Dealing with Atheists
(H) For the director of the choir, according to “Mahalath,” a Maskil of David. (1) The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt. They have done vile injustice. (There is) no one who does any good. (2) God looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God. (3) They have all fallen away. Together they have become corrupt. (There is) no one who does good, not even one. (4) Have the workers of iniquity no knowledge, those who eat up my people like they eat bread and do not call upon God? (5) There they were trembling in great fear where there was nothing to fear, for God will scatter the bones of the one who encamps against you. You will put them to shame, for God has rejected them. (6) O that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When God restores his captive people, let Jacob be glad, let Israel rejoice!
Psalm 53 is a virtual repetition of Psalm 14 with a few notable exceptions. In Psalm 14, the name used for God is primarily “Yahweh” while in Psalm 53 it is exclusively “Elohim.” In Psalm 14, God’s enmity is directed toward the people of Israel who act as if there were no God. In Psalm 53, it is Israel’s atheistic enemies who are in view. Both psalms express the desire for God to intervene in human history on behalf of his chosen people.
I. What the fool says in his heart (1)
II. What God sees when he looks down from heaven (2 & 3)
III. What God will do as a result (4 & 5)
IV. How the righteous should pray (6)
Those who deny God’s existence and oppose his chosen ones face the terrifying prospect of his destroying them and saving his beloved ones.
Whether in David’s day, some 3000 years ago, or at the time of the Babylonian exile around 400 years later, or in the present day, the godly have always cried out to God for protection and deliverance from the oppression of the ungodly. While that deliverance may not come quickly, we can be sure that God knows our plight and has pledged to provide the protection we need at just the right time and in just the right way.
The imagery of the second verse reminds us of paintings that portray God as an old man with a snowy beard and mane of white hair, leaning over the portals of heaven in order to gaze upon the earth. That image is what students of Scripture call “anthropomorphism,” that is, a figure of speech that pictures God in human terms and engaged in human activities. God, who is spirit, both omnipresent (in every place) and omniscient (knowing everything), certainly has no need to gaze down from heaven to learn if there are any who fear him on earth. The one who numbers the very hairs of our heads does not need to gather information by observation. He already knows inherently everything there is to know, including those who love him and those who do not.
It is comforting to know that Yahweh is fully aware of all that is happening in our lives, particularly when we are surrounded by enemies who foolishly deny his existence. We can rejoice that God has promised us his presence and protection. We can take great comfort in knowing that those who claim he does not exist will one day be required to acknowledge him. Paul phrased it this way: “At the name of Jesus every knee (will) bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue (will) confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11).