Posted on February 9th, 2011
February 9, 2011
“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” We would like to see in this passage a critique of atheism. Truly, atheism denies what is self-evident; we can no more look at the world and say, “There is no designer, no creator,” than we can look at an automobile, or a computer, or the Washington Monument and say, “That happened by chance, no designer or builder was involved.” Atheism is foolish; it takes enormous faith to believe that everything came from nothing with the aid of no one for no purpose whatsoever. Atheism is foolish, but that is not the foolishness indicted in tonight’s Psalm.
For in the Word of God, “Fool” is not an intellectual judgment, but a moral one. Folly is deliberately chosen; the problem is in the heart, not the intellect. The fool does not understand because he chooses not to understand. He hardens his heart. Thus he wills to do evil and believe falsely. The fool, in saying there is no God, sets himself up as god. He makes a conscious choice to disregard the commandments. The fool justifies himself and his actions as right irrespective of what the Word of God says. The Lord has said, “Do not be angry with your brother,” but the fool speaks in wrath. The Lord has said, “Do not covet your neighbor’s wife,” but the fool imagines and meditates on a woman not married to him. The Lord has said, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble,” but the fool looks instead to his own devices to rescue himself.
Who is this fool, the one who is corrupt, doing abominable iniquity? Let us find this fool, so we can declare to him his folly! Before the first verse of tonight’s psalm is concluded, the fool has been identified: “There is none who does good.” As Nathan said to David, “You are the man!”, so the Word of God points an accusing finger at every child of Adam and says, “You are the fool!” “God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.” Are there any to be found? No! “They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.”
Folly then is not merely the product of a poor education or upbringing. The source of folly is original sin. We love corruption, we are all narcissists, we are all self-absorbed, imaging everything to revolve around my needs, my wants, my hurts, my feelings. “There is no god” is not the declaration of the atheist, it is your declaration when you sin.
What happens to the fool who will not heed the Word of the Lord and turn back from his folly, i.e., repent? “God scatters the bones” of that one. The scattering of bones is both a dishonoring of the body in death, and a declaration that this body will not rise again. (This, by the way, is why the Christian Church discourages cremation. Some Christians have practiced cremation for misguided reasons, and those done in ignorance we do not condemn, especially at the time of death and mourning. This is why we have had funerals for those cremated even here in the church. But the practice of scattering bones, or worse, burning even the bones into ash and especially then the scattering of those ashes is a pagan practice with its origins in a denial of the one true God and God’s promise of resurrection.)
See then God’s judgment on those who rebelled against Him in tonight’s reading from Jeremiah: “The bones of the kings of Judah” and the people of Jerusalem “shall be brought out of their tombs,” and spread out on the ground. They are not buried, but instead treated like dung. They did not know God, but instead followed their own course. They were God’s people, but they did not know “the just decrees of the Lord.”
We are indicted under the same condemnation. St. Paul writes in Romans that no one has done good, no man can be justified, declared righteous, before God. So let us not boast that we are not atheists. Instead, let us acknowledge our atheism, the many ways in which we have set aside the Word and Law of God and instead made ourselves God, boasted in ourselves, justified ourselves, and condemned others. “What becomes of our boasting? It is excluded.” Why? Because a man “is justified by faith apart from works of the law,” faith in Jesus who atoned for our atheism, our godless lives and thoughts, and brought us back to God.
Truly salvation has come out of Zion, in the Child born of Mary, who faithfully submitted to God in circumcision and presentation, who heard the Word in the temple and learned it with all His heart, who turned water into wine and healed the centurion’s servant, who stilled the storm and journeyed to Jerusalem to make Himself the propitiation for our sins. Let us kneel then and confess our folly, and pray to God to remove our foolish hearts and give us hearts of wisdom, confessing Jesus our Savior. +INJ+