The Righteous One’s Answer to Atheism

a brief study of Psalm 53, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 2 May 2008

Christians, redeemed by the blood of Christ, are in this world, but not of this world (Jn 17:15-16). We were born again by the Spirit that we might one day dwell in the celestial city where righteousness prevails. We are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Heb 11:13; cf. 1 Pet 2:11).

For this reason, despite the corruption of our natures, many Christians will find it baffling to dwell in this world where wickedness and atheism prevails. “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness” (1Jn 5:19) says the apostle John.

It is perhaps for this reason, that the Holy Spirit appointed for two almost identical psalms to be, as it were, spectacle lenses for us to see what God thinks of the world and its foolishness.

I am referring to Psalm 53 and Psalm 14. These two psalms are well-known to New Testament believers because they are quoted by the apostle Paul to support the doctrine of the total depravity of man in Romans 3.

Content wise, they are almost identical—just like the two lenses in our spectacles. The two main differences are, firstly, in the way God is addressed. In Psalm 14, the name of God Jehovah is used, whereas in Psalm 53, the word ‘Elohim’ is used. Elohim emphasises the might and power of God. This is consistent with the second significant difference between these 2 psalms, which is in verse 5.

What is the difference? The difference is that in Psalm 14, verse 6 is addressed to the wicked; whereas the counterpart in Psalm 53, i.e. the second part of verse 5 is addressed to the believers.

In Psalm 14, the emphasis is that God will deal with the wicked for their wickedness towards his people. In Psalm 53, the emphasis is that God’s people will triumph over the wicked.

So as someone puts it: Psalm 14 refers to God’s enemies and their alarm, whereas Psalm 53 refers to God’s people and their interest. Psalm 14 contemplates judgements against God’s enemies, whereas Psalm 53 contemplates vindication for God’s people.

So Andrew Bonar entitled Psalm 14 as “The Righteous One’s view of the earth and its prospect”; whereas Psalm 53 as “The Righteous One’s view of the earth and the victory of God’s people. We may entitle it, “The Righteous One’s Answer to Atheism,” in contrast to Psalm 14, which we entitled, “The Righteous One’s Censure of Atheism.”

Let us take a fresh look at this psalm bearing this in mind.

We can divide this psalm into 2 parts. In the first part, verse 1-4, we have an explanation of why the world is in such a state of moral chaos and wickedness; whereas in the second part, verses 5-6 we are given a glimpse of the solution to the problem.

1. The Problem

1  The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that doeth good. 2 God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God.  3Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

Man is made in the image of God. There are no natural atheists. Every man knows by nature that God exists.

But fallen man hates God, and so he tries his best to hold down the truth in unrighteousness (Rom 1:18). He tries to convince himself that there is no God. This is what he is doing when he says in his heart, “There is no God.”

His heart tells him that God is, but he is trying to convince himself that God is not.

He succeeds to an extent. At least, he succeeds sufficiently to disregard God’s laws, and His righteousness and holiness. And so he lives as if God does not exist.

And as he lives without the love of God and His fear, nothing he does can be acceptable to God. Instead, he becomes corrupt and does abominable iniquity.

Who are we referring to? Are we referring only to terrorists, robbers, adulterers and murderers? No, no; we are talking about every man.

Notice how the Spirit emphasises this fact:

1 …there is none that doeth good.…3 Every one of them is gone back: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

Whose conclusion is this? It is God’s conclusion. This is what the Spirit is saying when he tells us that God is looking down from heaven to seek out any that “did understand, [or] that did seek God” (v. 2). But he finds none. If anyone can find a righteous man upon the earth, it must be God who knows all things and sees all things. And yet we are told that it is God’s conclusion that there is none righteous, no not one (v. 3). Not one of the natural sons of man can meet up to God’s standard of righteousness.

The apostle Paul confirms this doctrine not only by quoting from our text (Rom 3:10-12), but declaring: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).

The fact is: without love for God and a fear of Him, we cannot glorify God. Therefore, we will fall short of his glory.

But how bad is the problem? Is it just a case of a touch of wickedness that affects some men, at some time, in some things that they do? Well, no, for as the Spirit declares emphatically:

3 Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

Man is altogether become filthy because of the Fall. He sinned in Adam and is guilty in him. He inherits original sin, and a corrupt nature. All that he does, say or think, is therefore tainted with sin. Even his most righteous acts are impure. All our righteousness are as filthy rags in the sight of God says Isaiah (Isa 64:6).

This explains, does it not, all the trouble, pains and sorrows that exists in the world. If every man loves and fears the LORD, would there be any of the pains and sorrows in the world? No, no; it would be paradise on earth.

Foolishness is a disease that affects all men. But make no mistake: none of us should be complacent about this disease.

In fact, we should live such a distinct life from the world that in some ways, that the world which believe not God finds us offensive. This distinction is implied in verse 4, where the workers of iniquity and condemned for persecuting and taking advantage of God’s people. Why do they do so? One of the major reasons is that they hate God and therefore they hate those who love and know him.

Therefore as believers, we should not be neutral to the atheism of the wicked or, worse still, applaud them for their way of life. God has declared those who live atheistically to be fools. The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”

They may think themselves to be very wise because they know rocket science or nanotechnology or geology or archaeology or palaeontology, etc. But if they say in their heart, “There is no God,” they are fools.

The world may not regard them to be fools, but God does; and one day, he will openly condemn them for foolishness and he will vindicate the saints whom the world regards to be fools.

This brings us to the second part of this psalm:

2. The Answer

5 There were they in great fear, where no fear was: for God hath scattered the bones of him that encampeth against thee: thou hast put them to shame, because God hath despised them.

These words are directed to God’s children who are persecuted for righteousness sake.

The world today may be without the fear of God. The world may trample under-foot righteousness and look upon God’s people with disdain and persecute them by vehemently denouncing them as fools or politely hinting that they are fools.

They seem to be able to get away with it. But not for long. The day of judgement is coming. God will vindicate his people. He will avenge his people. He will condemn the wicked by showing that his people are right.

The day will be a day of great fear. The wicked were foolish, proud and self-sufficient. But they will cringe in fear and call upon the mountains and the rocks to cover them for the day of the wrath of the Lamb is come.

What shall we do as we anticipate that day? Let us beloved brethren, not look forward to it like the Pharisees who are full of condemnation for the wicked. Let us rather remember that we too are by nature foolish and have need of deliverance.

So let us sing with the psalmist, verse 6—

6 Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! When God bringeth back the captivity of his people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad.

Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! Oh that the Lord will redeemed His Church through the ministration of the Word coming out of Zion.

We have seen at the beginning of this psalm that there is none righteous, no not one. We are all fools by nature. None of us are excepted. “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child” says Solomon (Prov 22:15). We were all children and if God does not intervene we will remain spiritually childish.

But God can change us. He can change us by redeeming us through the blood of Christ and transforming us through the renewing of our minds in the knowledge of Christ by His spirit and by His word.

He can in this way bring us unto salvation. Is this not what the apostle Paul is alluding to in 2 Timothy 3:15? We are fools by nature, but Christ can by His word and spirit make us wise unto salvation.

And we need to be wise. We should long to be wise.

We begun this psalm by talking about the problem of the world that result from foolishness. Do you realise, beloved brethren, that most, if not all your problems in the Christian life and in the church have their origin in foolishness?

If we are wise, we would not make foolish choices which make us practical atheist and bring pain and sorrows to ourselves.

If we are wise, and do not entertain foolish thought patterns, we would be able to overcome many of the pains and sorrows surrounding relational problems with our friends, colleagues and church mates.

We need, therefore to pray for wisdom.

“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed” (Jas 1:5-6)

We need to pray for it unwaveringly. We need to ask the LORD to help us to apply His word to our hearts. We must be determined to be wise, first by recognising that we are by nature foolish and have need of the wisdom that God alone can give. And secondly, by pursuing after the knowledge of Christ in his fear.


The fool hath said in this heart, there is no God. Let us not be fools. Let us rather remind ourselves that unless we are made wise unto salvation by the Word and Spirit of Christ, we shall remain foolish, and we shall reap our foolishness in pain and sorrows.

Let us therefore pray. Let us pray for wisdom. Let us pray that the Lord will revive us and change all our wrong thinking into biblical and godly way of thinking.

This is the solution for the day as we live in this world of sin and foolishness. We must not allow ourselves to be consumed by the foolishness of the world for otherwise in the day that God deals with foolishness, we shall be as the foolish virgins who are shut out of the wedding banquet of the Lamb. Let us be wise and be prepared for His coming by seeking true knowledge and true ways of thinking about God, about ourselves, about one another. Only in this way will we be able to glorify God and enjoy him and one another. Amen.

—JJ Lim