Reading Psalm 10 for church led me to describe three types of people, with different mixes of faith and pattern of life. I came up with three terrible titles (as usual!), so want to try and explain less terribly. (The sermon recording is here.)
The practical atheist believes and lives as if there is no God. At times he will say, “There is no God” (verse 4), but that’s not a philosophical position. It’s practical: in practice there is not God who does anything. God probably exists, but he’s away: “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it” (verse 11).
For the practical atheist, the existence (or non-existence) of God makes no difference to life. God could be real or false, biblical or Canaanite, powerful or made of ice-cream … If you’re a practical atheist, who cares?
According to Psalm 10, the result of this is arrogant injustice. The practical atheist, once holding any type of power, uses that power against others. ‘The wicked hotly pursue the poor’, “I shall not meet adversity”, ‘in hiding places he murders the innocent’.
The second type of person I imagined is the direct opposite of the first. This one is a theist – one who knows the truth of God and whose life is shaped by this. The changes would include prayer and other acts of devotion. This person’s understanding is, ‘There is a God, and he sees me.’ There’s a big Amen! to verse 16: ‘The Lord is king for ever and ever’.
But it’s impractical. This person is not moved by the oppression all around. Though not unjust towards the afflicted, he or she has no urge towards justice.
This type of person is not identified in the Psalm. He’s closer to home, for us – for it could be me, or you, or any Christian. We can become immune to the pain of this world. If so, we become different from the Lord (‘you hear the cries of the afflicted’, verse 17).
The third ‘type’ is the practical theist. She cries out with concern, ‘Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?’ He prays, ‘Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted.’ This person is very practical and has a soft heart to the downtrodden – especially those of faith’s household (listen to the cries of Revelation 6:10, for example).
The practical theist does not allow a soft heart towards the poor to cause a hard heart towards God. Cries and prayers that apparently border on disrespect to God are really calls for God to be truly known. Effectively, ‘Show them, Lord, that you are present, that you do see, and that you rule with justice!’
The practical theist is the ideal member of God’s kingdom: compassionate and passionate, prayer-filled and theologically deep. The only one to perfectly pray Psalm 10 is Jesus – but Jesus invites all who trust him to become like him.