The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God. … A complete reading of Psalm 14 is in order. Notice I said complete. There the psalmist appears to call the unbelievers “fools.” But later one can see that he is really talking about those who cease to believe because they see so much wickedness in the world.
I have often meditated on this Psalm, which is a great example of that oblique way of thinking so typical of the Ancient East. The reasoning of that piece of Scripture seems to orbit around the problem of evil and its power to blind the eyes of goodhearted, righteous people. But then, why does the author start the song insulting those who give up believing?
I think his idea is to rescue that kind of unbeliever by shocking him off his simplicity: if everyone is bad and there is no good, then we should wonder where the very idea of justice comes from. That should begin to reveal God to us. Read that Psalm carefully and you will notice that God later takes the place of the unbeliever and confirms his observation that indeed all men are evil.
Then in verse 5 we are informed that all righteousness comes from God, presumably also the righteousness of the despairing unbeliever, the “fool” introduced in verse 1. Later we are introduced to those who really do not believe: those who misunderstand God’s absence as a license to do evil on others. Notice that formal believers can also be counted among the wicked.
Many times in many forums I have seen how the simplicity of some believers opposes the simplicity of some unbelievers. That reminds me of the parable of the sheep and goats. There Christ shows in very clear terms that our believing has to be firmly tied to our doing good. In short He tells us that doing good to others is the only way to save our sorry behinds. There Jesus brings light into the matter of Psalm 14: if a despairing unbeliever is a fool, how much more a fool would be an uncharitable believer! And then not only a fool but a soul condemned to death for his lack of charity.
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds,
there is none that does good.
The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men,
to see if there are any that act wisely,
that seek after God.
They have all gone astray, they are all alike corrupt;
there is none that 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 generation of the righteous.
You would confound the plans of the poor,
but the Lord is his refuge.
O that deliverance for Israel would come out of Zion!
When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
Jacob shall rejoice, Israel shall be glad.