Psalm 53

As we’ve been considering the Wisdom Tradition of Israel, we pondered Psalm 111:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Week 31’s Living in The Story blog reminds us that the biblical understanding of one who is “wise” refers to one who is open to teaching and willing to learn; to grow. The blog also reminds us that it is ultimate foolishness to live as if WE are the measure and the standard of truth. It is only God who is the source of wisdom and submitting ourselves to God’s Way is the way of wisdom.

But there is another way. Psalm 53 goes on to describe the way of fools.

Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”

This description makes us think that our poet has suffered too many fools and has had to endure the consequences of the chaos that bubbles over from a life lived without wisdom.

They are corrupt, they commit abominable acts…

They have all fallen away, they are all alike perverse…

They eat up my people as they eat bread and do not call upon God.

The psalmist pictures God earnestly searching for wisdom and calling out for righteousness. But – as in the Garden of Eden – the Creator only finds folly.

There is no one who does good,
no, not one.

Do you hear the echos of this lament in the letter to the Romans penned by Paul?

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts…because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator…

Then he launches into a litany of the ancient texts: painful descriptions of humankind drawn from the Psalms and the prophets:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands, no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong;
no one does good, not even one.”
“Their throat is an open grave,
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood,
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they do not know.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

And then this astonishing statement, especially astounding to the faithful, practicing Jews of his day:

There is no distinction. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…

The problem of sin is not “them.” The problem of sin is “us.” All of us fall short in some way or another. None of us measures up to God’s standards by our own efforts. Those of us who are faithful, practicing religious folks look at Paul’s list of evils and reassure ourselves that we are not THAT bad. At least we don’t do THOSE things. We humans are very good at rationalizing and justifying.

But Spirit nudges us to see ourselves clearly; to name ourselves honestly. In order to begin to grasp the magnitude of the grace of our redemption, we must first grasp the deep significance of our fallenness.

So Paul’s proclamation of the gospel, God’s solution to the problem of sin, astounds us even more. For Jews and Gentiles alike. For the wise and the foolish. For the good and the bad….

….there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus…

Surely our psalmist could not have imagined the solution God would arrange for his people – for God’s own people. Even with all the impossible possibilities that continue to surprise and astound God’s people, this inclusive, amazing grace of the Christ Event outdoes them all.

Even if our psalmist could not imagine the Christ Event, he did, however, imagine that God would answer in God’s time and in God’s way to deal with the problem of sin. He put his faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and he trusted that the Surprising God of Unfathomable Faithfulness would – one day, some how – make everything right.

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

But we moderns see a problem, don’t we? Even with the amazing grace the redemption of Christ Jesus has brought into the world, we all still suffer fools. And we all still act the fool. We remember we humans are both good and bad, right and wrong, wide and foolish.

The faith we hold is eschatological, that is – we live with confidence in the here and now because we ground ourselves in the ultimate Shalom God is bringing for all creation. There is a peace that passes understanding that Christ already has brought into the world and – at the same time – we know it is not finished. The peace and salvation are not quite yet.

So, like the psalmist, we too hold onto hope and continue to put our trust in the Unfathomable Faithfulness of our ever Surprising God. We give witness to the Already-And-Not-Yet character of the salvation Christ has brought – and continues to bring – into our lives.

Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

Author: Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

Charlotte lives and blogs in Paris TX. She is ordained within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and developed Living in The Story while doing doctoral work at Brite Divinity School in Ft. Worth. Charlotte also blogs about intersections of faith, politics and culture at

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