“How Great Is Our God”

Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is no one who does good.

The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.

They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one.

Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the Lord?

There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the company of the righteous.

You would confound the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge.

O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion! When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people, Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.  

Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” That’s how our scripture passage for today begins.  “There is no God.” Have you ever heard someone utter that phrase?  There is no God.  This is a classic expression of those who consider themselves atheists, who assert that God doesn’t exist.

The following are quotations from a few religious skeptics –

A classic from Woody Allen:  “To you, I’m an atheist. To God, I’m the loyal opposition.” 

          The writer and philosopher Robert Pirsig said, “When one person suffers from a delusion, it’s called insanity.  When many people suffer from a delusion it’s called religion.” 

And a riff from the comedian George Carlin:  

Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man – living in the sky – who watches everything you do, every minute of every day.  And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do.  And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time!  But He loves you.  He loves you. ” 

Our scripture reading says that those who say there is no God are fools. 

The Renaissance philosopher Sir Francis Bacon wrote that “Atheism is [more] in the lip than in the heart.”  In other words, atheism reflects what we think rather than what our heart feels.  

I’m reminded of the phrase from the French philosopher Blaise Pascal:  “The heart has reasons that reason does not understand.”  

The head and the heart.  Our belief in God is both intellectual and experiential.  Belief flows from both reason and emotion.  Often our minds are the more skeptical element.  Our heads look at cause-and-effect.  Our heads focus on what’s logical, on what’s verifiable.  But our hearts have reasons that our heads don’t understand.

When we examine our beliefs more fully – not just with our heads, but from the bottom of our hearts – we gain a fuller view of God’s existence.  The Bible tells us to believe with all our hearts AND minds.  Unfortunately that belief isn’t always easy. 

  In today’s lesson, the Psalmist bemoans the corruption of those who say “there is no God,” those who don’t call upon the Lord.  The psalm writer cries out for their deliverance, and expresses words of hope for those who have gone astray.  

Haven’t we all strayed from our belief in God at some point?  Have you ever doubted God’s existence?  In the face of tragedy or evil, don’t we all ask, “Where’s God?”  Our lives are often marked by periods of questioning and doubt.  We pray and we’re answered by silence.  So there are times when we don’t pray, because we feel we can’t pray.  

And yet even our acknowledgement of prayer and of God, even a God who we feel isn’t listening, is still implicitly an admission that someone, something, God, does exist.  Even in the depths of doubt or disbelief, there’s a seed of faith.  We continue to think of God in terms that still assume God’s existence.  To doubt God’s existence is to presume that God is there.

Someone once said that “An atheist’s most embarrassing moment is when he feels profoundly thankful for something, but can’t think of anybody to thank for it.”  How does anyone find meaning in life, or give thanks, without belief in God?

Perhaps the greatest Biblical story challenging atheism is the book of Job.  Job is a good man, but his cattle are stolen, his servants are killed, and his family dies.  As his troubles continue to pile up, Job curses the day he was born.  Although he never quite curses God, he comes close.  He asks some tough questions, which could be summed up, “Why DO bad things happen to good people?”  Job’s friends have all sorts of impressive theological explanations, but God doesn’t offer one.  God doesn’t explain.  God doesn’t lay out a plausible explanation about why this-led-to-this.  Instead, God speaks with power and passion.  God lets loose and roars with words that are among the greatest poetry in the Bible:  God says, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?…On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the children of God shouted for joy? … Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place?”

I would like to offer a quotation from my husband Craig.  Over many years of preaching, I don’t believe I’ve ever done this, but I’m going to offer his insights  – reflections that he has occasionally shared with his colleagues over the years  – which struck me while I was pondering today’s psalm.  He says, “As a society we think we are so technologically advanced with our ability to build devices like smart phones that contain cameras, displays, radios, and integrated circuits which contain billions of transistors that are the size of your thumbnail.  However, humankind still does not know how to build something as ‘simple’ as a housefly, which can fly, walk, live off the land, and reproduce, all in a compact little package…we have a long way to go before we can build a ‘device’ like that.”

God says, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?…Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place?” 

God doesn’t reveal an explanation or a reason for God.  What God reveals is God.  God doesn’t show why things are as they are.  God shows God’s face.  God is God.  And THERE we find meaning.

Way back pre-pandemic, one of our church’s stewardship themes was “Entering into God’s Miracle.”  A very skilled member of our congregation made a beautiful mirror that hangs on the landing coming up to the sanctuary.  The mirror is surrounded by wooden blocks, upon which we were all asked to write words describing the miracles in our lives, the moments we saw God in the world.  Some of the words surrounding that mirror are:  birth, sunrise, mothers, children, compromise, cardiologists, answered prayers, colors, persistence, Communion, family, cochlear implants, forgiveness, love, strength.  The one that hits me today is the word  “Why?”  One of the words on the mirror is “Why?”

The last year and a half has been very difficult for us all.  A tiny microbe upended our world, and it’s not done with us.  Climate disasters are devastating our nation and our world.  In the face of such turmoil, loss, and the deaths of so many, we have been left asking “Why?”  Whether the cause is human behavior or not, at the depths of our deepest grief, we want to know where God is amidst it all.  In the face of loss, tragedy, death, we ask, “Where is God?  Does God exist?  Why do these horrific things happen?”

Yesterday we celebrated the life of a beloved member of our congregation, Jim Gordon.  And we recognized some of the profound events that shaped his life – his service in the trenches of World War II, and his help in liberating one of the concentration camps in Germany at the end of that war.  I daresay that Jim saw some of the worst that humanity has suffered, and I suspect he himself asked  “Where is God?”  Yet he went on to live a long and wonderful life which he always described – again and again – as blessed and full of good fortune.

I don’t know whether Jim ever contributed a little wooden block to the mirror.  But I know the words of our congregation displayed there are testaments to why we worship together each Sunday – whether on line or in person – because we know that God exists.

The theologian 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.”   I believe in Christianity… because by it I see everything else.

The psalmist says: “The Lord looks down from heaven… to see if there are any…who seek after God.”  When we look for meaning, when we seek for God, God IS there.  Whether our belief in God comes from our head or our heart, whether we come to understand God as the Creator of everything from hills to houseflies, we will find meaning, and we will say, “Yes, there IS God.”  Amen.