Sunday, 21 April 2013

Psalm 14: Proclaiming God's Existence to the World

     The collection of poetic verses known as “the Psalms” served as a hymnbook for the corporate worship of the Israelites. Above fifty-three of these texts is the heading, “To the Chief Musician,” probably alluding to the one who organized and supervised the song service. What makes this so intriguing is that a number of these psalms contain little or no expressions of praise. With statements of doctrine and even cries of complaint, they appear to have been used not only to worship Jehovah but for teaching and admonishing the assembly. The words of the fourteenth Psalm, with slight modification, occur again in Psalm 53 and are then quoted in part by the apostle Paul in the third chapter of Romans.
     “The fool [senseless one] has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1a).1 Beyond the foolishness of rejecting the Creator, having done so one becomes a fool in the way he lives. A person can deny the reality of fire, but that will not prevent him from getting burned. Likewise, to dismiss God’s existence does not eliminate the consequences of so doing. And the denial is not limited to formal atheism. People deny the Lord when they dismiss Him from their thoughts and leave Him out of their lives, saying in essence, “There is no God for me.”
     Does a man first become an unbeliever in his head or in his heart? “The fool has said in his heart . . .” If one’s affections are set on truth and righteousness, there is no difficulty acknowledging the reality of the Supreme Being. Alternatively, if one’s affections are set on the earth – worldly pleasures and selfish ambitions – then it becomes much easier, more convenient, and even necessary to deny that God is real. Such a repudiation is not due to a lack of evidence (Psalm 19:1). All the proof in the world will not convince a man whose heart is set on earthly things (cf. Luke 16:31). It is therefore not a problem that can be solved in the realm of intellect alone.
     The bottom line is, if a person does not first have a willingness to believe, he will not be convinced regardless of the evidence that is available (see Acts 17:21-34). It is ultimately a matter of faith, but it is a false dichotomy to suggest that the issue is faith vs. science or faith vs. evidence or faith vs. reason. I exist, you exist, and this universe exists. From where did it all come? Whether one accepts the origin of our universe as having resulted accidentally from absolutely nothing or from a primordial clump of non-intelligent matter or purposefully from the intelligent design of a supernatural Creator, it is still a matter of faith.
     No one looks at an intricately designed, carefully constructed edifice and concludes that it came from nothing or randomly fell into place or gradually evolved into its current state. “For every house is built by someone, but He who built all things is God” (Hebrews 3:4). While this is reasonable, believable, and even self-evident, unfortunately it is not enough to convince the Richard Dawkins of this world. The problem is one of the heart.
     When it comes to the highly complex intellectual debates, I am happy to leave that to the capable apologists among us.2 But what about those of us who deal with ordinary, everyday people who disbelieve, not because of outright antagonism and immersion in naturalistic philosophy, but simply because they have not had the opportunity to hear the alternative?
     In my experience, when meeting people who say they do not believe in the God of the Bible, the biggest obstacle for them is the problem of evil and human suffering. The irony is that evil and suffering exist, not because there is no God but because people reject Him and then live accordingly. “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, They have done abominable works, There is none who does good” (Psalm 14:1). While the basis of the world’s evil lies in a practical denial of God, this is frequently twisted around to serve as what appears to be one of the most powerful objections to God’s existence.
     The argument goes all the way back to Epicurus (300 BC): If God is all-good (omnibenevolent) and all-powerful (omnipotent), why does evil exist? If He desires to take away evil from the world but cannot, He is not all-powerful. If He can take away evil but does not, He is not all-good. If He is neither willing nor capable, He is neither all-good nor all-powerful. If He is both willing and capable, why does evil exist?
     While this may sound like a compelling argument on the surface, is it valid? Let us first acknowledge that there are some things God cannot do. He cannot lie (Titus 1:2), for instance, or be tempted by evil (James 1:13). He cannot realistically be expected to do what is logically impossible (like make a square circle). If He is indeed a God of love, would He force us to act against our wills or would He grant us freedom? The blessing of freedom involves choice, and choice includes not only the possibility of making right decisions but also wrong ones. It is impossible for God to have made man a free moral agent and yet take away his capability of making wrong choices.
     Now the Lord has given mankind an instruction manual to guide us in the right direction (2 Timothy 3:16), but when people disregard divine directives and make bad decisions, pain and suffering often result. It is man, not God, who has created slavery, whips, bombs, death camps, liquor, pornography, pollution, environmental devastation and waste, false religion, et al. The gift of freedom, when it is misused, accounts for the majority of human misery.
     At the same time, the imperfections of this world serve a purpose in allowing individuals to grow and develop into mature, responsible beings in a way that would otherwise not be possible (see Romans 5:3-4). God’s desire for His creation seems to be, not the suffering itself, but the positive and beneficial effects.
     Pain, loss, and hardship also help to create a realization of human weakness and the need for God in one’s life. Pride and arrogance are self-destructive traits (cf. Proverbs 16:18), but suffering has a way of helping put things in perspective. "My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26). Moreover, the suffering we see in the lives of others provides opportunities for compassion and volunteer service (both of which would otherwise be superfluous).
     The trials we face help us to avoid complacency and to look forward to that place where “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). It would appear that the Lord desires a loving relationship with His creation more than a perfect world. Out of suffering, pain, hardship, and loss God can and will accomplish His good purpose (Romans 8:28-39).
     “The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there are any who understand, who seek God” (Psalm 14:2). The Lord is seeking those who seek Him! “But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29); “so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27); “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8).
     For anyone who sincerely desires to know God, God will provide a way. And this more often than not involves a connection with the people of God (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). May we be diligent, not only in seeking the Lord ourselves, but in proclaiming His message to a world that is lost and dying without Him.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 All scripture quotations are from the NKJV.
     2 See, for example, Apologetics Press, Focus Press, Christian Courier, et al.

*This is a modified version of the lecture “Preaching God’s Existence to the World” presented at the 2009 FHU Lectureship.

Related articles: Eric Metaxas' The Case for God

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Related Posts: Bible Miracles

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