Monthly Archives: February 2015

The Main Thing

the-main-thing__mediumFritz Barth died on February 25, 1912. Karl Barth’s father, himself a theology professor, was only fifty-five. Among his last words were:

The main thing is not scholarship, nor learning, nor criticism, but to love the Lord Jesus. We need a living relationship with God, and we must ask the Lord for that.

(Busch, Karl Barth, 68)

Scripture on Sunday – James 1:19-20

Saint_James_the_JustJames 1:19-20
You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. (NRSV)

This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. (NASB)

James addresses his “brothers and sisters” for the third time in this chapter (vv. 2, 16), and as “beloved” for the second time (v. 16). It is also the second time that he refers to his hearers “knowing” something, although the word here (iste) differs from that used in verse 3. The two translations above show that the word could be translated as an indicative (NASB) indicating something that James’ hearers already know, and so referring back to the truths just enumerated in verses 16-18. Or it could be understood as an imperative as in most English translations, and thus as a command to his hearers to know this particular truth which James will now go on to declare. The usual translation is to be preferred, although the NASB has the advantage of translating the tiny particle de (“but”). It is likely that the decision to translate the particle forces the change of translation in the first phrase.

What is it James wants his hearers to know? He begins with a brief aphorism that “everyone” (pas anthrōpos) “must be” (estō) “quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger” (taxys eis to akousai, bradys eis to lalēsai, bradys eis orgēn). The aphorism itself plays on the metaphor of speed: quick—slow—slow. “Quick to listen” and “slow to speak” would provide a balanced and parallel saying. The addition of “slow to anger” slows the saying and hearer, emphasising James’ focus on speech and highlighting especially his main concern—angry speech, and, more to the point, human anger itself.

Thus, James’ main concern is the pithy point given in verse 20: human anger does not produce the righteousness of God (orgē gar andros dikaiosynēn theou ou katergazetai; note that this text follows the fifth edition of the UBS Greek New Testament, and so reads ou katergazetai instead of ouk ergazetai (fourth edition). See the discussion in Vlachos, 53-54). The NRSV reads “your anger does not produce God’s righteousness” suggesting that at least some members of the community itself are angry. Although this is possible, it obscures the more specific thrust of the verse provided by the contrast between human anger and God’s righteousness. Further, katergazetai here, recalls its earlier use in verse 3, where the trial of our faith “produces” (katergazetai) endurance. If in the midst of trial, James’ hearers resort to anger instead of practising endurance, the result will not be the attainment of divine righteousness; they will not be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (verse 4). The phrase “God’s righteousness” (dikaiosyne theou) here thus carries an ethical rather than salvific sense. James is not saying that one’s anger does not bring a person into a saving relation with God, but that human anger does not bear the kind of righteous fruit that God desires or approves. James is concerned here, therefore, not with one’s standing before God, but with practical righteousness, the kind of life lived in accordance with that which is right and good in God’s sight.

On first glance these verses appear to be a stand-alone aphorism intended as practical parenesis and admonition, presaging the larger treatment on human speech and the power of the tongue in chapter 3. There is no doubt that speech is a major issue in James with 29 imperatives in the letter devoted to speech ethics (Vlachos, 52). It is not surprising, therefore, that pastors and preachers read the verse like this, using homely examples such as “God has given us two ears but only one mouth, obviously intending that we should listen twice as much as we should speak!”

Nevertheless, this reading disconnects the verses from what has gone before. It is, however, possible, and I think preferable, to read verses 19-20 as part of James’ ongoing argument. In times of trial and temptation believers are to stand firm in faith, rejoicing in God and praying for wisdom. They are not to accuse or blame God for their temptations for such temptations arise from their own lusts. Therefore God’s people would do well to be slow to speak such words and make such claims (cf. verse 13 “let no one say…”). Instead, believers are to be “quick to hear”—the Word of God. That this is James’ intent becomes clear in verses 21-25 where he goes on to instruct his listeners how they should hear. The primary meaning of this brief aphorism is, therefore, a renewed call for humble submission to God in the midst of trial. That it may also have wider application as a piece of relational and moral wisdom is apparent but secondary to this primary interpretation. James will, of course, develop his instruction on believers’ use of the tongue in interpersonal relations in chapter 3, but that is not the primary content of his exhortation here.

A Sermon on Sunday – James 1:12-18


Saint_James_the_JustI have not preached this sermon, but prepared it to see how I might approach this passage if I were called upon to preach it in a congregational context. Moving from exegesis to exposition is not always easy, and I am not overly happy with this sermon as it presently stands. Hopefully it would be developed and improved as I prepared it with a specific audience in mind. Perhaps its focus would be sharpened, and story, illustration and application would bring this somewhat cerebral text to life.


The Two Loves

I am not sure I agree with the way Monica tells the story, but here goes…

We had been married a little under two years, had recently returned home from a six-month short-term mission experience in Indonesia, had our first baby, and were preparing to move to rural WA for our first pastoral appointment. I was obviously tired and had gone to bed earlier than Monica—after working hard all day, and then preparing sermons into the evening, I might add! When Monica came in I was asleep, but apparently half sat-up, turned, looked at her, eyes open and asked, “What’s the password?”

“What password? What do you mean?”

“What’s the password?”

Realising that I was still asleep even though sitting half upright and talking (it had happened before, unfortunately, and to my everlasting shame!), she said again, “I don’t know what the password is. You’ll have to tell me the password.” To which I replied—apparently in a deep, husky voice, “Desire!

For some reason, Monica still thinks that’s a funny story and loves to re-tell it, even thirty years later! She leaves out, of course, the most important point: the reason the word desire was so prominent in my mind…

Desire. What kinds of things do you desire? Do your desires run in good directions? No doubt some of them do. But our desires, typically, are a mixed bag of good and not-so-good. Our passions can shape the direction of our life for extraordinary achievement or they can run amuck. James turns his attention to these things in our passage this week.

Read the text: James 1:12-18

 Human Passions

In verse 13 James takes aim at an attitude that was evidently a problem amongst his listeners, who were blaming God for the troubles and temptations they were experiencing. Instead of “the devil made me do it” they were saying, “God is making me do it!”

It is convenient to attribute our temptations to God. If God is tempting us, we can hardly be blamed for giving in to the temptation. No, in fact, we would be doing God’s will by giving in! Although we might think this is all a bit silly, it is not all that uncommon for someone to justify their behaviour—sometimes even unconscionable behaviour—by claiming God had led them into it, that God has a higher purpose for them, and this activity is part of a bigger plan, that God has spoken to them, that God is love and surely he would not want them “suffer” any longer. Actually, it is amazing how easy it is to justify even sinful behaviour by attributing some blame to God.

In our text, however, the situation is probably a little different. James’ hearers are undergoing real suffering and hardship, very possibly economic oppression and marginalisation, and they are angry. Perhaps they want to take matters into their own hands, and strike out at those who are oppressing them. With bitterness of spirit they are blaming God for their troubles, and perhaps even suggesting that God wants them to rise up against their oppressors.

“Let no one say when he tempted, ‘I am tempted by God.’” James rejects this position out of hand, because God is always and only good, and he never changes. God cannot be tempted with evil for in himself, God’s goodness is his holiness and he is beyond temptation. Further, God’s will is that his people also be holy, so why would he tempt them to evil? For James, the very idea is ridiculous. Perhaps we are tempted, then, by the devil? But no, in this case James does not go there either, but lays the responsibility squarely at our own feet. We are responsible: “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.”

Desire in and of itself is not necessarily wrong. We can desire good things, both for ourselves and for others. Our passions can be noble. This weekend in Perth we have seen the results of noble passions, with the “giants” who have visited our city to open this year’s Perth International Arts Festival. A passion for art, creativity and excellence resulted in a series of street festivals as hundreds of thousands of people turned out to enjoy the spectacle of the giants. This week in Perth we have also seen the results of ignoble passion, again in the arts, with the opening of Fifty Shades of Grey in the cinemas, exploiting prurient interests and celebrating dominance and power.

James is familiar with the dual nature of our passions and draws on ancient Hebrew concepts to set forth his understanding of the nature of sin. The Hebrews believed that two impulses are at work in the human person, the yetzer hara‘ and the yetzer hatov. The first yetzer is the evil impulse, and the second is the good impulse. Our impulses, desires and passions can run in either direction, and when they run with the yetzer hara‘ we are lured into sin, enticed by a particular kind of bait, and snared in the trap of sin. Our own desires lead us into a trap. One commentator says that we are “hooked by own bait.”

James gives a biological analogy of the birth and development of sin: desire “conceives” and “gives birth” to sin. But sin is not the end of the story. The sin develops and grows and comes to maturity and eventually “gives birth” to death. We could probably push this analogy too far, and turn it into some kind of “mechanics of sin.” Paul refers to “the mystery of iniquity” which highlights the incomprehensible nature of sin. Nevertheless, if we add intention and action to illegitimate desire, sin results, and if we pursue and persevere in sin “the child grows up” exerting an increasing dominion over our lives. “Make no mistake!” says James: sin is deadly and death-dealing. What appears as a harmless little desire here may grow into a destructive habit or devouring addiction.

Divine Purpose

“Make no mistake!” says James. Illegitimate desire leads to sin, and sin leads to death. We are wrong if we think that this is God’s will for us. God is the lord and giver of life, not the lord and ruler of death! “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above,” says James, “coming down from the Father of lights.” God is only and always good, insists James¸ and he never changes in this his character and temperament, but only wills and does that which is good. He cannot will evil and does not will evil, and so cannot tempt us with respect to evil. Even God’s judgement, ultimately, is for the good.

James calls God “the Father of lights” which is almost certainly a reference to God as the creator of the heavenly lights—the sun, moon and stars—and so a reference to God’s universal sovereignty and goodness. But God is unlike the heavenly lights that he has created. Whereas they change, even in the midst of their regularity, due to lunar phases and solar eclipses, God never varies in his basic character of goodness, his good intent and purpose. God intends good for his creation, and is kind to the just and to the unjust (Matthew 5:45; Acts 14:17). God intends good for you and for me, which is why he warns us concerning the destructive nature of sin. Even in its fallen and alienated state, God wills the restoration of his creation, rather than its destruction. Yes, God is judge and he will judge the wickedness of humanity as James clearly declares in other passages. But destruction is not God’s purpose. Not only is God creator, he is also the redeemer.

In verse 18 God’s redemptive purpose comes more clearly into focus. “Of his own will,” says James, “he brought us forth by the word of truth that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.” God, the Father of lights, has given us birth! In a daring image, James applies the image of pregnancy and birth to God. God himself has conceived us, carried us and brought us to birth through the “word of truth”—the gospel of our salvation (Ephesians 1:13; Colossians 1:5). Of all God’s “good and perfect gifts,” this is the very best: the redemption and regeneration we have in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit so that we have actually become God’s own children! Notice that the whole emphasis is on God’s purpose and God’s activity, and so on grace. James is not teaching a theology of works, but like Paul, is a theologian of grace.

The contrast between God’s will here and human desire in verse 15 is unmistakable. Whereas human desire gives birth to sin and death, God’s will gives birth to life and new creation: we are “born again.” This is language used by Jesus, Peter and John to portray the new life believers have in Christ. Something marvellous, something miraculous occurs when someone becomes a Christian: we are actually, really born … a second time! We are born into God’s kingdom, born into God’s family, born spiritually. This is new life, a new hope, a new beginning, a fresh start, a new creation. You are not who you used to be. I am not who I used to be be. We are not who we used to be.

Scot McKnight, however, reminds us that the new birth is not simply personal. The “us” is corporate, the messianic community, the church. This is a helpful reminder that while salvation is personal, it is neither private nor simply individual, but has a corporate intention and public aspect. Indeed, McKnight goes on to say that,

The “new birth” of James is both intensely personal and structurally ecclesial: God’s intent is to restore individuals in the context of a community that has a missional focus on the rest of the world (131).

God’s ultimate purpose is finally seen in the final phrase of the verse: “that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.” God’s redemptive vision is as large as creation itself. Because God has his eye on the whole of creation, he has brought forth the community of God’s people. The Father of lights has not abandoned his creation but is leading it towards its consummation. Just as God called Abram because he had his eye on “all the families of the world,” so God has brought forth the church, not simply to be the sole recipient of his goodness and blessing, but that through the church, his every good and perfect gift might also be directed to every creature. Such a gracious God is not leading people to fall as some in the community seem to be asserting (v. 13). Rather, the good and gracious God is one who strengthens them to endure the test that God’s purposes for them and for the entirety of the creation might be realised

Our Perseverance

So, make no mistake! Sin is deadly, but God is good. And God has a divine purpose for his creation, including us. Nevertheless, in this life we face troubles without and temptations within. Pressure on the outside, pressure on the inside. But whether without or within, James’ admonition is the same: persevere, hold fast, stand firm, resist!

Every believer is confronted with this choice, whether to give play to their sinful desires or stand firm against them. But James also has a final—and surprising—word of wisdom for us. Standing fast is not a matter of will power or gritted teeth determination. Just as the root of sin is found in desire rather than the will, so the secret of perseverance is found in our desire, in this case, in our desire and love for God.

In verse 12 James reiterates the advice he gave earlier, encouraging his hearers that those who do stand firm will be blessed, and indeed, will receive “the crown of life.” If desire leads to sin which gives birth to death, testing met with perseverance leads to life. In this verse, the crown of life is the final eschatological victory, the hope of eternal life in the kingdom of God. Blessed, not only in time but in eternity. Blessed not only as individuals, but as the community of God’s kingdom in the midst of a renewed creation. This blessing is given, according to James, “to those who love God.” In the final analysis, the Christian life is about who or what we will love. Will we love God, or will we turn our love inward and love ourselves? Augustine and Luther have famously defined sin as homo incurvatus in se—the human being turned in on themselves. But God calls us to a higher love, to love God with all our heart and soul and strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves.

What does it mean to love God? In broader biblical perspective we see that love for God involves keeping his commandments (John 14:15). It means to keep his word in our hearts (Deuteronomy 6:4-6). In this context, however, it might best be understood in terms of loyalty to God and to God’s will in the face of pressure to compromise and capitulate. It means to look to God, to hope in God, to approach God in prayer, and to trust in God. It means to rejoice in God and find our boasting, joy and life in him. The Christian life is neither a cynical quest for reward nor a fearful avoidance of hell. It is not simply a stoic endurance of affliction or a herculean withstanding of temptation. It is a life of joy rather than gritted teeth, of hope rather than fear, of faith rather than despair, of generosity rather than selfishness, and supremely, of love.

Barth Study Group at ANZATS 2015

Church DogmaticsGreat news! For a couple of years I have wondered about the possibility of organising an Australian-New Zealand Colloquium for Barth scholars in our part of the world. So I very much welcome the following announcement from ANZATS (the Australian & New Zealand Association of Theological Schools):

The ANZATS 2015 Conference Planning Committee is pleased to announce an addition to this year’s Conference. The newly formed Karl Barth Study Group has been allocated three dedicated sessions as part of this year’s Conference programme to encourage reflection and discussion around the theological legacy of Karl Barth. Interested members of ANZATS, ANZSTS, and the theological and wider academic community are invited to submit the title of their proposed presentation at this conference, together with an abstract of 250-300 words by Monday March 16, 2015.

Details are available by right-clicking on this link:
ANZATS 15 Barth Study Group & Call for Papers

Perhaps I will see you there!

Scripture on Sunday – James 1:18

Saint_James_the_JustJames 1:18
In fulfilment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

The first question to be asked of this verse concerns whether James is writing with respect to the creational or redemptive work of God. If verse 17 is understood in a creational sense, it is possible to read this verse in the same way. Humanity, generally, has been created in the divine image by God’s word of command to be the first amongst God’s creatures. In our comment on the previous verse, however, we concluded that although the text could be read in a creational sense, it is better to understand it in terms of an exhortation to the believing community. So here, James uses language that elsewhere in the New Testament refers to God’s salvific work. The “word of truth” refers to the message of the gospel (Ephesians 1:13; Colossians 1:5; 2 Timothy 2:15; cf. 2 Corinthians 6:7), which, more broadly, is understood as the instrument by which men and women are brought to faith and so to salvation (cf. Romans 10:17; 1 Peter 1:23-25). The emphasis on divine sovereignty in this verse echoes Paul’s similar emphasis in Ephesians 1. The broader context of verses 13-18 suggests that James is piling up reasons for why his hearers should not blame God for the trials they experience. God’s will and activity toward us has ever been gracious and kind. God does not tempt us with evil, not only because his goodness is incapable of evil, but because such an act would also be counter to his ultimate purpose, which is to establish his people as the paradigm of his intent for the whole creation. God does not will evil, sin and death, but life.

“In fulfilment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth” (βoulētheis apekyēsen hēmas logō alētheias). βoulētheis is an aorist participle meaning “by an act of will, deliberately” (Zerwick-Grosvenor, 692). The use of the aorist participle with the verb indicates that God’s action was the outworking of his logically prior determination. The implied subject of the verb (apekyēsen) is the “Father of lights” from verse 17. Salvation, a premier example of a “good and perfect gift,” has its ground in the divine purpose and intent. If James’ messianic community has experienced salvation, it is because God has purposed it; the whole emphasis is on God’s purpose and God’s activity, and so on grace. As such, this verse could have been written by Paul, and undermines the idea that James has a soteriology of works rather than grace.

The verb itself is daring, for apekyeō is properly applied to a female, and literally means to give birth (from kyō, to be pregnant). The image is applied metaphorically to God—the “Father of lights” gives birth!—and is almost certainly deliberately used by James here in contrast to its previous use in verse 15. Whereas human desire leads to sin which gives birth to death, God’s will gives birth to new life and new creation (see McKnight, 129). The image of salvation as new birth is found elsewhere in the New Testament in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3, in John 1:13; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, and in 1 Peter 1:23. Although it is common to think of being born again in personal and therefore individual terms, McKnight (130) argues that the “us” (hēmas) in this text, refers to the messianic community which God has “delivered” into the world. McKnight’s emphasis is a helpful corrective, and a reminder that while salvation is personal, it is neither private nor simply individual, but has a corporate intention and public aspect. Indeed, McKnight goes on to say that,

The “new birth” of James is both intensely personal and structurally ecclesial: God’s intent is to restore individuals in the context of a community that has a missional focus on the rest of the world (131).

This intent comes more fully into view in the final phrase of the verse, “that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures” (eis to einai hēmas aparchēn tina tōn autou ktismatōn). With this phrase, the whole saving purpose of God comes into view, and God’s salvific work is identified as the fulfilment of his creational activity. Because God has his eye on the whole of creation, he has brought forth the community of God’s people. They are the “first” of the harvest, and the promise of the full harvest which is yet to come. In the Old Testament, the first fruits belonged to God, whether the firstborn in a family, the first animal of the herd, the first grain of the field (see, e.g., Exodus 13:1-2; 22:29-30), and had to be offered to God or otherwise redeemed. As the first fruits of his creation Christians are God’s treasured possession, the first harvest of his intention that the whole creation shall be renewed and redeemed. God is giving birth to a new creation and believers, having been brought forth by the gospel, are the first fruits of this renewed world. It should be noted that the New Testament uses the idea of regeneration both with respect to the salvation of individuals and of the cosmos itself (see, e.g. Titus 3:5; Matthew 19:28; cf. Acts 3:21). The Father of lights has not abandoned his creation but is leading it towards its consummation.

That God’s intent is the “restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21) does not imply universalism, especially in James, where the threat of judgement is very prominent and directed especially against the rich. Rather, and this picks up McKnight’s insistence that the messianic community has a missional focus, the redeemed community is to function as a picture of God’s intent for all humanity, and as the instrument by which God will continue his harvest. This reminds us of the call of Abram in Genesis 12:1-3, where God called Abram because he had his eye on “all the families of the world.” So God has brought forth the church, not simply to be the sole recipient of his goodness and blessing, but that through the church, his every good and perfect gift might also be directed to every creature. Such a gracious God is not leading people to fall as some in the community seem to be asserting (v. 13). Rather, the good and gracious God is one who strengthens them to endure the test that God’s purposes for them and for the entirety of the creation might be realised (Davids, 90).

A Dilemma for Theological Education

Catholic Theological EducationJohn Olley sent through this interesting article on the situation of theological education in the United Kingdom. He commented that what is happening in the UK has already been happening here in Australia for some years. Certainly the article suggests that a residential model of theological education/ ministerial training has been the norm there, whereas I don’t know many such schools here. An obvious and continuing issue facing theological institutions is financial pressure, something compounded by government policies which allow private institutions to offer degrees, but then do not fund all the degree programmes offered, or demand compliance regimes difficult for smaller institutions to sustain.

The article indicates other pressures: shrinking church constituencies, a “re-tribalisation” of evangelicalism (an interesting topic in its own right), and fundamentally, the changing context of ecclesial vocation.

Ineson believes that future theological education will look very different. ‘We’re going to need to train many more ministers, both lay and ordained, and these will need to be people who know how to encourage the ministry of all the people of God, not just do it all themselves,’ she says. … They will need to have experience of leading teams. They will need to be people who know how to handle and lead through change as the context of ministry and church life shifts rapidly in the next few years. They will need to be adaptable…My guess is that there will be more creativity in the way training is done.’

The massive changes in the socio-cultural location of the church and in the ministry context demand high levels of practical wisdom and skill for those who would be ministers. Many pastors have said something like, “Almost everything that consumes my time in daily ministry, I had to learn after I had already finished my theological education.”

This is an ongoing tension in theological education: trying to achieve the kind of academic breadth and depth required to sustain theological reflection and godly discernment over the course of a lifetime, while also equipping ministerial candidates with the kind of practical wisdom and skills required for ministry in challenging contexts.

A real partnership is required between seminary and churches with give and take on both sides. Substantial Christian and theological formation cannot occur only in the seminary, for Christian spirituality and life is lived out in the contexts of the community of faith and in the world. The seminary exists for the church and needs the church.

Does the church likewise need the seminary? Many today question this, but I (obviously!) believe that the seminary is also necessary for the ongoing life of the church, for the training of new ministers and lay persons, for the careful examination of contemporary trends in the light of the gospel, etc.

Ineson believes that strong theology must not be compromised for the sake of hands-on experience. ‘We still need good theology…so we do need good theological colleges with well-trained, committed faculty members, able to publish and supervise higher research; where academic rigour is maintained and we continue to discern how God’s word in the Bible speaks today. That only comes through devoted study.’

What good is the seminary? How might we tackle this fundamental tension
at the heart of theological education? What do you think?

Courage & Compassion

Sydney Seige

This article has been published in the current issue of the Advocate (Baptist Churches WA, February, 2015)as "Courage & Compassion: Faith in Times of Terror."

2014 was a tough year: the mysterious loss of MH370, the criminal shooting of MH170 over Ukraine, terrible conflicts in Syria and Palestine, ebola, the devastation of the murderous Islamic State, the siege in Sydney’s Lindt Café, the murder of 132 children and nine teachers in a Pakistani school, the tragic killing of eight children in Cairns…

2015 has started in a similar way with the murder of Parisian journalists, and slaughter of over 2000 villagers in Nigeria by Boco Harum. What does discipleship look like in days of terror?

We find some answers to these questions in Psalms 8-11. This little collection meditates on what it means to trust God in terrible times. Psalm 8 speaks of our dignity as God’s creation, crowned with glory and honour. Psalms 9-10, however, cry out to God because the “man who is of the earth” is violent, causing terror. In Psalm 11 the king’s counsellors ask, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” and advise him to “flee as a bird to your mountain!” But David refuses to go; even in the face of threatening and dangerous circumstances David is convinced that the Lord reigns, that God will ‘arise’ to judge the wicked and put an end to their evil. And so David trusts and David stays.

Taken together, these psalms provide a vision of life for uncertain times. They proclaim hope in the present and eschatological triumph of God who is enthroned in his holy temple, and who will establish his sovereignty over all creation. Further, the psalms declare the promises that God will be a refuge for his people, and that they shall experience his protection and reward; the Lord loves righteousness and the righteous will behold his face.

This is the bedrock conviction of biblical faith: The Lord reigns! (see Psalm 96:10; Isaiah 52:7). This conviction, deeply grounded in the Scriptures, generates faith and trust, and so also the prayer, patience and courage we find in these psalms.

Further, these psalms present a picture of God’s character as one who is merciful and just, who favours the vulnerable and stands against the wicked. God’s people are called to emulate this character. If God loves justice, his people will aspire to live justly. Since God cares for the vulnerable and shelters the oppressed, so his people will also learn compassion for the afflicted. Over against the pride, greed and violence of the wicked, God’s people will practise humility, contentment, gentleness and peace. They will, however, also stand against the oppressor to defend the needy.

Finally, the psalms presuppose a faithful community which preserves and sings these psalms and prays these prayers, and remembers these promises, and lives this hope. Together the people of God dare to embody the vision of Scripture in the midst of a world of conflict and terror. In particular, they pray as the psalmist prays, crying out for God to ‘arise,’ or, in New Testament language, to pray Thy Kingdom come! Like David they refuse to flee. Rather, they stay as David stayed. The community of God’s people will be present to the afflicted, ministering to them and in solidarity with them. They will also be present to the wicked as a testimony against their ways. They not only pray Thy Kingdom come! but live the ways of the kingdom. In the midst of a world of violence and terror Christians are called to be prayerful, present, and practising the gracious and righteous character of God.