Tag Archives: God

A Psalm for Sunday – Psalm 11

bird-in-handRead Psalm 11

Although only seven short verses, this psalm speaks powerfully to those facing crises or danger, for it was written in response to some kind of threat and danger. “In the Lord I take refuge; How can you say to my soul, ‘Flee as a bird to your mountain’” (v. 1).

We cannot know who this person or these people are who counsel flight, although we get some reason as to why they do so in verses two and three: the very foundations of society are being destroyed, and the wicked seem to be in the ascendancy. Although they slink about in darkness, they are armed and ready to shoot at the upright and bring them down. It seems there is nothing the upright can do in these circumstances except flee. Perhaps the counsel to flee comes from those concerned for the welfare of the psalmist. Perhaps it comes as a cynical admonition from those who sneer at his faith and think his defeat is imminent and irreversible. Either way, it is the counsel of despair: “Give up! Flee! Take cover! Save yourself; run for your life; seek safety elsewhere and let the city go to the dogs: there is nothing you can do.”

This is precisely what the psalmist refuses to do: “In the Lord I take refuge.” This bold statement recalls the promise of 2:12 that those who seek refuge in the Lord shall be blessed, even if the nations rage, and the “man of the earth” continues to enact terror (10:18).

What can the psalmist see that his counsellors cannot? “The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven” (v. 4). The psalmist is convinced that God is still on the throne, that God reigns, and so the events of earth are not beyond divine sovereignty and providence. God is neither absent nor uninvolved, but tests humanity, weighing the deeds both of the righteous and the wicked. Further, the psalmist believes that God exercises judgement, punishing the wicked and rewarding the righteous (vv. 6-7). This judgement is  still future for the psalmist, but it is not necessarily eschatological (a judgement beyond the grave), but may in fact be historical. The wicked will in this life get their “just deserts,” while the righteous will receive God’s favour and be vindicated (cf. Craigie). It is possible, however, that the final phrase of the psalm, “the upright will behold his face,” may be understood in terms of the beatific vision promised to God’s people in the New Testament (see, for example, Revelation 22: 4).Archer

Ultimately, then, the psalmist’s confidence is based upon faith. He trusts God because he trusts that the reality of God is more sure and more certain than the disintegrating chaos that surrounds him. This faith has several crucial aspects, which reflect the theological worldview of the ancient Hebrew people:

  1. First, God is utterly supreme, the transcendent ruler, lord and judge of all humanity;
  2. This God is moral, dwelling in his holy temple; he loves righteousness and so hates the one who loves violence (v. 5). The moral nature of God undergirds his activity as judge;
  3. In contrast to God, humanity is morally corrupt, and remains accountable to God who tests all people (vv. 4-5). Yet the possibility of being found among the righteous remains, and those who trust in God and practise righteousness will find that they are sheltered by God, and will “see” God’s face (v. 7);
  4. Judgement is certain, and there is a firm hope that ultimately, justice will be done, with the righteous being vindicated and blessed;
  5. How did the ancient Israelites know all this? By a conviction that this God had revealed himself to Israel throughout her history, and had called Israel into a covenant relationship with God. This knowledge and hope, assurance, courage, and moral vision are grounded in God’s revelation of himself and his will to his elect people.

The central question of the psalm is that put to the psalmist in verse three: if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? The psalmist seems to ignore the question, and instead directs his attention to the Lord who is in his holy temple (v. 4). Craigie (133) notes that this hints at the immanence of God: God is not simply transcendent and sovereignly powerful, but also present to comfort, help and support. There is no dualism here, no division of heaven and earth into separate compartments and spheres of rule. God’s throne is in heaven; God dwells in his temple. The same God is lord over all things, sovereignly powerful and yet close enough to shelter those who trust in him.

But is the psalmist evading the question? Perhaps not. For the psalmist, the Lord himself is the true foundation, the only foundation, an indestructible foundation upon which he can build his life and in whom he can trust. Social and cultural foundations may falter, people fail, institutions fade, and civilisations fall, but God remains steadfast. God himself and God alone is our only foundation—an unseen and intangible foundation, but no less real for all that.

What can the righteous do? They can do what the psalmist did: trust more deeply in God, and refuse to abandon their post. If we assume Davidic authorship of the psalm, we find here a leadership that refuses to capitulate in the face of desperate crisis. We find here a righteousness that refuses to hand over the city  to the wicked. We find here a profound vision of faith in the sovereign goodness, presence and power of God—the true foundation upon which a life, a leader, and a city may be built. David stays because David trusts.

A New Book on Divine Providence

Divine Providence and Human AgencyAlex Jensen from Murdoch University was one of my supervisors for my doctoral studies and I owe him a great debt of gratitude for his friendship, support and expertise. I am pleased, therefore, to bring his new  book to your attention: Divine Providence and Human Agency: Trinity, Creation and Freedom published by Ashgate.

Alex’ concern in this book is to explore the nature of what I call a “strong doctrine of divine providence” in a context in which human freedom is fully affirmed. He insists that the sovereignty of God with respect to history must be fully affirmed lest we lose the basis for Christian hope. But so too must the modern human self-understanding as free agent within certain limitations. He seeks to understand and ultimately transcend this apparent contradiction by appeal to the the holy Trinity. This looks like a significant contribution to an important topic, and I look forward to reading it.

Alex sent me a copy of his conclusion to the book; here is an excerpt:

“We can summarise the argument of this book by saying that God acts in creation through God’s one eternal act of willing, by which God creates being, time, space, the world, its history, and all events taking place within it. This one divine act of willing is enacted in time and space by the logos and the Holy Spirit. At the same time, God grants God’s creatures genuine freedom and agency. These two things must not be separated, even if they are superficially paradoxical, because they are necessary in order to safeguard the specifically Christian experience of salvation through the saving presence of the risen Christ in the church. …

“All attempts to resolve the paradox by dissolving it into one or the other position are inadequate, as they either deny that God is indeed the creator and Lord of all things, who saves humankind by grace through faith, or that humans are free agents and act with responsibility. Both must be held together, even if this poses a challenge to modern human reason. …

“As a result, our understanding of divine eternity as well as of divine agency in the world must be developed from a consistently trinitarian starting point. So God’s one act of willing, by which God creates, preserves and providentially governs the world is threefold: timelessly eternal by the Father, put into action immanently by the Word and completed immanently by the Spirit. … Or, from a different perspective, the Word moves forward the divine act of willing in the world, while the Spirit elicits the human response to this. Most importantly, the Spirit gives faith that the Word became flesh, dwelled among us and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and in all this revealed the Father. It is therefore not sufficient, from a Christian point of view, to begin the discussion of divine eternity from a unitarian starting point, and then to bolt the Trinity onto this one God, as we observed in authors such as Richard Swinburne, Keith Ward, Paul Helm and Nancey Murphy, to name but a few.”

A Psalm for Sunday – Psalm 5

Read Psalm 5

Psalm 5

The first couple of times I studied this psalm I identified the theme as “the righteous and the wicked”—a theme not uncommon in the psalms. But perhaps I was overly hasty; now I see more of the holiness and mercy of God.

What do you see as the theme of this psalm?

The psalm begins in verses 1-3 with a plaintive, urgent cry to God for help. Like Psalm 3, this seems to be a morning prayer (v. 3), and the psalmist, with inner groaning and outer cries, dedicates himself to prayer.

Verses 4-8 reveal the psalmist’s confidence that his prayer will be heard. This section is more about the character of God than that of the wicked. God is holy and takes no pleasure in wickedness; no evil dwells with God. The psalmist details what constitutes evil: boastfulness (pride?) and falsehood, bloodshed and deceit. Indeed the language here is troubling: God “hates” all who do iniquity, “abhors” those who speak falsely. We ought not blunt the force of this language, but neither should we regard it as univocal, taking it with the kind of literalness that treats it in isolation from the rest of the Bible. Certainly the text speaks of God’s uncompromising holiness, and his active disposition against all forms of pride, deceit and violence. Nevertheless it must be read in the light of other more central texts which proclaim the primacy of the divine loving and the divine mercy. God must be understood christologically, as the one who in Christ, loves all the world—see my very first post on this blog!

The psalmist cries out, “But as for me…” (v. 7). Although the ascriptions of authorship in the psalms are not necessarily reliable (e.g. see verse 7: is David the author, seeing the temple was not in existence during his lifetime?), if the psalm does originate with David, we see also the mercy and lovingkindness of God, for David was a man who shed much blood, and trafficked in deceit, at least in the case of Uriah (see 2 Samuel 11). By his own account he has no right or place in the presence of God. Yet, by the abundant grace and mercy of God, there he is! I am reminded of a chorus we used to sing: Only by grace may we enter; only by grace can we stand. The psalmist dedicates himself to bow in reverence before God. He prays for God’s guidance, that he might walk in God’s ways (v. 8).

In verses 9-10 the psalmist’s foes come into view, and we hear now the content of his prayer: that God would judge them and cast them out. The language here is reminiscent of Psalm 1:5 where judgement is also portrayed in terms of collapse and expulsion.  The depiction of the foes in verse 9 finds echo in the New Testament in Jesus’ teaching that an evil heart issues in evil words and brings forth evil fruit (cf. Matthew 12:33-35), and in Romans 3:13 where Paul argues that all of us are sinners in need of the redemption that is in Christ.

In a final paean of praise, the psalmist celebrates the steadfast goodness and protection of God. These verses (11-12) recall Psalm 2:12 “Blessed are all those who take refuge in him.” Those who take refuge in God may rejoice, for God is their shelter and shield.

More than anything, this psalm focuses on who God is: Lord and Judge, holy, merciful and good. The psalmist addresses God as “My King and my God” (v. 2). But it also exhorts God’s people and calls them to a similar dedication: As for me! Just as the king bowed in reverence before the King, so too may we enter God’s house and bow in reverence. So too may we rejoice in God and pray, especially that God would lead us in his righteousness, and make his way straight before us.

Blessed are all those who take refuge in him!

Beginning with God

In the Beginning“In the beginning God…”

I wanted these words, the first words in the Bible, to be the first words of this blog. The Bible simply assumes the existence and reality of God.
God is.

God is front and centre, the foremost reality and the ground of all reality. God, according to Scripture, is the beginning and the end, our origin and our goal. Our entire existence occurs within the sphere of God’s life, activity and presence. We come from God and are moving toward God. Our lives are God-created and God-drenched – “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). We are never out of God’s presence or beyond the scope of his love – no matter who we are.

Who is this God? What is God like? Twentieth-century theologian Karl Barth writes:

“God is he who in his Son Jesus Christ loves all his children, in his children all people, and in all people his whole creation. God’s being is his loving. He is all that he is as the One who loves. All his perfections are the perfections of his love. … In the Gospel of Israel’s Messiah and his fulfilment of the Law, of the Word that was made flesh and dwelt among us, of Him who died for our sins and rose again for our justification – in this Gospel the love of God is the first word. If then, as is proper, we are to be told by the Gospel who and what God is, we must allow this primary word to be spoken to us – that God is love.”
(Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/1: 351).

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