Pity the Fool…
By Sam Fornecker, Christ Church Simeon Fellow
One of the best ways to hold the Holy Spirit at arm’s length is to choose a tiny passage from Scripture and to read it regularly, but to neglect whatever surrounds it. It’s a bit like going for an afternoon swim at the pool with a lily pad instead of an inflatable bed. The lily pad will stay on the water just fine, but lean into it, and you are going to sink right through. We need fully-constructed inflatable beds if we’re to float: full of pieces that we enjoy and see the need for, as well as of pieces that we don’t particularly find attractive or sensible.
That’s why it’s important not only to pick Scriptures that seem obviously applicable to our lives, but to receive all that the Lord has provided for us in his Word as equally applicable. For instance, it can be easy for the believer to draw a foolish confidence from a brief passage, like Psalm 53:1. “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity; there is none who does good.” On its own, this verse seems to commend to the believer a certain smugness in his or her position. But what about the rest of the psalm? Go on reading Psalm 53, and the author continues to say that all have fallen away. Imagine that! This great big world, and all have withered, like sunflowers that just can’t seem to face the sun.
Psalm 53 peaks with a rallying cry of hope to Israel: Look to the Lord for salvation! God’s exiled and beaten down people will be restored. Restoration for God’s faithful remnant, the “Israel within the Israel” – obedience is the issue here! The fool who didn’t believe in God was not an atheist, in our contemporary sense, after all! The fool is one who denies the authority and majesty of God by living in conscious rebellion against him. The one who looks for ultimate fulfillment in the unfulfilling things of this world.
During Advent, we ask ourselves: Am I living in conscious rebellion against God? What am I saying in my heart?
Indeed, verse 3 says, “There is none who does good, not even one.” Folks, stuff doesn’t get fluffier in the New Testament, either. Paul does not let us off the hook. What does he say in Romans 3:23? “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” You and I probably share intellectual knowledge about what we believe. But you and I also share the human condition of the Fall. Adam and Eve chose to define right and wrong their way. We live into those decisions every day, and even repeat them. We function as if there is no God.
That is why Advent is such good news to everyday foolish people like us. During Advent we continue to proclaim the coming of the very salvation that Psalm 53 ends just hoping for. We eagerly await the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in glory. We celebrate the “three-worded Gospel,” as J.I. Packer put it, that “God saves sinners.” We prepare our lives in gratitude for his making at-one-ment with his Father on the cross on our behalf; for clothing us and bringing us into his righteousness; for sending another Helper, the Holy Spirit, who alone enables us to live in the kind of obedience that testifies to the lordship of Jesus Christ.
So if you, like me, might read certain passages with a little smugness, remember Paul’s words shortly after in Romans 3:27-28, “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” Andre Trocmé, an inspiring French pastor who minister during the years of World War II, called himself “a violent man, conquered by God.” Maybe that awareness of the unruly nature of the human heart seems deeply familiar to you today. Know that the Lord, who has come and will come again, has conquered sin and death, as well as the violent human heart. The part of our hearts that stands in conscious rebellion against God gawks with confusion at Christ crucified, and thanks be to God, finds there its resting place.