever in this world worth giving a particle of energy towards besides loving God with all our heart, mind, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves.
All of that is the practical atheism of the heart, the folly that none of us can safely claim we are wholly free from. And it is out of this that all the gross and subtle forms of foolish choices, disastrous mistakes, bad ideas come from. And worse yet, the horrific evils that ‘eat up people’, that cause the actual destruction of human lives—tragedies of abortion, terrorism, addictions, cruel economic exploitation and greed.
In all of this—and this will come up in every one of these psalms over the next week, after surveying the landscape of human failure and wickedness, the psalmist turns his eyes to God with a simple plea for deliverance and merciful redemption. And this is always our resting place, no matter how we’re doing or how we’re feeling about the human scene and its various follies, and our own. ‘O that God would speedily deliver us – Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy!’ That’s the ticket. In fact, that is wisdom itself – the turning of the human mind and heart heaven-ward to receive the grace that comes from above, so that He may show us the way forward through the folly of the world into the kingdom of the wise and the true.