The Book of Psalms

Practical Atheism, Scene 4

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. 
A Problem for the Righteous

The problems the wicked create for their victims are obvious. Because they are weak, the victims of these people are “caught in the schemes” they devise and are “crushed.” But David was not one of these weak persons. He was a strong military commander and later king of Israel. Nevertheless, the success of these practical atheists created a problem for David also. What is it? It is God’s apparent toleration of the wicked, the suspicion that their boasts about God’s not seeing or not caring might be true.

Haven’t you ever thought that way, perhaps when you look about at the very practical atheism of our age? When you have been down about what seems to be a great injustice done either to you or to someone close to you, haven’t you sometimes doubted whether God actually does see and care, as you have been taught to believe? Haven’t you thought that God does seem to be unresponsive and even unfair? Here is how Craigie puts it:

It is easy to say that God exists, to affirm that morality matters, to believe in divine and human justice, but the words carry a hollow echo when the empirical reality of human living indicates precisely the opposite. The reality appears to be that the atheists have the upper hand, that reality really does not matter and that justice is dormant. At the moment that this reality is perceived, in all its starkness, the temptation is at its strongest to jettison faith, morality and belief in justice. What good is a belief and a moral life which appear to be so out of place in the harsh realities of an evil world? Indeed, would there not be a certain wisdom in the oppressed joining ranks with the oppressors?”5

That may be worldly wisdom, of course, and many have bought into it. But it is not the response of those who know God, as David did. In this psalm David’s response to those who show their contempt of God by taking advantage of the poor is three-fold. We find it in the psalm’s second half (vv. 12-18).

First, David asks God to act: “Arise, LORD! Lift up your hand, O God. Do not forget the helpless” (v. 12). There are many times when God does not act or does not seem to act. We look on and cannot understand his silence or inactivity. We are puzzled, distraught. In such times it is never wrong to ask God to intervene. He may not do it when we ask him to, but it is still right to ask. We can pray for ourselves in such circumstances, asking for God’s intervention and deliverance, and we can certainly intercede for others. This seems to be the heart of David’s concern. He saw injustice being done and prayed for God’s intervening help for the victims.

Second, David reminds himself that, although God does not seem to see what is happening—the wicked say that “God . . . covers his face and never sees”—God nevertheless does see, is concerned and eventually does intervene. God’s retributive actions are often delayed. That is why David intercedes for the suffering. But when he does, he does so confidently because of his knowledge of what God is like and how he operates. “But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless (v. 14).

5Peter C. Craigie, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 19, Psalms 1-50 (Waco, TX: Word, 1983), p. 127.

Study Questions
  1. Why does God allow those who don’t believe in him to prosper while believers suffer?
  2. What two things does David do in response to those who show contempt by their mistreatment of others?

Reflection: Is it possible for a believer in Christ to practice practical atheism to some extent, and if so, what factors in our lives compel us to do so?

For Further Study: Order your copy of James Boice’s three-volume commentary set on the Psalms and receive 40% off (plus free shipping).  But hurry, this offer is good through March 31

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