Seriously Now!

Gary B. Swanson

Seriously Now!

A London newspaper once reported that because of the accumulated time from so many one-hour adjustments in daylight saving time, two Thursdays would have to be eliminated from the calendar to bring British time back to where it should be.

On another occasion, radio reports shocked listeners with the news that, according to researchers, the White Cliffs of Dover were turning as green as old Roquefort cheese.

And then there’s the classic report back in the BBC’s black-and-white TV days when Richard Dimbleby, one of the most authoritative reporters at the time, narrated vivid details of the spring spaghetti harvest in a Swiss village. The report showed rural women picking long strands of spaghetti from trees, piling them into baskets, and taking them to market.

It should come as no surprise to the reader that each of these amazing revelations came to light on the very same day—of different years—April 1. The British most certainly must be the undisputed April Fool’s champions of the modern world.

Surely almost everyone has been on the receiving end of an April Fool’s joke at one time or another in his or her life. At its most harmless level, it’s usually intended as a kind of trick that even the victim, although a bit embarrassed, may find amusing.

There is apparently another way, however, of showing one’s foolishness that results from something more significant than a mild prank. It is possible to take on cosmic proportions. The psalmist wrote: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Ps. 14:1).1 This is a familiar passage to readers of the Bible. Christians sometimes mutter to themselves some reference to this verse—repeated word-for-word in Psalm 53:1—when they observe instances in their culture when they hear someone express disbelief in God.

But it must first be acknowledged that the fool depicted in Psalms 14:1 and 53:1 is not so called because of his or her mere gullibility. The foolishness doesn’t seem at first to be the result of being poorly informed, but of an intentional decision to disbelieve.

In speaking of these passages in Psalms, Ellen G. White describes those who “think they have made wonderful discoveries in science. They quote the opinions of learned men as though they considered them infallible and teach the deductions of science as truths that cannot be controverted. And the Word of God, which is given as a lamp to the feet of the world-weary traveler, is judged by this standard, and pronounced wanting.”2

Right now there is in Western culture an unfortunate discord over the authority of science in decisions regarding public policy and even, in some instances, international diplomacy. Regardless of one’s position on global warming, for example, any questioning of the findings of scientific evidence is decried by some as politically motivated, disparaged as willful ignorance, or, worse, outright “heresy.”

The root disagreement in all this centers on what is considered by science to be acceptable evidence. The overwhelming majority of the scientific community—and the media that report on the findings of science—treat the issue of origins as if the discussion is settled. Yet, as C. S. Lewis has said, “If there is ‘Something Behind’ [the origin and existence of the universe], then either it will have to remain altogether unknown to men or else make itself known in some different way. The statement that there is any such thing, and the statement that there is no such thing, are neither of them statements that science can make.”3

But closer examination of the person who denies God’s existence in Psalms 14:1; 53:1 suggests even more than a cold, hard intellective judgment that, given the materialist evidence, God cannot exist. There is a moral aspect to this pronouncement as well.

Scholars have pointed out that the Hebrew word translated as “fool” in these two passages describes “one who acts foolishly, especially in a moral sense, one who has no relationship with God, an unbeliever.”4

In other words, fools express unbelief both in what they say and in what they do: “They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good” (Ps. 14:1). By their engagement in corrupt and vile behavior, they are implicitly—“in [the] heart”—indicating their disbelief in God. George A. F. Knight suggests that these verses aren’t really speaking of sheer intellectual atheism. “In Old Testament times,” Knight observes, “virtually nobody was an atheist. Life was too mysterious for them to make that foolish mistake. . . . The fool spoken  of here simply cannot see God in action.”5

All of which brings to mind some troubling questions about what it truly means to be a fool as described in these two psalms—even for those who may consider themselves to be faithful believers: Is there something in my life that may, at its very foundation, signify that I myself don’t really believe in God? Intellectual assent to God’s existence is not enough. Am I living my belief in Him?

“To hold a thing with the intellect is not to believe it,” wrote 19th-century Scottish minister and poet George MacDonald. “A man’s real belief is that which he lives by; and that which the man I mean lives by, is the love of God, and obedience to his law.”6

When Jesus said, “‘Watch out that no one deceives you’” (Matt. 24:4), He was responding to His disciples’ questions about the time of the end. Beyond the mere gullibility with regard to false prophets and false christs, there is certainly the possibility of self-deception as well. Readiness for the end times will be expressed by observable, everyday responses to God’s existence.

And meanwhile all of this will be coming at an increasingly deceptive time of both trivial and significant information.

A Columbo, Sri Lanka, newspaper—not the English this time—once ran a tongue-in-cheek contest for cash prizes to winners. The requirements of the competition were so absurdly simple that nearly everybody could win. A police force had to be called out when nearly 2,000 people showed up at the newspaper office to claim their prizes.

In some small way, the two thousand “winners” must have felt as cheated as will those who—at Jesus’ return—realize how deceptive have been the promises of the world. Satan promises happiness, and for a time, his way may bring a measure of gratification. But sooner or later, it’s going to be apparent that the world simply doesn’t provide the happiness it promises, and those who have accepted it realize that they have been on the receiving end of a nasty joke with cosmic consequence. And that is surely no laughing matter.



1. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references in this column are quoted from the New International Version of the Bible.
2. Selected Messages, Book 3, p. 306.
3. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1981), pp. 19, 20.
4. Marginal note, Andrews Study Bible, p. 681.
5. George A. F. Knight, Psalms (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1982), vol. 1, p. 251. Italics in the original.
6. George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons (Series Three), (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1891), p. 239.