“God’s anonymous: the fool”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.
Born in April of 1919, Madalyn Murray O’Hair was the daughter of a Presbyterian father and a Lutheran mother. When she was young, she moved to a little town called Rossford, Ohio, where she attended and then graduated from high school.
And just a few years after she graduated, she met and married a steelworker named John Roths. But things didn’t work out quite as well as she had planned, so she began a relationship with a married Roman Catholic man named William Murray. But when he refused to divorce his wife and marry her, she took his name anyway and had his son. But when that didn’t work out quite so well either, she found another man and had another son.
Then in 1959 at the ripe old age of forty years old, after failing twice to defect to the Soviet Union, she said, “If they keep us from going to Russia where there is some freedom, we’ll just have to change America!”
And change America she did. In fact, in 1960, she told her eldest son to keep a record of all the times his school made him speak the words of the Pledge of Allegiance or pray. Two weeks later, she filed a suit against the Baltimore City Public School System, naming her fourteen-year-old son as the plaintiff, a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court.
But she wasn’t done, not by a long shot. In 1964, she challenged the Federal Communications Commission to give atheists equal time on radio and tv, in 1970, she demanded that the White House should stop holding religious services, in 1971, she wanted to know why the crew of Apollo 8, (which were federal employees), were allowed to read the words of Genesis chapter 1 during a spaceflight, in 1977, she said city councils shouldn’t pray before they meet, and in 1978, she said the words, “In God We Trust,” have no business being on our United States currency. (There’s a lot more, but you get the idea).
Is all this any surprise? Not at all. For she not only described religion as a crutch for the crippled, she said it was an “irrational reliance on superstitions and supernatural nonsense.” And she said, “I told my kids I just want three words on my tombstone, if I have one: Woman, Atheist, Anarchist. That’s me.”
But the Bible has something vastly, vastly different to say. I’ll read the words of Psalm 14: “To the Choirmaster. Of David. The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1).
If you didn’t already know it, the book of Psalms is a collection of songs written by at least seven different men. While Asaph wrote twelve psalms, the descendants of Korah wrote ten, and Moses and Solomon each wrote one, David wrote at least seventy-three. And while we today call it, “The Book of Psalms,” the Hebrews called it, “Tehillim.” It’s a word that means, “Songs of Praise.”
And in this book, you can find psalms of every kind, like “Psalms of Lament,” that cry out to God, “Psalms of Thanksgiving,” that give thanks to God, “Psalms of Praise,” that give praise to God, and “Psalms of Ascent,” songs pilgrims sang on their way up to Jerusalem. Even more, there are “Wisdom Psalms,” “Royal Psalms,” “Victory Psalms,” “Law Psalms” and “Psalms of Zion.”
And what a beautiful book it is, for it’s here that we find words like these--Psalm 8: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:1)...Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though mountains be moved into the heart of the sea” (Psalm 46:1-2)...and Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1).
Out of all the Bible’s sixty-six books, the book of Psalms is really one of the most beautiful of all!
And it’s in Psalm 14, in the very first verse(!), that we find the words: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”
Now before we go any farther, let me just say that that word, “fool,” is a pretty strong word, for whenever we hear it, other words come to mind like, “idiot,” “ignoramus,” “imbecile,” “moron” and “buffoon.” Think “bonehead,” “blockhead” and “birdbrain.” The word “fool” is such a strong word, we use it to refer only to the simplest and stupidest amongst us.
But in the Bible’s original language, it’s not that way at all. In fact, while David could have used as many as three different words for “fool,” he chose to use the word, “nabal.” And while it can mean “a foolish person,” it can also mean, (in the words of Hebrew scholar Jon Levenson of Harvard University), a “vicious, materialistic, and egocentric misfit.”
When David used the word “fool” here in Psalm 14, he wasn’t talking about an idiot. Instead, he meant someone who proudly and arrogantly cares about little else than himself.
How true that is! After all, atheists aren’t stupid. In fact, they’re some of the best trained, best educated, and brightest and most intellectual people around. You see, being an atheist isn’t a “head” problem. It’s a “heart” problem. As David wrote, “The fool says in his heart: There is no God.”
Even more, you should know that when David wrote this verse, he didn’t include those two words, “There is.” Translators simply added them to make the text a little easier to read. Instead, he wrote, “The fool says in his heart: No God.”
Think of it like this--imagine if I were to come to your house and I sat down at your dinner table. And as dishes of food were passed from one to another, and you handed the potatoes to me, I’d put up my hand and say, “No potatoes. No potatoes for me.”
It’s not that I don’t believe the potatoes are there. Anyone can see that the bowl is full of them. It’s just that I don’t want them on my plate.
And it’s just that way for “the fool.” “No God,” he says. “I’ll go my own way. I’ll be the captain of my own ship, the master of my own destiny. No God for me.”
But does it work?
Late in the 1700s, a pastor and philosopher named William Paley suggested that, if you saw a watch by the side of the road, even if you didn’t know anything else, you’d know that the watch didn’t assemble itself by chance. A watch demands a watchmaker. In the same way, he said, the incredible complexity of our universe demands an Intelligent Designer who brought it all into being.
Suppose you were to visit Mt. Rushmore near Keystone, South Dakota, and imagine if you were to exclaim, “What an amazing feat of nature this is! What a coincidence that water and wind eroded the face of this mountain until it looked just like Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt.” Then when you picked up a brochure, you discovered that Mt. Rushmore didn’t happen by chance at all. Instead, it was the work of a brilliant sculptor named Gutzon Borglum.
Imagine you picked up a book like, The Old Man and the Sea, and wondered how all those letters could have randomly fallen onto the page to form not only words and sentences, but thoughts, emotions and ideas. Only later do you discover that those letters aren’t random at all. They were formed and written by an author named Ernest Hemingway.
Or suppose you were to see a beautiful, amazing flower garden, filled with plants and colors of all kinds. Now let me ask, would you ever say, “What a coincidence! I wonder how those flowers just happened to grow in precisely the right colors and places?”
Intelligent design demands an Intelligent Designer.
When a neuro-scientist named Candace Pert was asked if she ever felt a sense of religious awe for the workings of the human brain, she said, “No, I don’t feel awe for the brain. I feel an awe for God. I see in the brain all the beauty of the universe and its order--constant signs of God’s presence.”
A watch demands a watchmaker. A sculpture demands a sculptor. A book demands an author. A garden demands a gardener. And the beauty, the order and the complexity of a universe demands the Ultimate Designer of all things--an Almighty God.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Take, for example, Jim Allan who holds a doctorate in genetics from the University of Edinburgh. He said that, as a young student, he accepted evolution from the word go. Then some forty years later, when he started to attend a different church, he heard the gospel for the very first time. Still, he believed in evolution.
Until one day his wife said, “Is there any reason why God should not have created all forms of life on the basis of a universal genetic code?” When she said it, he thought, “What is she talking about? What does she know about such things?” So he slammed the door and walked out of the house.
But as he walked, he got to thinking. “Maybe she does have a point. Maybe God did create all forms of life on the basis of a universal genetic code. Would we expect Him to do anything else?”
Then after considering everything he had known and learned, he finally came to say, “Only as we consider the truth learned from Scripture, can we ever really understand and appreciate the physical universe in which we live.”
Or think of Gary Parker who holds a doctorate in Biology and Paleontology from Ball State University. For him, evolution was his religion that answered all of his questions on God, sin and salvation. He said, “God was unnecessary, sin was nothing more than animal instincts, and salvation was found in genetic engineering.”
And for years, he worked hard to convince his students in high school and college that evolution was true. Some, he said, even cried in class. But when he took a closer look and a harder look at all the things he had been taught to believe, he found they weren’t so true after all. Only later did he say, “If only more scientists, science teachers, and science students could share the joy and challenge of looking at God’s world through God’s eyes.”
What does an unbeliever have to offer? W. O. Saunders writes, “I would like to introduce you to one of the lonesomest and unhappiest individuals on earth--a man who does not believe in God. You’ll be surprised to learn that he envies your faith in God, your settled belief in heaven after life, and your blessed assurance that you will once again meet your loved ones in a place where there is neither sadness nor pain. Because, for him, there is only the grave and the persistence of matter.
“He may face life with a smile and a heroic attitude. He may put on a brave front, but he isn’t happy. And though he stands in awe and reverence before the vastness and majesty of the universe, he doesn’t know where it came from or why. For him, this earth is but a tricky raft adrift in the unfathomable waters of eternity with no horizon in sight--drifting, drifting, drifting, to where no one knows.”
Do you want to know if there’s a God? Think of Jesus. Think of the record of His ministry, the stories He told, the miracles He performed, and the exemplary life He lived, and you can’t help but conclude that He was more than a man. He was the Son of God.
As a man once said as he knelt before Him: “I believe. Help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).
One more thing--let me tell you about a man named Bill who grew up in a home that was hostile to the idea of God’s existence. His mother said, “I don’t care if you become a drug addict or a bank robber or if you bring home a boyfriend instead of a girlfriend. There’s just one thing I don’t want you to do in life--and that’s become a Christian.”
So he adopted a lifestyle consistent with his atheism. He lived a life of conquest and suffered the consequences of broken marriages and destroyed relationships. He drank heavily, used drugs, and became a workaholic.
Then one day, he looked at his life and cried out to the God he had rejected. He said, “Please get me out of this mess!” Then he went to an all-night bookstore where he found a Bible. And though all of his life he had criticized it, he had never read it. And as he read it, he became convinced that Jesus was and is who He claimed to be.
Suddenly it hit him. It was true! There is a God and Jesus Christ was His Son. And after three decades of the hollowness of atheism, he admitted his sin and asked Jesus to save him. Then he broke free from alcohol and drugs and rebuilt his life and began to share Christ with others. He even learned to love his mother who still hated God.
Who is he? Bill’s full name is William J. Murray. He’s the son of Madalyn Murray O’Hair.
As C. S. Lewis once wrote: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen; not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
We thank You, Father, for revealing Yourself to us in Your Word and in the world around us. Keep us strong and constant in faith as we seek to follow You, for Jesus’ sake. Amen