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A Meditation on Psalm 53

by John Kunnathu

The dishonesty of denying God's existence

Psalm 53 (Text, NIV)

For the director of music. 
According to mahalath. A maskil of David.

    1 The fool says in his heart,
       "There is no God."
       They are corrupt, and their ways are vile;
       there is no one who does good.

    2 God looks down from heaven
       on the sons of men
       to see if there are any who understand,
       any who seek God.

    3 Everyone has turned away,
       they have together become corrupt;
       there is no one who does good,
       not even one.

    4 Will the evildoers never learn—
       those who devour my people as men eat bread
       and who do not call on God?

    5 There they were, overwhelmed with dread,
       where there was nothing to dread.
       God scattered the bones of those who attacked you;
       you put them to shame, for God despised them.

    6 Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
       When God restores the fortunes of his people,
       let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!

Meditation on Psalm 53

The first verse of Psalm 53 is one of the most quoted sentences: Fools say in their hearts, "There is no God." The poet continues saying that they are corrupt and their ways are vile. This raises important questions in our minds: In what sense are those who deny God's existence fools? Can we include Karl Marx among fools? How does the belief that there is no God result in corruption?

Seeking the truth about God, one realizes that nothing can be known about God. The human knowledge acquisition mechanism consists of the five senses (input devices) through which information comes in, and the mind that processes the information. Since God is not accessible to any of our five senses, no verifiable information can be known about God. John, the apostle, confirms this saying that no one has ever seen God (Jh 1:18). Therefore, no positive statements made to describe God can be true. In other words, no facts are available about God. That is why God is not a subject of study under any of our sciences.

Where facts are not available, we have to proceed with beliefs. Writing about faith, Paul, the apostle, says "Without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists". He begins writing about this topic with the affirmation that it is by faith that we know that the world was created by the word of God. (Heb 11: 6, 2) A belief is like a theory: we use it as a stepping stone in our search for truth, and we always give up one for a better one. Theology is really not the study of God because God cannot be studied. It is merely the study of the human beliefs about God. It evaluates our theories of God, compares with one another, and finds out if they are relevant in human life.

What we believe about God is the foundation on which we build up our life. As individuals and as community, a better belief about God leads to a better and more meaningful life. Jesus advised his disciples to be like the wise man who built his house by digging deep and laying the foundation on the rock.

Our belief about God keeps on changing as our mind grows. Thus a twenty-year old person's belief will definitely be different from a five-year old child's. It may be said that one's God will be as big as his/her mind. Paul, the apostle, keeps on chiding his readers for not growing. They still remain children demanding more and more milk from him rather than growing to maturity (Heb 5: 11 – 6:2).

We try to understand God in relation to the world. Looking at the vastness and complexity of the world, we assume that there is someone/something that knows everything about the world, and hold everything together as a coordinated system. If we compare the world to a large kingdom, then God is like its king. If we compare the world to a large farm, then God is like its farmer. If the world is a pot, then God is its potter. If the world is a family, then God is its father. If the world is a classroom, then God is the class- teacher. If the world exists together as one whole system, then definitely, something is holding it together. Our science hasn't found it yet. However, it would be foolish to claim that the world exists without a coordinating principle or force.

The poet presents here in this psalm the beautiful picture of God looking down on the earth from heaven. God is perhaps seen as a king here looking at his kingdom. It is the presence of a king that makes the kingdom one integrated system. Those who acknowledge the presence of God in that way will be able to look at the world from God's perspective as one integrated whole, and lead a life that is beneficial to the whole world. Those who do not acknowledge God's presence won't be able to see the world as one whole, and won't be able to see from God's perspective. Such people seek their own good rather than the good of all. Thus the belief that there is no God leads to selfishness, injustice, hatred, and violence.

There is another less popular way of relating God and the world, according to which the world is a subset of God. God is the ultimate reality, which is the totality of all that exists, and the world is that part of the reality that is open to our senses and our mind, and is within the limits of time and space. This is undoubtedly a sublime perspective, held by great sages in almost every religious tradition. This perspective does not deny the previous one; it only covers a wider ground, answering more questions.

If someone tells you that there is no God, ask him/her what exactly he/she means by the term God. He/she might be denying his/her present concept of God, and moving up toward a higher one. Perhaps Philosophers like Karl Marx denied the existence of God in that sense. They were merely denying the prevalent concept/image of God in order to achieve a higher perspective. Even Jesus had to deny the concept of God popularized by the Pharisees in order to present a higher concept of God. Pharisees' God was a King who liked only Jewish people, whereas Jesus presented before them a father-like God who loves all people alike. One needs to be wise in order to give up a prevalent destructive belief about God, and go for a constructive and beneficial belief.

Thus, those who say that there is no God fall into two groups:

1. The dishonest people who say it only in their hearts, but not openly with their tongue. They stand with the majority of people and claim to believe that God exists although in reality they do not. They do not see the world as an integrated system, and so they become selfish, irresponsible, and unjust. They are fools. About such people, James writes: You believe that God is one; you do well. The demons also believe--and they shudder. (Jas. 2:19)

2. The honest people who dare to seek a better theory of God. They openly deny the existing theory of God without caring to stay with the majority. They are wise people. However, they are easily misunderstood as belonging to the first group. That is how a Jesus is crucified with thieves.

See Also:

More Prayers Useful to Many faiths

All Prayers

Prayer and Spirituality Infocenter

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