An Ethics of Presence & Virtue (Psalms 9-11) Pt 2

Hands of hopeIn Sunday’s post I suggested that Psalms 9-11 generate a moral vision for the people of God. What, then, might this positive vision of life look like?

1)     It will be a life in community, the life of the people of God, rather than isolated individuals. Although David seems to stand alone against the wish of his interlocutors, David was not alone, and one can be sure that his leadership in this matter would stimulate a corresponding response in others. Further, the very psalms themselves testify to a community that kept this vision alive and embodied their hope.

2)     It will be a life deeply grounded in the knowledge of God and vision of hope that emerges from the Old and New Testaments. It is clear that the faith, hope and worldview that come to expression in these psalms is grounded in the revelation of God given in the scriptures of the Hebrew people.

3)     It will be life that finds expression in worship and praise, prayer and trust, faith and obedience, that is, in the acknowledgement of this God who is sovereign over all, who will judge the wicked and reward the righteous. The form of life called forth by these psalms will be grounded, nurtured and supported in this community of faithful worship and devotion. In particular, the community and those in it will pray as the psalmist prays, crying out for God to arise, praying Thy Kingdom come!

4)     It will be a life in which particular virtues are evident: we have already mentioned faith and hope. These in turn generate patience and courage. Patience refers to that steadfastness that waits for God’s action, which refuses to capitulate to despair, faithlessness or godlessness. It is the concrete expression of hope and is oriented toward that hope. The courage in these psalms springs from the faith-conviction that God reigns and will indeed establish his justice. Therefore the psalmist has courage to stay, despite personal threats and dangerous conditions.

Other virtues are evident in these psalms. If God loves justice his people will aspire to live justly. If God cares for the vulnerable and shelters the oppressed, so his people will learn to emulate God’s compassion for those suffering and afflicted by the conditions of the world. Over against the pride, greed and violence of the wicked, God’s people will value humility, contentment, gentleness and peace.

5)     It will be a life of presence in the midst of the society. Through faith, David stays. The community of God’s people will be present to the vulnerable and afflicted, ministering to them and in solidarity with them. They will also be present to the wicked as a testimony against their ways. In both cases they serve as a witness to the present and coming kingdom. They not only pray Thy Kingdom come! but live the ways of the kingdom in the midst of world.

In the early years of his career Karl Barth adopted the language of 2 Peter 3:12 as a watchword for his understanding of the nature of Christian life: “waiting for and hastening the coming day of God…” These psalms bear a similar testimony. The church fervently prays Arise O God, Thy Kingdom come! and therefore waits in anticipation of a new heavens and earth in which righteousness dwells. In the meantime, however, they hasten towards and bear witness to that coming kingdom by practicing righteousness here and now. They practice an ethic of resistance and non-participation with respect to the ways of “the nations” and instead live gently, humbly and generously in a world of violence, pride and greed. Theirs is a spirituality of faith, hope and love, and an ethics of presence and virtue, and all this in the community of God’s people.

2 thoughts on “An Ethics of Presence & Virtue (Psalms 9-11) Pt 2

  1. Thanks Michael. Love your exposition of the Psalms and especially like the closing summary to the Psalm 9-11 set, and interested in the comment that Karl Barth adopted the language of 2 Peter 3:12 as a watchword for his understanding of the nature of Christian life: “waiting for and hastening the coming day of God”. I don’t know much about Barth (I know you are BIG on him) but I notice that understanding of the Christian role in the world today reflected in the teachings of N.T. Wright (see Surprised by Hope). So it seems that Peter, Barth, NT, and you are all on the same page. You are in good company!

    1. Thanks Ian for the encouragement. That will be my last comment on Psalms for a little while, but I wanted to highlight this ethical nature of these three psalms before moving on. Next Sunday I am starting an exposition of James 1. So I hope that is also useful for you.

      I am glad to be in good company, though I suspect I am far toward the back. Hopefully Jesus is nearby…

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