YEAR C: PENTECOST 16
September 12, 2010
Psalm 14 is another of the many lament psalms that appear early in the Psalter. It is, however, a lament with a difference. Rather than speaking of personal danger or suffering, the psalmist laments the destructive nature within the community of those who defy and deny God. ‘Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”’ (v. 1) This is not speaking about those we may regard as silly people, but rather those who are corrupt in their character and behaviour and who imagine that there is no calling to account, no one who observes and judges (cf. Prov 10:23). The cry ‘there is no God’ is common in the psalms (cf. Ps 10:4). It is not a statement of belief or lack thereof; it is not an expression of atheism. Rather, it denies that God is concerned with their actions and thoughts and as long as they can get away with what they do, or persuade others of their right, then all is alright (cf. Pss 10:11; 94:7). In Psalm 14 the psalmist is dealing with a world of cynical and corrupt individuals.
The influence of these ‘fools’ on the world about them is devastating. There is corruption. Appalling deeds are undertaken (v. 1). No one does good (v. 2) and many in society are ‘consumed’ by their actions (v. 4). It is enough to cause one to despair, to embrace disbelief in the face of tremendous odds. The irony of the situation is that the cry ‘there is no God’, which on the lips of the ‘fools’ defies God and any sense of accountability and responsibility, can lead the innocent to utter the same statement (‘there is no God’) but in the sense that God does not care about what happens to them. The lament psalm itself is a sharp cry against both forms of the statement. It is a cry against the cynics who presume their corruption is unnoticed and it is a cry against those who would succumb to their terror.
Hope for the psalmist lies with God. They believe still that the statements and actions of the wicked are themselves futile, even though they might feel alone in this faithfulness (v. 3). That feeling of isolation in belief was expressed also in a Ps 12:1. But the psalmist draws on a deep tradition in their hope. Verse 2 of Psalm 14 echoes the statement of Ps 2:4. God does pay attention to human affairs. In Psalm 2 it was to respond to the conspiracies of those with earthly power. Here it is in constant search of those on earth who may be wise, seeking after God.
The eschatological nature of the psalmist’s hope is clear in Ps 14:5 and 7. In v. 5 the psalmist imagines that ‘there’, some unspecified place or time, the wicked themselves will be in great terror as God will be found with the company of the righteous. The tables will be turned (cf. Ps 10:18b). Those who suffer as a result of the corruption at the hands of the ‘fools’ will discover their true refuge in the Lord. The psalmist’s assertion throughout is that there is accountability for those who presume their deeds go unnoticed. For the poor there is a reality beyond the present corruption and perversity. There are those who are wise, do good and seek after God. There will be a time of rejoicing and gladness.
Suggestions for the use of the psalm in worship:
Verses 1-2 can be used as a call to worship:
Fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God’Several of the lines of the psalm can also be used in the prayer of confession if combined with the regular refrain:
The LORD looks down from heaven on humankind
to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.
Fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.’ There is no one who does good.Old Testament Reading: Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
Lord have mercy.
The LORD looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.
Christ have mercy.
They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse.
Lord have mercy.
Return to OT Lectionary Readings