These godless kids these days.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 October 2017

Psalm 14

Amár navál belibó/“The fool said at heart” (Latin Dixit insipiens) is by David, and we number it at 14.

Commentators figure it’s a lament: David, or Wisdom (i.e. the Holy Spirit) mourns the fact kids these days don’t follow God anymore. Not like “our righteous group,” Ps 14.5 the dor/“age group” (KJV “generation”) David’s in, which he deems more devout than the younger set. Back in his day people followed God, took his side, knew where their help came from, and expected God to rescue ’em yet again. In comparison, this generation is hopeless, nihilistic, cynical, faithless, and godless.

Basically, the same lament every generation has about the next one. Well, with one exception: The people from this generation, who gang up with the previous generation about their peers and successors. That’s a phenomena I’ve seen quite often lately. My parents are “baby boomers,” I’m in what marketers call “generation X,” and those coming of age right now are called “millennials”—and way too many of the preachers my age are wringing their hands over the younger generation. They’ve believed the myth that things used to be better when they were kids. Used to be better in their parents’ day.

Nope, they haven’t read Ecclesiastes.

Ecclesiastes 7.10 KWL
Don’t say, “Why were the old days better than these days?”
You don’t ask this question out of wisdom.

It’s a really good book for deflating know-it-alls.

Anyway, Psalm 14 kinda wanders in the direction of this false nostalgia. I remind you the psalms don’t actually rhyme. Just the same, let’s put a little iambic tetrameter on it.

Psalm 14 KWL
0 To the director. By David.
1 The foolish think God isn’t here.
They wreck. They do no good. They sneer.
2 From heaven, the LORD looks to see
if any child of Adam be
astute enough to seek God out.
3 But all of them are turned about.
They’re twisted. They do nothing good.
Not one of them 4 knows what they should.
Their every act is sin; when all
eat bread, it’s not the LORD they call.
5 There’s no respect; no holy dread.
God’s with our righteous group instead.
6 Ashamed to help the poor, are you?
Because the LORD’s their refuge, true?
7 Was rescue sent from Zion’s hill?
Who got this aid for Israel?
The LORD will set his people free.
May Jacob—Israel—have glee.

“There is no God.”

What provoked me to take a stab at this psalm was verse 1, which is a really popular verse among Christian apologists whenever we get frustrated with, and kinda wanna mock, nontheists. It’s best known in the King James Version.

Psalm 14.1 KJV
The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.

Some apologists are wise enough to keep this verse to themselves. Others, not so much: They love how it appears to describe atheists as fools, and love to trot it out in order to show atheists just what they think of ’em. Which only serves to degrade their conversations with atheists into hostile, insulting shouting-matches. It’s not kind, ergo not fruitful.

Thing is, David didn’t quite write it that way. He said fools think eyn Elohím/“No God?” a Hebrew saying which means more like “Where’s God?” It doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist; only that they’re pretty sure God’s not here. Or other gods aren’t here, ’cause there’s only the One.

As we see it used elsewhere in the scriptures:

  • When disaster potentially strikes Israel, it’ll lead ’em to wonder whether God’s around. Dt 31.17
  • Moses declared there’s no other god here but the LORD. Dt 32.39
  • As far as David knew, there’s no other god like the LORD. 2Sa 7.22, 1Ch 17.20
  • Why’s the king of Samaria inquiring of Baal?—is there no other god in Israel? 2Ki 1.3, 6, 16
  • After he was cured, Naaman knew there was no other god but Israel’s. 2Ki 5.15
  • The LORD declared there’s no other god here but him. Is 44.6, 45.5
  • The wicked are pretty sure there’s no God around. Ps 10.4
  • The foolish are pretty sure there’s no God around. Ps 14.1, 53.1

So it’s not a statement of nontheism; it’s a claim this particular deity isn’t around. As pagans might claim ’cause they think gods only occupy a specific space and time. Hence God isn’t here, and he’s left them all alone. Or he’s not looking, so maybe they can get away with stuff.

Either way, and for these reasons, it’s a foolish idea.

Now nontheism, the idea there’s no God at all, can be a foolish idea. Plenty of nontheists won’t believe in God for irrational reasons. Like he didn’t grant their wishes, or they blame him for the bad stuff in the universe, or their mental image of God is ridiculous so they figure God’s ridiculous. Or they like the idea of a universe where they’re not responsible for their actions. Nontheism provides ’em the path of least resistance—following God isn’t easy, y’know—and they presume the easiest path must be the correct one. (Tell that to an electrician, though.)

But technically this verse isn’t about nontheists. Oh, it definitely applies to them, ’cause they do claim God’s not around. Still, plenty of theists get into that mindset: God’s not looking, so we can do as we please. And that’s the particular brand of stupidity David was critiquing.

Lots of people, Christians included, imagine God is far, far away. We figure he’s outside of time, outside the universe, deep in heaven. “God is watching us from a distance,” as the song goes. He’s so transcendent, so unlike us, so far above us, he’s gotta be far away from us. But he’s not. He’s here.

It’s just a little too easy to imagine he’s not. Deaden your heart to perceive him, Block him out. And there y’are.

This generation, I tell ya…

Back to that generation-gap debate. Like I said, every generation tends to look at the others and compare ’em unfavorably. My parents’ generation has a reputation for being self-centered and flaky. Their parents’ generation has a reputation for being judgmental and bigoted. And the teenagers—who haven’t even done anything, yet we’re already trying to categorize and pigeonhole them—invariably get labeled as undisciplined, selfish, and with their heads buried in their technology. They said this of my generation when we were teenagers; they’ve been saying it ever since of every batch of teenagers.

’Cause it’s not a generational thing; it’s a teenager thing. Kids are undisciplined, and that’s life. Part of maturity is learning self-control. We have a few close encounters with disaster, so we learn self-control is kinda important and adopt it. Or we don’t, so we don’t; or somebody bails us out, so we don’t; or we die, so of course we don’t. Human nature is to do whatever feels good until it’s not practical to live that way anymore.

That’s what was happening in David’s day. Israel’s youngsters lacked devotion. ’Cause kids in general lack devotion: They haven’t fully recognized our vital need for God, and take him for granted till they learn better, assuming they ever do learn better. David learned to trust God from a very young age, and he may not have realized he was unique in this. David also sucked as a role model to his own kids, and didn’t pass these traits down to any of ’em. (Seriously. Solomon learned wisdom from the LORD, 1Ch 1.10-12 not his dad.)

No, I’m not making light of David’s complaint. It’s a valid complaint. Kids are growing up godless. Always are. Way too many Christian parents don’t realize their primary mission is to share Jesus with their kids. They leave it to their churches and youth pastors… then wonder why the kids quit Christianity the instant they move out of the house. The LORD made it quite clear the Hebrews needed to pass down the Law to their kids, lest they grow up godless and trigger the cycle.

That’s the reason people do nothing good. Ps 14.3 They’re pagan. They don’t know God, and are only guessing at what he’s like, or are following a whole other god—one which indulges their natural inclinations, urges, desires, and lusts. And reject the LORD because they presume God gave us those urges and desires; why would he make us this way, then tell us not to be this way? Never occurs to them he might not have made us this way. Never will; they’re too busy mocking Jesus and Christians to think it over.

Yeah, this could’ve been avoided had parents simply taught God to their kids. But they didn’t. David himself didn’t. Look at the f----ups he raised. Amnon the rapist, Abšalom the usurper, Adonijah the presumptuous, Solomon the backslider. I’m not sure David had his sons in mind when he wrote this psalm… but maybe.

But if you presume God’s never coming through for you and your nation, bear in mind your parents may have testimonies to the contrary. God rescued Israel before. No reason he won’t again. Ps 14.7

Zion is the name of the hill David located the tabernacle, and later the site of Solomon’s, Zerubbabel’s, and Herod’s temples—and today’s Dome of the Rock. Like “Capitol Hill” tends to refer to the U.S. Congress, Zion regularly refers to the LORD’s temple, and sometimes the LORD himself. He rescued Israel time and time again. If his people repented and called on him, he’d rescue them same as he rescued David’s generation, and all the generations before who followed him wholeheartedly.

Our forebears saw God do it. Hopefully we’ve seen him do it too. God’s not distant. Not absent. Don’t assume he’s not there, and live like he’s never coming.