Psalms 14 and 53 are nearly identical, and both paint a depressing picture of humankind.
The author begins by pointing out the folly of denying the power of God: “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” Then, the author appears to attribute that folly to everyone:
They are corrupt,
they have done abominable works,
there is none that doeth good.Psalm 14:1 (See also Psalm 53:1.)
The author goes on to describe God looking down from heaven, trying to find someone who is willing to seek Him, but finding none. Instead, He sees people following their own inclinations, to their own detriment:
They are all gone aside,
they are all together become filthy:
there is none that doeth good, no, not one.Psalm 14:3 (See also Psalm 53:3.)
This imagery is similar to Isaiah’s observation: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.” But Isaiah follows that depressing observation with a glimmer of hope: “The Lord hath laid on him [the Savior] the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6, Mosiah 14:6).
When the apostle Paul later quoted from these psalms, his purpose was to condemn self-righteousness. Don’t give yourself so much credit for your good works, he says. We have all wandered; we have all fallen short. We all need God:
Are we [the Jews] better than they [the Gentiles]? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one….
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:Romans 3:9-12, 23-24
In the last chapter of the Book of Mormon, the prophet Moroni taught the same principle. “Deny not the power of God,” he counseled his readers. “Deny not the gifts of God.” He said that God’s power and gifts will always be available to us if we believe, and he warned that God’s power and gifts are necessary to help us be what we need to be:
And now I speak unto all the ends of the earth—that if the day cometh that the power and gifts of God shall be done away among you, it shall be because of unbelief.
And wo be unto the children of men if this be the case; for there shall be none that doeth good among you, no not one. For if there be one among you that doeth good, he shall work by the power and gifts of God.Moroni 10:25
Moroni had seen firsthand the chaos that ensues when people turn away from God. His father, Mormon, had observed that their people experienced “no gifts from the Lord,” and he attributed this spiritual poverty to “their wickedness and unbelief” (Mormon 1:14). Mormon had urged Moroni to keep working with them, “notwithstanding their hardness,” but he acknowledged his own lack of hope for their deliverance, because of their rejection of God (Moroni 9:4-6, Mormon 5:1-2).
Elder Dale G. Renlund recently reminded us that we cannot save ourselves. We all need God’s saving power:
Left to our own devices, the prospect of returning to live in God’s presence is hopeless.
Without the blessings that come from Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, we can never do enough or be enough by ourselves. The good news, though, is that because of and through Jesus Christ we can become enough.“Do Justly, Love Mercy, and Walk Humbly with God,” General Conference, October 2020
And Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught that the good works we observe in unbelievers are inspired by God, even if they aren’t aware of that reality:
A growing number of people consider that belief in and allegiance to God are not needed for moral uprightness in either individuals or societies in today’s world. I think we would all agree that those who profess no religious belief can be, and often are, good, moral people. We would not agree, however, that this happens without divine influence. I am referring to the Light of Christ. The Savior declared, “I am the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” Whether aware of it or not, every man, woman, and child of every belief, place, and time is imbued with the Light of Christ and therefore possesses the sense of right and wrong we often call conscience.“Sustainable Societies,” General Conference, October 2020
Today, I will remember that we all need God’s help. As I consider the challenges I face and the work I need to do, I will remember that God can provide guidance and strength to help me accomplish those goals. I will also be careful not to take too much credit for my good deeds. I will remember that I couldn’t have done them without His help.