The Book of Psalms

Practical Atheism, Scene 2

Psalm 10:1-18 In these lessons we learn what practical atheism is and what it looks like, as well as what our response as Christians must be when we observe it around us and experience its damage ourselves. 
The Practice of Atheism

What are the chief characteristics of those who practice this “practical atheism”? There are five of them, according to David’s treatment.

1. Arrogance (vv. 2-4). The characteristics of the practical atheist are overlapped in David’s description, but if we take them in the order they first appear, the first notable mark is arrogance. David uses the word itself in verse 2: “In his arrogance the wicked manhunts down the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises”. But he fleshes out his description with the words “boasting” (v. 3, “he boasts of the cravings of his heart”) and “pride” (v. 4, “in his pride the wicked does not seek him,” that is, God). This haughty, boasting, vain, arrogant person shows contempt for both God and man, and does it by both actions and words. He exploits the weak and crushes him. As for his words, “He says to himself, ‘Nothing will shake me; I’ll always be happy and never have trouble…God has forgotten; he covers his face and never sees’” (vv. 6, 11).

2. Prosperity (v. 5). The godly person might expect the practical atheist to be struck down by a resentful and avenging deity, but for a time at least the very opposite seems to be the case. Instead of experiencing God’s judgment, the atheist prospers. In fact, it is his prosperity which makes his arrogance both possible and so offensive. “His ways are always prosperous,” says David. “He is haughty and your laws are far from him; he sneers at all his enemies.”

If an unsuccessful person throws his weight around, everyone just laughs at him. But when this arrogant person is driving around in a Maserati, wearing designer suits and flying off for vacations to all the hotspots of the jet-set world, it is different, particularly when he laughs at us for our old fashioned morality. “Forget all that,” he says. “There may be a God; but if there is, he doesn’t have anything to do with practical life. If you’re going to get ahead, you’re going to have to do it yourself. God won’t help you. And in this world only the strong succeed. If you’re not successful, it’s your own fault. The poor are only poor because they want to be.” Haven’t you heard that? of course, you have. It is a well-articulated philosophy in today’s culture.

Study Questions
  1. From this psalm, what are the first two characteristics of those who are practical atheists?  How does this psalm describe them?
  2. How do you see these traits carried out by well-known people in our culture today?

Reflection: List some Scripture passages that counter these two characteristics that unbelievers prize so highly.

For Further Study: James Boice’s clear and practical study of the Psalms is now available as a three-volume set at 40% off, plus free shipping.  This offer is good through March 31, so order yours today.

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