Interestingly, the word ‘atheism,’ which means disbelieving or denying the being of a Supreme God, cannot be found in the Holy Bible.
There are a couple of verses in the Bible which allude to this condition, and interestingly again, the words in both verses are identical. The first is in Psalm 14:1 which reads;
“The fool has said in his heart, There is no God! They acted corruptly; they have done abominable works, there is none who does good.”
The second is in Psalm 53:1, also written by the same author as Psalm 14, King David;
“The fool has said in his heart, There is no God. They acted corruptly, and have worked out abominable wickedness; there is not one doing good.”
The chief difference between Psalm 14 and Psalm 53 is that in the former, David refers to Jehovah, and in the latter, to God.
Bluntly put, the concept of atheism was simply non-existent in the days of the Bible, at least around the Bible lands of the middle east.
However, this does not mean that everyone believed in a single God, for indeed few did. Even the Hebrews most of the time were not monotheistic, but monolatrists, in that they believed in one of a number of available Gods.
But the words of King David are telling, and as the Life Application Study Bible says of Psalm 14:1-3,
“The true atheist is either foolish or wicked — foolish because he ignores the evidence that God exists or wicked because he refuses to live by God’s truths. We become atheists in practice when we rely more on ourselves than on God.
The fools mentioned here are aggressively perverse in their actions. To speak in direct defiance of God is utterly foolish according to the Bible.”
As the Treasury of David says:
“‘The fool.’ The Atheist is the fool pre-eminently, and a fool universally. He would not deny God if he were not a fool by nature, and having denied God it is no marvel that he becomes a fool in practice. Sin is always folly, and as it is the height of sin to attack the very existence of the Most High, so is it also the greatest imaginable folly. To say there is no God is to belie the plainest evidence, which is obstinacy; to oppose the common consent of mankind, which is stupidity; to stifle consciousness, which is madness. If the sinner could by his atheism destroy the God whom he hates there were some sense, although much wickedness, in his infidelity; but as denying the existence of fire does not prevent its burning a man who is in it, so doubting the existence of God will not stop the Judge of all the earth from destroying the rebel who breaks his laws; nay, this atheism is a crime which much provokes heaven, and will bring down terrible vengeance on the fool who indulges it. The proverb says, “A fool’s tongue cuts his own throat,” and in this instance it kills both soul and body for ever: would to God the mischief stopped even there, but alas! one feel makes hundreds, and a noisy blasphemer spreads his horrible doctrines as lepers spread the plague….”
To understand where this view comes from, we first need to know that the Hebrew word rendered in Psalm 14 and Psalm 53 is בל or nâbâl which means a vile person, a stupid and wicked person.
Barnes says, “It is designed to convey the idea that wickedness or impiety is essential folly, or to use a term in describing the wicked which will, perhaps, more than any other, make the mind averse to the sin – for there is many a man who would see more in the word “fool” to be hated than in the word “wicked;” who would rather be called a “sinner” than a “fool.””
Thus, as the World English Bible says, the fool has said in his heart, “There is no God,” then they are corrupt. They have done abominable works.
Why is this important?
Because if there is no God, there is no reason for the fool to ever face up to his sins. On the other hand, if there is a God, it is certain that God will bring us to judgement for our shortcomings.
In practical atheism and in the total and universal depravity of the wicked, with their hatred to the good, both are set to the fore and brought out in the open for those with open eyes to see.
Yet, as atheists dread God’s righteous judgements, as and when He vindicates His people, the Psalmist in both Psalm 14 and Psalm 53 prays for His delivering power. Sinners are termed “fools,” because they think and act contrary to right reason.
Elsewhere in the Bible the word בל or nâbâl is rendered “fool, foolish,” and “foolish man.” The reason is to convey the idea that wickedness or impiety, is essential folly.
It seeks to be a term describing the wicked, which will perhaps, more than any other, help the mind oppose the sin.
Why? Because as Barnes says, there is many a man who would see more in the word “fool” to be hated, than in the word “wicked.”
Most would rather be called a “sinner” than a “fool.”
Dear Heavenly Father,
I come before you in solemn prayer to ask you to open the ears and the eyes of all my friends who are atheists.
I know they are in rebellion to You and Your kingdom, but I also know that in Second Peter 3:9 it is written that “the Lord is not slow concerning His promise, as some count slowness, but is long-suffering toward us, not purposing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
Oh Lord, I pray for all the atheists I know; ____name-them-one-by-one____, and I ask and pray that Your Holy Spirit will hover heavily over each one of them and bring them to Christ.
Change their hearts Lord, so that their minds can be changed too and have the opportunity of eternal life with You.
In the mighty name of Jesus I pray, Amen.
~ Angus MacKillop