What is a fool? He is a superficial person.
The fool is a man who does not think. He acts in an impetuous manner and does not consider the consequences. That is the biblical meaning of the word fool. And Psalm 14.1 says: ‘The fool says in his heart, “There is no God”’.
‘Dear me’, says someone, ‘surely that is a most extraordinary statement. Is that true today? Is that your contention?’ Yes. I believe in the depth of my being that those who say there is no God are just fools. And my business as a preacher is to enlighten them, to expose their folly. I do so out of love and concern for them. This is the vital matter of all matters.
Controlled by desires
Atheists are fools and the first respect in which this is true is that they are people who listen over-much to their hearts. The fool says in his heart. The heart is the seat of the sensibilities. They are governed by what they desire and by what they want to do rather than by certain other things.
Why is this a foolish thing to do? Let me put it in the form of a number of contrasts.
First, they are fools because they listen to their desires instead of listening to that sense that is within them (it is in every man and woman born into this world) — a sense of God. Now people, of course, may try to stifle that and argue it down. But I am asserting that in everyone there is a sense of God. You can study anthropology and investigate the most primitive peoples. Many of them worship stones and trees and find spirits in animals and so on. But they all have this sense of a supreme being, of a God who is at the back of and beyond all the other gods they worship. Men and women who brush aside this innate part of their very being are, I suggest, fools.
Second, in the same way, such people go against the voice of their conscience. We all have a conscience within us. The voice of conscience says: ‘That was wrong! That isn’t true! That’s against God!’ But the atheist sees another kind of life that he has conjured up; he sees people living it. He wants to live it. But his conscience condemns him. So, to live that life, he has to say: ‘There is no God’.
But, thirdly, and I particularly emphasise this, such people are fools because they do not listen to their understanding. The average person today, hearing a statement like that, would respond by saying: ‘Do you know that you’re preaching in the 20th century? Why, it’s because of their understanding that they don’t believe in God!’ That is the argument today, is it not? It is said that these people do not believe in God because of their knowledge and their great brains and the only people who still believe in God are either primitive types or people who deliberately put their heads in the sand and will not look at the evidence.
So let me meet that argument. ‘The LORD looks down from heaven…to see if there are any who understand (v.2).The psalmist’s contention is that atheists are fools because they do not act on their understanding, but on their desires. How do I establish this? Let us ask: Is this disbelief in God confined to the learned and knowledgeable? You see, if this argument is right, then all ignorant people would believe in God but all learned people — especially scientists — would not. But is that so? We know perfectly well that, for every intelligent atheist you can show me, I can show you one who is unlearned and ignorant. Oh, it is wonderful to hear these distinguished intellectual atheists speaking on the media. But people on the street say exactly the same thing as they do. Is denial of God based on learning? Then why do ignorant people say exactly the same thing?
Disbelief in God is not primarily a matter of intelligence. The facts prove it is not.
But let me put that in a still stronger form. Not only can I show that illiterate people who have no culture do not believe in God, I can on the other side show you men of knowledge, learning, and science who have been some of the greatest believers in God and in Christ. For instance, think of Isaac Newton, a scientific genius, or Blaise Pascal, the brilliant mathematician. These men, renowned for their intellectual abilities, believed in God. I could go on. But it is clear that, whatever the explanation may be for the failure of men and women to believe in God, it is not due to knowledge and learning.
But someone might say: ‘Well, of course, all that you have just said might have been quite right 200 years ago, but the reason for atheism is our recent knowledge. There is Darwinism now, and our knowledge of psychology and the study of comparative religions’. But the simple answer to that is that in the time when David wrote this psalm, around 1000 BC, 3,000 years ago, people were saying the same thing. There is nothing new about not believing in God.
Lunatics with brains
Is it not clear then that this has nothing to do with knowledge as such? No it is a question of understanding, and that is a very different thing. People may have great knowledge. They can be aware of many facts, but be fools in their personal lives. Have we not known such people? I have known men in some of the professions whose opinion I would take without a moment’s hesitation because of their knowledge. But sometimes those same men have been utter fools. They have behaved like lunatics. They drank too much even as a less educated man did; they were guilty of adultery even as he was. There is all the difference in the world between knowledge and wisdom, real understanding. Though people may have great brains, they may still be governed by lusts and desires. That is why they are fools.
Jumping to conclusions
But let me come to a second point. These people fail to exercise true understanding, and this is something I want to demonstrate in two ways.
First, they arrive at momentous conclusions on insufficient evidence. This is to behave like a fool.
What are these arguments such people bring forward? We cannot, obviously, deal with them all, but let us look at some. Thousands of people say, ‘I don’t believe there is a God’. When you ask, ‘Why not?’ they reply, ‘Well it’s quite simple. If there is a God why are there wars?’ Or, ‘If there is a God, why are there disabled children?’ Or again, ‘If there is a God, why are there earthquakes and things like that?’ And on that kind of reasoning alone they come to the conclusion, ‘There is no God’.
Now it is amazing how intelligent people can argue like that. I had a conversation once with an intelligent professional man who told me the reason for his unbelief was that his wife, for a while, had to endure a very painful illness. And that to him was proof that there is no God.
He had arrived at that tremendous conclusion on that one bit of evidence alone. I asked, had he ever thought that perhaps God had a purpose in allowing this in order to bring something else to pass? I said: ‘How have you and your wife normally lived with respect to God? Have you worshipped him regularly?’ He had to admit that they had not.
‘Has it occurred to you’, I said, ‘that perhaps God permitted your wife to have this pain to make you both think seriously about God and perhaps come to have this conversation with me? So perhaps God has chastised you now in order to bring you to your senses.’ He had never thought about it at all!
I cannot stay with this argument, but there are many people who do not believe in God because of the problem of pain, and yet the answer is a simple one. The Bible gives it in many places. It is so easy to explain, and yet people say, just on that one bit of evidence, ‘There is no God’.
Then people bring forward what they see as the evidence of psychology, and comparative religion, and of course the great question of evolution. And in every single case the answer is the same. All these things are but theories, based on suppositions, ideas conjured up in the minds of men to try to explain the facts. None of them is adequate, all of them are criticised, and there are rival theories and rival schools. And so I maintain that anyone who draws the momentous conclusion that ‘there is no God’ on that sort of evidence is a fool.
Avoiding tremendous evidence
But look at it the other way round. Such people are doubly guilty. They take little bits of evidence and draw this atheistic conclusion; but they do not face the other evidence, the vast, tremendous evidence on the other side. ‘What do you mean?’ asks someone.
First of all, I mean the evidence of creation. I mean the world, the cosmos in which we live. Where has all this come from? And how does it all consist and hold together? Is all this ordered universe, this amazing cosmos an accident? That idea, I say, is unthinkable. As a man privileged to learn a little science and who still has an interest in it, I must say my mind cannot accept such a statement. It is madness.
Second, look at man himself. Are you really satisfied that man is an accident who has come into being, we know not why, nor to what end? My dear friend, you are insulting your humanity. Man stands up as a protest against it all. There is only one explanation for man and that is God! Man is too big to be explained in human terms. He is more marvellous than the cosmos itself.
Further, have you ever considered the evidence of history? Read your secular history, and read the Old Testament history. Can you explain it all apart from God? Can you explain the Jews in particular? Why have they persisted? Where have they come from? How do you explain their whole story, in the Old Testament and since? I say there is only one explanation of the Jews and that is God!
Have you ever considered the evidence of prophecy as we find it in the Old Testament? Have you ever considered the fact that events were foretold 800 years and more before they ever happened? Have you ever written down on a piece of paper the facts concerning the birth and the life and the death and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ? Have you gone back to the Old Testament and, as he himself said, have you found those same facts there? There is only one explanation: God sees the end from the beginning and orders all things after the counsel of his own eternal will.
Jesus of Nazareth
But over and above all this evidence I ask you to look at Jesus of Nazareth. He belongs to history. We all recognise that by numbering the years as we do. He did live. And he died under Pontius Pilate. How do you explain him? Can you get rid of him? There is only one way to explain him, and that is God!
And, indeed, how do you explain the Christian church herself? How did this despised sect become the official religion of the Roman empire after three centuries? How do you explain the mighty revivals in her history — like the Reformation and others — which are acknowledged by secular history? Can men and women bring these things to pass? Of course they cannot. It is God!
That is some of the evidence these people ignore and dismiss when they say: ‘There is no God’. They draw their conclusions out of the flimsiest evidence, and they neglect and ignore this mighty evidence.
Prove that you are wise
But, finally, my third reason for calling such people fools is because they do not hesitate to risk their whole eternal life and their whole eternal future. ‘Ah but’, they say, ‘I don’t believe there is anything after death.’ Well, you may not believe it, but can you prove it? I say that, in the light of the evidence I have just been adducing, anyone who is prepared to risk it is a fool.
You cannot prove there is not a life after death and yet you say: ‘I’m prepared to risk it’. Are you? What if the Bible is right and after death men and women who do not believe in God go on to an eternity of misery and wretchedness — endless, useless remorse, kicking themselves because of their folly?
But look at what they have rejected. Consider what they have refused. There is no life, even in this world, that is comparable to a godly life. It is a clean life; it is a pure life; a life lived in fellowship and communion with God and with Christ. It is a life lived among the people who have done the greatest amount of good in this world. I would simply ask you to read, secular books as well as others; even they prove and demonstrate this. You see, that other life is so empty. I read recently a statement by a certain popular novelist who is now facing the end. He has always been cynical towards the godly life, and there he is now, at the end of his, with nothing. But the life of trust in God has joys and pleasures to give us that the world does not know, even here and now. And as you go on, it gets better. And as you begin to contemplate the end, you are not frightened of death. You do not say: ‘It’s the end of everything’. Rather you say: ‘I’m going on to spend my whole time with Christ in eternity’.
So can you not see the folly of saying that ‘there is no God’? It is the absence of understanding, the absence of true reasoning. Be wise, I humbly beseech you. Come to God to acknowledge your folly, your sin, your shame. Ask him to have mercy. He will tell you he sent his only Son to die for you and your sin and that he will forgive you freely and give you a new life and make you his child. Prove that you are wise!
This article is a heavily edited chapter from Seeking the Face of God: Nine reflections on the Psalms by Martyn Lloyd-Jones, published by Crossway (2005), and is used with permission.
This article was first published in the August 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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