According to the Pew Research Center, atheists account for less than 4 percent of the United States population. However, around 25–30 percent are considered “nones,” people who have no religious affiliation. This statistic should arouse our compassion. As Paul reminded the church in Ephesus, they too were once “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12).
In today’s reading David declares, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’ ” (53:1). David is not referring to a philosophical atheist—that kind of person did not likely exist in the ancient world. Rather, this “fool” is a functional atheist—a person who lives as if God does not see or care. There are consequences to this kind of unbelief. The lack of a moral standard or sense of accountability leads to corrupt and destructive actions (v. 1).
Beginning in verse 2, we see God’s view of humanity. The conclusion is sobering: “Everyone has turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” (v. 3). It is not just a small percent who do not live up to God’s standard, but all of humanity. Living as a functional atheist leads to a life filled with fear. David describes it this way, “[T]here they are, overwhelmed with dread, where there was nothing to dread” (v. 5). Like people who run from shadows, the evildoers in this psalm live in fear and under God’s judgment (v. 5). David expresses a longing for deliverance and salvation, “Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!” (v. 6).
>> The apostle Paul quoted from this psalm in Romans 3:10–12 as a part of his argument that all people stand under God’s judgment. No one can earn their salvation through good deeds, or keeping the law: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23)!