The Bible is a big book, but when you think about it there are not many things in the Bible that are said, word for word, more than once. If the words are repeated, it is for emphasis. They are very important. How much more, then, if they are repeated more than once? What if they are found three times? This is the case with Psalm 14. Psalm 14 is repeated almost entirely in the book of Psalms itself. Psalm 53 is a nearly exact duplication. Then the most important part of Psalm 14 is repeated again in Romans 3:10-12. In fact, the great first chapter of Romans is actually an explanation of these words.
Anything God says once demands attention. Anything he says twice demands our most intent attention. And when he says something three times, as he does in this case, this demands our keenest concentration, contemplation, assimilation and even memorization. These are words which, to use the often quoted phrase of the collect from The Book of Common Prayer, we are to “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest.”
This psalm is about atheism, both of a theoretical and also a practical kind. In the first verse we have the fool’s words about God. As far as he is concerned, God does not exist. Our text quotes him as saying, “There is no God.” We should notice that in the Hebrew text the words “there is” are not present. They have been added to the English to make the text run smoothly. The fool actually says, “No God!” That is, “No God for me.” So his is a practical as well as a theoretical atheism. Not only does he not believe in God, but He also acts on his conviction.
This is a position of extreme folly, of course. It is why the psalm begins, “The fool…” But it is worth asking why a person who denies the existence of God is called a fool in Scripture, rather than being regarded as merely a mistaken person who just does not know any better. Why is one who denies the existence of God a “fool”?
The answer lies in Paul’s magnificent exposition of this world’s atheism in Romans 1, which, as I said, is actually a commentary on the psalm. It is because the fool knows there is a God and yet chooses to reject the knowledge of him. If a person knew there is no God and said so, he would be wise and perhaps even courageous for standing against the nearly universal but mistaken opinions of the human race. If he did not know whether there is a God or not and said so, he would at least be an honest skeptic or agnostic. If a person is convinced there is no God when actually there is one, he would merely be mistaken. None of these is the case, according to Paul’s careful exposition. The reason the person is a fool and not merely a mistaken person is that he knows there is a God and yet chooses to act as if there is none.
Here are two important questions. First, how does the person actually know there is a God? The answer Paul gives is: because of God’s revelation of himself in nature. It is not an extensive revelation. In fact, as Paul states, it consists of two things only: God’s “eternal power and divine nature,” what we would call his power and mere existence (Rom. 1:20). There is nothing in nature to reveal God’s saving qualities: his love, mercy or compassion. But what is revealed, these two important elements, is sufficient to prove to any honest man or woman that God truly does exist, and to lead that person to the conclusion that every member of the human race owes this God praise and thanksgiving. To refuse to acknowledge him is not only wrong, it is the height of folly.