AMONG THE INSIGHTS the Psalms convey, some of the most penetrating deal with the nature of wickedness and of wicked people. Rarely are these put into abstract categories. They are almost always functional and relational.
What lies at the heart of the “sinfulness of the wicked”? “There is no fear of God before his eyes” (Ps. 36:1). This means something more than that the wicked person is foolishly unafraid of the punishment that God will finally mete out (though it does not mean less than that). It means that the wicked are so blind that they do not see the ultimate realities. They either do not see God at all, or, scarcely less horribly, they do not see God as he is.
All appropriate behavior and outlook for human beings made in the image of God find their reference point and measure in God himself. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of both knowledge (Prov. 1:7) and wisdom (Prov. 9:10), for “knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Prov. 9:10). The converse is utter folly: “fools despise wisdom and discipline” (Prov. 1:7). Small wonder the psalmist insists that it is the fool who says, “There is no God” (Ps. 14:1). Scarcely less foolish is the conjuring up of domesticated gods we can manage, or of savage gods that are brutal and immoral, or of impersonal gods that depersonalize God’s image-bearers. When one is blind to the true God, including his glorious holiness that must rightly instill fear in image-bearers as rebellious as we, there is no stopping place in our descent into the abyss of folly.
The blindness of the wicked extends to their assessment of themselves. “For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin” (Ps. 36:2). If he could see well enough to detect his sin, to see it for what it is — rebellion against the living God — and hate it for its sheer vileness and utter arrogance before the majestic holiness of his Maker, inevitably he would also fear God. The twin blindnesses are one.
This, of course, is why philosophical debates about the existence of God can never be resolved by reason alone. It is not that God is unreasonable, still less that he has left himself without witness. Rather, the tragedy and ignominy of human sin leave us, apart from God’s grace, horribly blind. Yet this blindness is culpable blindness: the wicked have no fear of God before their eyes. Paul understands the point so well that he makes this the culminating proof-text in his proof of human lostness (Rom. 3:18). Thank God for the next thirteen verses the apostle pens.