Psalm 53: The Rerun We Need

Read Psalm 53.

Psalm 53 is like a rerun; its words are nearly identical to those of Psalm 14. But since psalms were originally sung, maybe Psalm 53 is more of a remix than a rerun. The lyrics remain, but ancient DJs changed it up to make it fresh for a new generation. Maybe.

Whatever the reason for the repetition, the message must have been important enough to be worth saying again. Reading the first line of the psalm, I get that: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 53:1).

I grew up attending a Christian school, and I can remember this verse popping up during discussions of the big bang and the theory of evolution. Those scheming atheists were going to get it. How could they be such fools?

Reading Psalm 53 as an adult, though, I don’t think the psalmist had folks like Richard Dawkins or Bill Maher in view when he penned this line. He was imagining someone like me, and maybe someone like you. We all tell ourselves, There is no God. Maybe it’s not a statement of faith or part of a sustainable worldview, but we entertain the thought in our heart, even if only for a moment, whenever we sin.

It’s kind of the essence of sin, isn’t it? Every time we choose to hurt ourselves or someone else by indulging in sin, we deny the very nature of reality. We lie to ourselves, imagining we live in a world where sin does not lead to death, where our actions don’t have consequences, and where there is no God who will judge our actions. We may not say these things out loud, but it’s the only way sin makes sense.

The same well-meaning folks who warned me about Darwin when I was growing up would also sometimes offer this as a guardrail against sin: “Would you do that if Jesus were sitting next to you?” If you wouldn’t do something in full view of Jesus, you probably shouldn’t do it at all. The truth is, He sees everything we do anyway. There is never a moment of life when “there is no God.”

The problem is, we have become a people dependent on what we see. We trust our eyes too much. If we can’t see it, it must not be real. To pick a few mundane examples: It’s easy to overeat, because we won’t see the results of our choices for a while, and then it’s subtle and incremental. It’s hard to have long-term goals, because there is no immediate, tangible payoff.

And it’s easy to tell ourselves God isn’t real in the moment of temptation. It happens so quickly the idea doesn’t even have time to percolate into a conscious thought. We can’t see Him next to us, around us, and within us. Our eyes deceive us.

Yesterday, I was making breakfast while my six-year-old, Jonah, played Legos. I had the worship song, “Surrounded (Fight My Battles)” by Michael W. Smith streaming in the background while I chopped and cooked. The song’s hook is this great line, “It may look like I’m surrounded / But I’m surrounded by You.” But it caused Jonah to set aside his Lego adventures for a moment to protest. “Dad, that doesn’t make any sense. Who’s surrounding the man in this song?”

I love moments like this one, because they give me an opportunity to share Scripture with my boy. I paused breakfast for a few minutes, grabbed my Bible, and read 2 Kings 6:8­–17. In the passage, an army had surrounded the town of Dothan where the prophet Elisha was. When Elisha’s servant went outside, he was struck with fear at the sight of the horses and chariots waiting to attack. But God had given Elisha eyes to see reality: a fiery army set on horses and chariots in the hills, sent by God to protect His servant. Elisha and his town may have been surrounded by an army bent on their destruction, but God’s army also surrounded them. “It may look like I’m surrounded / But I’m surrounded by You.” This is true when we’re in danger but also when we’re facing temptation.

At the end of Psalm 53 (and Psalm 14, for that matter), there’s a cry of hope: “Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!” (Psalm 53:6). David is looking forward to the day when God Himself will reign as King in Jerusalem. On that day, it will be impossible for us to say, “There is no God.” All doubt will be removed as we see Him face to face. “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God’” (Revelation 21:3). This promise is more real, more true, more trustworthy than anything we can see with our eyes today.

What is this all about?

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