Jesus, in Matthew 5:21-22, taught that to say to a person 'You fool!' was equivalent of murder, because it demonstrated the same disregard for the human being as murder. He pushed the definition of murder, and God's judgement on murder, right back to its root of disrepect and contempt.

Yet in Psalm 14:1 and 53:1, God himself, in his sovereign wisdom as he inspired the writers of his Word, designates certain people as fools, and we wonder why is it right for God to call a person a fool, but wrong for us.

When we call a person a 'fool' or an 'idiot' or a 'moron', or whatever is our cultural equivalent, we are expressing our personal contempt for that person, we are ridiculing that person, we are somehow pulling that person down, destroying his integrity, undermining her reputation. With our words we are killing that person inside just as surely as a bullet would kill him or her physically.

When God calls a person a 'fool' he is identifying the utter foolishness of the underlying belief on which that person bases his or her life: the belief, the assumption,  that there is no God.

As Paul points out in Romans 1:19-20 God has clearly revealed himself in the physical universe he created. This powerful revelation of God in creation is affirmed by God in Job 38-41, Psalms 8, 19, 104, Isaiah 40. The wise person looks at the natural world and knows that it has an exceedingly powerful and intelligent Creator. The person who observes the complexity and the order of the natural world and refuses to see its obvious intelligent design, is, God says, a fool. For whatever reason, whether by deliberate rejection of the possibility that God is actually there, or by default because he has naively believed what he has been told by others, this person has grounded  his whole life on a blatant lie. He is risking his eternal destiny on the opinions of fallible humans and despising the clear testimony of the Creator [Romans 1:18-32].

Not only does the whole universe declare the existence and the character of God, but God has also revealed himself verbally, and ensured that this verbal self-revelation was faithfully recorded by the prophets [Old Testament] and the apostles [New Testament] [Hebrews 1:1; 2Peter 16-21]. Instead of believing this divine self-revelation, those to whom it was given either rejected or distorted its meaning to such an extent that they also rejected God both historically and practically, and in his ultimate self-revelation in Jesus Christ [John 6:36-47; 8:42-47; Romans 2; 9:30-10:4].

It is these people - people who have rejected the self-revelation of God in creation, people who have rejected the self-revelation of God in Scripture - that God calls fools. Thus in Romans 3:9-20 Paul applies Psalm 14 to everyone. As long as we persist in the rejection of God, we are fools. As long as we assume that God is not there, we are fools. As long as we live our lives on the basis of that assumption we are fools.

Thus Jesus, speaking of a man whose totally materialistic life assumed  the non-existence of God, gave this confrontational indictment and warning: 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you' [Luke 12:20]. And Paul, speaking to those who were turning aside from God's final and ultimate self-revelation in his Son, said: 'O foolish Galatians!' [Galatians 3:1].

The person God calls a 'fool' is the person who bases his life on the irrational, thoughtless assumption that God does not exist: the person who looks at creation and refuses to recognize its Creator; the person who reads the Bible, and refuses to hear the voice of God; the person who looks at Jesus Christ and his death, and chooses to see only a dead man.

'The fool says in his heart there is no God': no God who created the world, no God who speaks through the Bible, no God who came to earth and said, in Jesus Christ, his Son, 'Here I am. This is who I am. Believe in me!'

Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2008.