We Are All Atheists

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by John Ellis

“Even the Bible says that there isn’t a God,” my roommate smugly blustered.

The girl he was arguing with was incredulous, but as she pushed back it became obvious that a lack of confidence in her own position was growing. My roommate picked up on that, and went in for the dialectical kill, proud that he was about to convert another soul to atheism.

“It’s in one of the Psalms,” he shrugged. “I’m not making it up. The Bible says that there is no God.”

Gesturing towards me, he added, “Ask him.”

In a kingdom of blind men, the one-eyed man is the king. Well, in that little kingdom of oddly assorted drug dealers, strippers, and petty criminals, I was the one-eyed man. On that evening, I was also only five months away from having the Holy Spirit bring me to my knees in repentance of my sins and faith in Jesus. Having had my atheism completely upended about a month earlier, I was also angry.

Angry at no longer having what I had believed was a cogent and coherent worldview. Angry at a God I could no longer intellectually deny. And angry at people who talked about that God in my presence.

In that moment, the person forcing me to think about God and the Bible was my roommate who believed me to be his ally in converting others to atheism. To be fair to him, I hadn’t confessed to many people that my intellectual atheism had crumbled. An unwitting tool of the Holy Spirit, my roommate had stepped into my growing existential morass that would eventually terminate in the utter end of myself. So, when everyone in the room turned to hear my final adjudication of the matter, I was in no mood to side with the person who was forcing me to think about God.

In brief, and minus a few colorful pejoratives, I allowed my disgust and anger to flash as I declared, “That’s not what it says. It says, ‘The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’’ It’s in Psalm 14. You’re the fool.”

As someone rushed to get a Bible to verify my smackdown, I stewed as I fought against the truth that the biggest fool in the room was me. You see, even though I no longer intellectually denied the existence of God, I continued to openly and assertively deny the existence of God in my heart. I may not have been an intellectual atheist, but I was most definitely an ethical atheist. And that’s the point of Psalm 14.

Psalm 14 English Standard Version (ESV)

To the choirmaster. Of David.

14 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
there is none who does good.

The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man,
to see if there are any who understand,
who seek after God.

They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
not even 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 are in great terror,
for God is with the generation of the righteous.
You would shame the plans of the poor,
but the Lord is his refuge.

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.

In his commentary on Psalm 14, Charles Spurgeon suggests, “As no distinguishing title is given to this Psalm, we would suggest as an assistance to the memory, the heading – Concerning Practical Atheism.”[1]

And that’s the question that the reader (you) must ask: “Am I a practical atheist?”

That’s a hard question, but an important one. In fact, it’s such a hard question that even the great theologian John Calvin ironed out Psalm 14:1’s universality, seemingly applying the verse’s assertion only to those, “profane persons, who have cast off all fear of God and abandoned themselves to iniquity.”[2]

Yet, in his exegesis of Psalm 14 found in Romans 3, the Apostle Paul extends the “they” of Psalm 14:3-5 to everyone – Gentiles and Jews. Leading into his quote of Psalm 14:3, Paul writes in Romans 3:9, “What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin.”

In verse 10, he then adds, “as it is written:” followed by the famous passage, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

Once again relying on the words of Spurgeon, the uncomfortable reality is that Psalm 14, “is a solemn reflection that some who worship God with their lips may in their hearts be saying, ‘no God.’ … Deity in the abstract is not so much the object of attack, as the covenant, personal, ruling and governing presence of God in the world. God as ruler, lawgiver, worker, Saviour, is the butt at which the arrows of human wrath are shot.”[3]

Do you grasp the horrifying depths of Psalm 14?

You do not need to deny God with your lips in order to be counted among “the evildoers.” In fact, you can spend your free time volunteering and helping others. You can be an overall “good” person. You can even go to church regularly. However, nothing you do changes the fact that Paul’s use of “all” applies to you when he claims, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).”

Frighteningly yet not surprisingly, a recent poll released by Ligonier Ministries and Lifeway Research reveals that 69% of “Americans disagree that the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation.” I would add that many of the remaining 31% may confess truth with their mouths yet say in their heart, “There is no God.”

Unless you’ve honestly confronted yourself with the holy nature of our eternal God and what your sinfulness means in light of that truth, you can’t escape the fact that you are a practical atheist. You are living in rebellion against your Creator, and one day, referencing the Psalmist, your terror will be great when God calls you to account for your rebellion. Thankfully, neither the Psalmist nor Paul ends with the bad news that, “all have turned aside; together they have become corrupt.”

The title of this post is intentionally incomplete. Yes, we are all atheists (or, rather, we are all born atheists). However, that truth doesn’t have to apply to us. Psalm 14 ends looking ahead to the day when God’s salvation arrives for His people. In Romans, Paul tells us that God’s salvation has arrived when he declares, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets [including the Psalmist] bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe (Romans 3:21-22).”

Later, in chapter 5 verse 1, Paul assures those who are repenting of their sin and placing their faith in Jesus, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

We can escape God’s terrible judgment on evildoers by recognizing that we are evildoers and unable to please Him on our own, no matter how many good deeds we check off. We need God to provide a way of salvation. Mercifully, by sending His only Son to live a life of perfect obedience and then to take on the punishment of the sins of God’s people through his death on the cross, being resurrected three days later, vindicating his Divinity, God provided the means by which His children can be reconciled back to Him.

Submitting to God through repentance and faith in Jesus requires the confession that we are the fool of Psalm 14:1. All of us are born atheists. The question is whether we’re going to enter eternity as an atheist or not.

Soli Deo Gloria


[1] Charles H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David: Classic Reflections on the Wisdom of the Psalms, vol. 1 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing, 2011), 160.

[2] John Calvin, Commentary on the Psalms (Edinburgh, UK: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2009), 61.

[3] Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, 161.

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3 thoughts on “We Are All Atheists

  1. Interestingly enough, the psalm is repeated nearly verbatim in Psalm 53. And other than Psalm 18 (2 Sam 22), it is the only Psalm that is repeated twice in the Bible.

    Like

  2. All humans are born a blank slate.
    Few are given the opportunity to develop their own worldview unencumbered by the religious ideology of family and friends. Indoctrination starts early by design as the young mind is a sponge eager to soak up whatever is offered.

    Instead of teaching our progeny what to think it would seem far wiser to give them the tools enabling them how to think, logically & rationally, and without bias.

    Or is an independent mind a dangerous thing?

    Like

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