Psalm 14 must be understood as social commentary and as anthropology. In David’s situation, he looks at those who deny God and sees the folly of their ways in comparison to those who acknowledge God and live wisely. But David also speaks about the whole human race (note the usage of the word “all” and “none” applied to God’s looking down on “the children of man”). It is clear from this psalm that all of us can be fools. We are all foolish, and so with David we must pray for God to save us all (v. 7).
In reading this psalm, I cannot simply point a finger at atheists since I too deny God “in [my] heart” (v. 1) from time to time. Fools are not merely atheists, but are those who “in their heart” (according to their private confession) ignore the existence or authority of God. The original word for “fool” does not imply one who intentionally chooses folly over wisdom. Rather, the word describes those who act on the basis of a wrong assumption. This is not merely an issue of belief, but an issue of worldview.
Those who deny God become corrupt, committing sins of commission and sins of omission (v. 1). While fools do not consider God, it is ironic that God looks considers them and makes note of their sad condition (vv. 2-3). None understand, none act wisely in knowledge of him, and none seek him. Since they have turned away from God, they have become corrupt, unable to do good. Adam and Eve were cast out of God’s presence, and ever since then the human race has become all the more corrupt on our own. Deprivation leads to depravation!
Furthermore, fools feed off the blessings that are originally for God’s people rather than calling upon God themselves (v. 4). While they do not acknowledge God, they acknowledge the blessings that come from God and take away from those who do acknowledge him. God’s people pray for blessing and God provides for his own, but fools steal away those blessings and do not acknowledge God. For them, robbing God becomes as natural as eating bread.
Even in their acts of plundering God’s people, fools are aware of their wrongdoing, causing “great terror” (v. 5). The conscience does not lie, although it may be suppressed. Even when we deny God in their heart, we do so with some measure of knowledge that he exists and we are accountable to him (Rom 1:18-23). However, such terror is also caused by God’s deliverance of his people (v. 6). Therefore, David prays for God to deliver his people and restore their fortune (v. 7), causing the foolish to acknowledge God and repent!