“The fool says in his heart,
There is no God.”
David is not referring here to the atheist who flat out denies the existence of God—although we could easily argue the foolishness of such a position. Nor is he speaking of someone who is intellectually challenged. Rather, he is speaking of the person who is morally lacking. That one may even be very bright, and believe in God, but for all intents and purposes, live as if God doesn’t exist. That kind of person is, in effect, a practical atheist.
You might find it interesting to know that David referred to such a person more than once in the Psalms. He uses identical language in Psalm 53:1, and in Psalm10:4, he actually gives us a pretty clear definition of how the fool lives: “In all his thoughts there is no room for God.” From David’s position, he apparently had to contend with a number of people who were bright enough to work themselves into positions of influence, powerful enough to command his concern. And his main concern was the damage that they were able to inflict precisely because they lived and acted without regard for the laws of God.
You know people like that. So do I. They are very smart, successful, and perhaps even quite magnetic in their personalities. But they live with no thought for God. They act without regard for his moral law, with no consideration of his right to rule their lives, and oblivious to his eternal purposes in this world. They are practical atheists. In fact, some of these “fools” might even be sitting next to you in church.
I suppose, however, that the most important question to ask is not about these people—these fools, but rather, about you. Although you believe in God and claim him as your Sovereign Lord, is he? Is he the Lord of all in your life? That is, doesn’t he hold absolute rulership in your thinking, your planning, your interacting and ever facet and moment of your living? Or at times, do you live as if he doesn’t exist—as a practical atheist?
You know, I have to confess that at times I am a fool. I think, plan and do without giving God the highest consideration. I have a feeling you do to. I don’t mean to live that way; neither do you. I just neglect to give God his rightful place. In that sense, you and I are different from the type of person David calls the fool. Yet at some level, we must accept those stinging words as a rebuke to the way we have lived.
So what say we do what Jesus called some of the early Christians to do who had fallen into that same trap of practical atheism: “Remember the heights from which you have fallen. Repent and do the things you did at first.” (Revelation 2:5) In other words, let’s get back to the practice of putting God first in every waking thought we have. Or, as Paul taught in Romans 12:1,
“Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.”
That’s what you might call practicing the presence of God. And it is the best antidote to practical atheism.
“An atheist is a man who has no invisible means of support.”
—Fulton J. Sheen