The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'
It is most unfortunate that most believers will read this line and quickly apply it to pseudo-scientific and quasi-apologetic debates regarding the existence of God. In other words, we think that this is the Bible's way of saying, See, there is indeed a divine creator of the universe, and you would be stupid to think otherwise. But really, this line of thinking misses out the point, and ends up allowing us to see the speck in the eyes of others while ignoring the plank in our own.
Through and through, scripture regards the statement 'there is no god' not as a debate over whether or not a creative force exists and wishes to make his will known to humanity, but rather as the willing rejection of that Creator. When the psalmist begins this piece with such a line he is not trying to make an ontological statement advocating monotheism; he is simply unconcerned with engaging such a discussion. Many readers have missed this because they have never allowed themselves to go beyond this opening line to see the remainder of the psalm, which speaks of the evil that is perpetuated from humanity's rejection of the will of God.
We might anticipate the more fundamentalist quick assertion on this point, But humanity's evil certainly comes from the denial of God's existence, so the first line can stand to point a denying world to such a truth. Without regard to the context of the psalm, this might have potential merit as a logical connection. But the main reading of this psalm is that it will cause us to miss the lament of the human condition that exists in all of us. When we put the opening line as a statement against the world we no longer think that it can be a statement against us ... even when it is coming hard against who we are.
When the apostle Paul was charging humanity with their rejection of God's will, he summarized in terms of wisdom and foolishness: Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools (Romans 1:22). Again, his statement is against those who chose to go against the one creator of the world by choosing to live on their own terms; for Paul, this is not a statement of God's existence, but of humanity's depravity in the face of divine wisdom.
The primary reason why getting this opening line right is because it speaks directly to the faith of the believer. I find that in my own life it is easy for me to assert the existence of God, and I simply do not need a psalm to help me achieve this. But when I understand that this opening line is connected a) to the context of foolishness being equated with rejection of God, and b) the foolish-and-rejecting-heart as the source for all sorts of evil, then I find myself at the center of conviction. For there are many ways in which I am willing to say my prayers, check off some religious obligation, but then otherwise take matters into my own hands in navigating this life. And that is not surrendering to the transformative work of the kingdom; that is not being conformed to the cross of Christ Jesus.
It has become commonplace for those in our culture to speak of very worldly behavior with the language of the kingdom. This psalm reminds us that God is looking down from heaven upon all of this, looking for those who are seeking out his wisdom. Instead, he finds an overwhelming amount of people who are corrupted, allowing themselves to be conformed to the ways of this world, replacing his truth with the twisted morality of a mangled humanity. In this willing rejection of the Creator God there is much fear and dread, because God does not dwell among such people – his presence comes to rest upon the righteous.
Although this psalm holds the weight of the world's defiance upon its shoulders, there is still the hope expressed, most notably in the final verse, that God would indeed bring his salvation according to his covenant promise. Indeed, that is the only hope that we have for humanity, for we too often choose to be foolish in the face of divine wisdom.
And so, I must ask my own heart, Why do you choose to go against the one who loves you most? Why do you choose your own attempts at autonomy when the Sovereign Creator of heaven and earth calls your name?