The Book of Psalms

Practical Atheism, Scene 3

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

Yesterday we looked at the first two characteristics of practical atheism.  Today we consider the other three.

3. Security (v. 6). The third characteristic of the practical atheist is his apparent security, which his prosperity seems to guarantee. David quotes him as saying, “Nothing will shake me; I’ll always be happy and never have trouble.” During the Second World War the Fascist premier and dictator Benito Mussolini was shot at and nearly killed on one occasion. But he laughed it off, saying, “The bullet has never been made that can kill me.” That is the attitude of the “secure” atheist. No one can touch him. And as far as any divine retribution is concerned, well, if God even saw what the person has done, he has forgotten. God doesn’t interfere.

4. Vile speech (v. 7). The fourth characteristic of the practical atheist is a surprising element for most of us, but it is nevertheless in many of the psalms: vile or destructive speech. David says, in words later quoted by the Apostle Paul as uniquely descriptive of the ungodly (in Romans 3:14), “His mouth is full of curses and lies and threats; trouble and evil are under his tongue.”

I call this surprising, because most of us think of truly bad acts as wicked and of words as harmless and unimportant. C. S. Lewis says that at first he found it surprising too. “I had half expected that in a simpler and more violent age when more evil was done with the knife, the big stick, and the firebrand, less would be done by talk. But in reality the psalmists mention hardly any kind of evil more often than this one, which the most civilized societies share…It is all over the psalter. One almost hears the incessant whispering, tattling, lying, scolding, flattery and circulation of rumors. No historical readjustments are here required, we are in the world we know.”4

And if we think about it, the psalmist clearly is right and we are wrong. Cursing, lying, threatening, troubling and evil speech are destructive. It flows from one who does not believe that God will hold him or her accountable.

5. Violence (vv. 8-11). The last characteristic of the practical atheist is violence, which has been mentioned in one form or another all along but is developed explicitly in verses 8-11. Verses 8 and 9 portray the violent person by three images. He is an assassin or murderer (v. 8), a lion (v. 9) and a hunter (v. 9). The characteristic that holds these three images together is that each involves the perpetrator lying in wait or hiding to seize his unsuspecting prey. Verse 10 describes the result of this undeserved and sudden violence. It is successful. The arrogant man is able to crush his victims, who “fall under his strength.”

Verse 11 describes the conclusion the godless man draws. He reasons that God does not see him or else quickly forgets his evil actions.

4C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1958), p. 75.

Study Questions
  1. What are the other three characteristics of practical atheism?  How does this psalm describe them?
  2. Can you think of any other ways that practical atheism shows itself?

Application: We all know from personal experience how destructive our speech can be, whether it is something we have said to others, or that someone has said to us.  Pray for grace to always speak in ways that honor Christ and build each other up.

For Further Study: James Boice’s three-volume set on the Psalms can also be used for group or discipleship studies, whether in the home or in the church.  Now through March 31, you can order this helpful resource at the special price of 40% off, plus get free shipping.

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