Tag Archives: Virtue

On Hermeneutics and Ethics

reading group 2In her essay entitled “Christian Character, Biblical Community, and Human Values” Lisa Sowle Cahill includes a discussion of the pluralistic nature of the biblical text and implications for interpreters.

Many interpreters point to the pluralistic, internally dynamic structure of the biblical canon itself as a model for theological reflection, and Newsom herself is sympathetic to this approach. She advocates ‘dialogic truth and the polyphonic text,’ in which the different voices in the text are brought into intersection at the level of practical engagement and conversation among interpreters. Similarly to Newsom, Werner Jeanrond calls for a new form of interdisciplinary, reading-centered biblical theology that is both critical of ideologies in the text and resistant to any final systematization, especially one that is ‘ecclesially imposed.’ “Biblical theology encourages all nondogmatic models and paradigms of describing continuities and discontinuities in the complex development and religious challenge of biblical monotheism. It calls for an ongoing ideology critique of any systematizing attempt.” (see Brown (ed), Character & Scripture: Moral Formation, Community, and Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 10-11).

Really?

That was my response as I read this paragraph. All and any perspectives are welcome, but don’t try to say that a particular biblical passage means something, or that it has a particular message. Is there really no place in biblical study for normative theological instruction and ethical admonition? Does acknowledgement of multiple voices and perspectives in Scripture mean that the drawing of conclusions is thereby somehow proscribed?

While Cahill acknowledges and appreciates the “Bible’s internal pluralism” and sees in it a model for a dialogical theology and ethics, she remains dubious about this approach to Scripture:

My own conviction is that sheer pluralism is not adequate as a Christian moral response to injustice in the world. Christian morality requires some more determinate understanding of what it means to begin to live in the reign of God, to form a community as body of Christ, or to be transformed by the Lord’s Spirit. . . . Although the celebrators of diversity eschew the . . . interest in something substantial as the working material of theology, I find it essential to Christian character ethics to define at least a few desirable characteristics (11, 13).

To that end Cahill argues that Christian morality “can and should be centered in virtues like repentance, reconciliation, love, compassion, solidarity, mercy, and forgiveness” (11).

Although overly confident specific extrapolations of biblical ethics can and have been unjust and oppressive, complete deconstruction of normative meaning is not an acceptable alternative. It is not enough to say Christian character will be formed in a number of quite disparate communities that have in common only that they have read Scripture idiosyncratically. The general virtues Christian character should exhibit are evident enough from the standpoint of even a historically oriented and critical biblical hermeneutic (14).

Meanderings

Hanukkah WindowThis article from the British Guardian argues that it not only okay, but necessary that Christians be allowed to celebrate Christmas without fear of offending anyone: “The nervousness over Christmas, or even over expressing religious belief, is an absurd expression of a real void at the heart of soulless technocracy.” It further argues that there is a place for Christianity in society, in the manner of virtue formation. I do not agree that Christian virtues ultimately derive from Socrates and Aristotle, although there is no doubt that Christian understanding of the virtues has been greatly influenced by these philosophers over the centuries. What I liked about the article was its insistence that

The central insight is that both individuals and societies, or social groups, develop their values by living them. Moral questions cannot be answered entirely by reasoning: we discover what kind of creatures we are by living; we develop virtues, like vices, by practising them.

A second article, also from The Guardian, is written by an Anglican minister married to a Jewish woman. He notes one way in which Jews and Christians differ: in the relation of their faith to their home life.

My Jewish relatives are all secular Israelis – yet it is they, not I, who have introduced religious liturgies into our house. And I thank them for bringing God home.

Finally, this article, written by woman, considers the seemingly all-pervasive reality of internet pornography, its effects, its widespread use in evangelical Christianity, and what response to it may look like. It is concerning, and a sign of the colonisation of the church by the culture, that many Christians consider “not recycling” a greater sin than use of pornography. Or perhaps it is a shamed conscience.

The commentators and researchers are, in part, right: Porn isn’t just an individual moral problem. It strikes to the heart of what it means to be human. This is why Paul urges believers to “flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body” (1 Cor. 6:18). Sexual sin can affect us in profound and devastating ways. Some sins we can fight. Others we must flee—even when temptation is only a Google search away.

Relevance or Resilience?

Mark SayersMark Sayers from Red Church in Melbourne wrote an interesting article for Christianity Today (July/August 2016) entitled, “Creating a Culture of Resilience.” The article argues that the Christian strategy of being culturally relevant in order to win converts, that is, of reducing the cultural distance between the believer and unbeliever, is unlikely to prove effective in today’s “progressive” culture. It is not that relevance is not a strategy that can be applied in some contexts, but the progressive culture sweeping the West is fundamentally post-Christian.

The emerging progressivism has tapped into a long-repressed desire, particularly in the young, for a radically different and better future. In the new progressive cultural mood, Catholic writer Jody Bottum sees a facsimile of Christianity, in which the categories of sin, shame, guilt, salvation, and the elect return, shaped around not theology but the goals of progressive politics. Every missionary tries to build cultural bridges in order to communicate the gospel. But the new progressivism subverts and frustrates this search. It is precisely the church, after all, that progressivism judges as immoral and sinful. The new progressivism is ultimately a form of post-Christianity. It is a new faith that attempts to achieve some of the social goals of Christianity—especially the elimination of oppression, violence, and discrimination—while moving decisively beyond it. For many young adults, leaving the church is less a leap into apostasy than a step toward social aspirations the church imperfectly realized, while subtracting dubious religious restrictions and the submission of the individual will (59-60).

He warns that when the church seeks to evangelise the progressive culture by means of a strategy of cultural relevance, it is likely that the church itself will be colonised by that culture. Instead, he counsels a strategy of resilience, which he defines in terms of faithful and courageous commitment to what the early Christians termed “The Way”:

An overriding commitment to church and Christian community, seeking to follow Jesus with the entirety of one’s heart, soul, and mind in the face of endless choices and options. The commitment to surrender one’s will to God, sacrificially following him as a servant. The decision to live fully with the Holy Spirit’s guidance in a world of anxiety, fragility, and emotionalism run wild. … True relevance to this culture will not come by accommodating its demands, but by developing the kinds of people who can resist them. … Resilience amid the third culture will require the patient and unyielding demonstration of human flourishing, the kind that comes only from embedding our personal freedoms in Christian commitments (60).

Scripture on Sunday – Psalm 15

Light through CloudsRead Psalm 15

I am writing these words in the guest room of our Melbourne friends who, over the years, have time and again shown us great kindness and hospitality, welcoming us into their home, and taking an interest in our lives, work, and family. What a privilege to be a guest in someone’s home, to find a place of welcome and acceptance, kindness, warmth and blessing. Thank you Gordon and Maggie!

And so it is with Psalm 15: “O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?” I might re-phrase it differently: “God, who can be a guest in your home? Who will you invite to live with you in your tent?”

It is important to begin, perhaps, with an acknowledgement that this psalm does not sit easily with Protestant convictions concerning grace, justification and acceptance with God. Must one work in order to find acceptance with God and entry into God’s house? Or is one freely welcomed on account of grace with no entry requirements whatsoever? It is equally important to recognise that this way of setting up the question, this either-or dichotomy, misrepresents not only Scripture, but Protestantism as well. As this psalm so clearly testifies, it has ever been the case that the call to be welcomed as God’s people includes within that call a responsibility, a concurrent call to holiness in the presence of the holy God. “Be holy, as I am holy!” (Leviticus 19:2; cf. 1 Peter 1:15-16).

Some modern commentators view Psalm 15 as an ‘entry liturgy’ in the worship of ancient Israel. As the pilgrims and worshippers assembled at the Jerusalem temple for one of the great annual festivals, the priests instruct them concerning the requirements which dictate entry into God’s presence (see also Psalm 24:3-6 and Isaiah 33:14-17). While it may well be that such liturgies occurred in ancient Israel, it is likely that the psalm should be understood in a more general sense than ‘entry’ requirements. It speaks of those who would not simply seek entry to God’s house, but who would abide and dwell in his presence. Thus it is concerned with the kind of life appropriate for those who would identify as God’s people, of those who would be guests in his house—and more than guests—children!

If verse one poses the essential question, the rest of the psalm supplies the answer. Craigie, notes that the psalm provides ten exhortations as the answer to the opening question, and that this structure indicates the function of the psalm:

This tenfold structure of conditions is analogous to the Decalogue in principle and with respect to the sense of wholeness, though there are no precise inner correspondences between the conditions and the Commandments. Rather, the tenfold structure suggests once again the didactic context of the wisdom school; young persons were being instructed to tick off, as it were, on their ten fingers the moral conditions prerequisite to participation in worship. Thus the conditions for admission to worship are apparently presented here in the curriculum of moral instruction and symbolically represent morality in its entirety, rather than covering every facet of the moral life in detail (Craigie, Psalms 1-50, 150-151).

Despite the evident attractions of Craigie’s view (and its equally evident applicability to pastoral work and parenting), I prefer to think of the second verse as the answer to the question, with vv. 3-5b providing illustrations and amplifications of the answer given in verse two. The second verse lists three overarching criteria for those who would ‘dwell’ in God’s presence: they are those who walk with integrity, who work righteousness, and who speak truth in their own hearts. I find in this characterisation a certain correspondence with Micah 6:8:

With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? …
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

To ‘walk with integrity’ suggests congruence between one’s private and public self: ‘what you see is what you get.’ The word itself (tāmîm) refers to wholeness or completeness, to be ‘perfect’ in the sense of blameless; thus it speaks of wholehearted devotion and consecration to the Lord (Vangemeren (ed.), New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, vol. 4, 307). To ‘work righteousness’ speaks of active goodness, especially in relationship toward others, and so corresponds to Micah’s “to do justice and to love kindness.” To ‘speak truth in [one’s] heart’ rules out the kind of self-deception whereby we are wont to rationalise bad behaviour and impure motives (Charry, Psalms 1-50, 71). It refers to an inner honesty with oneself and before God, an acknowledgement of the truth about ourselves, including our own brokenness and sin. Such confession orients us humbly toward God, and prepares us for genuine worship.

Verses 3-5b then unpack these positive characteristics with reference especially to the way in which we speak, relate with others, and use our money. This in itself is significant: true righteousness has more to do with character and relationships than it does with ‘religious’ acts and activities. God is concerned with relational and social holiness and not simply with personal morality, although that, too, is important. The righteousness which is to characterise the people of God consists in truthful speech, generous use of our resources, and care of our neighbour.

It is of interest that the psalm uses both positive and negative descriptions to describe the character of the righteous, since righteousness consists not only in active goodness but also in the absence of evil (Craigie, 151). The righteousness person does not slander, does not take bribes, etc. What is proscribed protects the neighbour and acts as a brake or restraint on our own tendencies. It may be that the positive descriptors set forth the path of righteousness that we are to walk, while the proscriptions act as fences to keep us from wandering from the path.

Inner dispositions, self-regulation, and habitual practices come together for the formation of virtue. This is a life that pleases God and is fitted for worship. But who could possibly meet these exacting standards? Here, once more, Craigie’s pastoral wisdom is evident:

In the history of Christian and Jewish worship, there have emerged two extremes toward which the worshipper may be tempted to move. On the one hand, there have been times when the holiness of God has been stressed so powerfully, that the ordinary mortal has felt it impossible to approach God in worship or prayer. On the other hand, the open access to God in prayer has sometimes been so stressed that admission to God’s presence becomes a thoughtless and casual matter. Between these two poles, there is a proper median: there is indeed access to the Holy God in worship and prayer, but it must be employed carefully, not casually, with appropriate preparation and reverence. … One the one hand, we must live in such a way that we may prepare for worship with integrity, without hypocrisy; on the other hand, the introspection involved, prior to worship, clarifies beyond any doubt the need for forgiveness (152-153).

The psalm climaxes with a wonderful promise: “Those who do these things will never be moved.” Surely this refers back to the opening question: never moved from God’s presence and grace, regardless of circumstances that arise on earth.

The Best Book I’ve Never Read

The Color Purple Book CoverWell, that is probably an overstatement based in ignorance: there are undoubtedly many great books I have never read! Nevertheless, about a year ago I started listening consistently to audio books when cycling or doing the housework and so on. Usually I listen to novels, especially since I do not have much time to read novels anymore. A little while back I listened to Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, and then listened to it again.

The book is an extraordinary work, harrowing and brutal, devastating in its portrayal of inhumanity, sensitive and tender in its realistic portrayal of the beauty and tragedy of humanity. The audio performance was itself part of the pleasure; read by the author, every nuance and inflection drew me more deeply into an unknown world, as the story implicated and accused me, frightened and outraged me, touching my heart with its pathos and vision. It is both a cry of rage and protest against the injustice and inhumanity we humans inflict on one another, and a stubborn affirmation of hope in the midst of suffering, of endurance against all odds, of a kind of triumph in the end as we become more and more who we truly are.

Yet this becoming is neither easy nor automatic. Virtues grow slowly and under great pressure, and it is these that sustain a great and ordinary life. Walker does not idolise suffering, excuse injustice, or laud poverty. Nor is she ‘politically correct.’ Her major character, Celie, emerges into freedom only with great difficulty, slowly becoming the character and finding the community by which she becomes who she is.

(I wonder if Stanley Hauerwas has written on this story? I must see what I can find.)

The Color Purple is a deeply spiritual, deeply theological book, though the theology conveyed is neither biblical nor orthodox. In a preface to a newer, British edition Walker reflects,

Twenty-five-years later, it still puzzles me that The Color Purple is so infrequently discussed as a book about God. About ‘God’ versus ‘the God image’. After all, the protagonist Celie’s first words are ‘Dear God’. Everything that happens during her life, spanning decades, is in relation to her growth in understanding this force. I remember attempting to explain the necessity of her trials and tribulations to a skeptical fan. We grow in our understanding of what ‘God/Goddess’ means, and is, by the intensity of our suffering, and what we are able to make of it, I said. As far as I can tell, I added.

The book is an epistolary novel, the drama, characterisation and plot progressing by means of a series of letters written by Celie and her sister, Nettie. Many of the letters, especially in the earlier sections of the book begin simply, ‘Dear God.’ The final letter of the book begins, ‘Dear God. Dear stars, dear trees, dear sky, dear peoples. Dear everything. Dear God.…’ Walker clearly holds a pantheistic, or at least panentheistic, view of God in which the divine is deeply immanent within everything, a faithful creator and life-giving, life-affirming Spirit. She revolts against the intellectual idolatry that reduces God to the white, to the male, to the human. From the perspective of Christian orthodoxy, her rejection of Jesus Christ as attested in Scripture as the revelation of God is deeply troubling. From the perspective of the lived history of her family and people, it is hardly surprising.

alice-walker

There is much in this critique that Christian orthodoxy could listen to and learn from. Walker’s vision of the grace given in the order of creation is deeply moving and inspiring. Her understanding of the sinfulness of humanity is also particularly acute—at least to a degree. Where she departs from Christian orthodoxy is in limiting God to the order of creation. Hers is a religion of nature, and ‘redemption’ a reconciliation of the human spirit with this universal and universally-available reality.

There is a prequel of sorts to this story. Back in the very early 90s I rented the movie from the local video store. I didn’t last long: the opening rape scene was an affront, the lesbian encounter part way through not to be borne. I mentioned the movie in a sermon not too long after that, telling how I had turned it off. A woman in the congregation came up to me afterwards, surprised at my reaction to the film, and describing it as one of the most meaningful movies she had ever seen. Fortunately I could accept that what was difficult for one person was not necessarily the same for another (“for whatsoever is not of faith is sin”—Romans 14:23).

In hindsight, I think I see things more clearly. She was a woman; I, male. She was in her forties with more life experience and maturity, as well as more suffering and difficulty. I was barely thirty, if that, and with a much more ‘moral’ understanding of God. My own sexual brokenness and vulnerability played a large role in my reaction, as did the very black-and-white biblical hermeneutic I had in those days. It is possible the movie did not do justice to the story. But no matter how faithful or otherwise Spielberg was in his adaption of the book to the screen, it is more likely that I did not have either the life-maturity, spiritual maturity or theological maturity to hear, let alone penetrate, its message.

Twenty-five years later I am deeply touched and humbled by this story. Good literature does that: it holds up a mirror to ourselves, opening the soul to deeper understanding of itself, life, the world, and sometimes, God. Good literature probes, accuses, interrogates, and questions. And it does it in such a winsome and alluring fashion, we hardly notice it occurring. Alice Walker won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel, and with good reason. This is a book to savour. I will read it for myself as time allows. I will also listen to it again, just to hear Alice Walker read me back into this world at once so alien and so presently real.

Scripture on Sunday – Proverbs 19:22

random-acts-of-kindnessWhat is desirable in a man is his kindness,
and it is better to be a poor man than a liar.

This is but one of many verses in Proverbs which laud the virtuous life, including specific attributes and character traits. In Proverbs 20:6 the sage asks, “a faithful man, who can find?” In Proverbs 28:20 this attribute is positively stated: “A faithful man will abound with blessings.” So, too, “he who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor” (Proverbs 22:9). Another personal favourite is Proverbs 19:11, “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression.” Other proverbs extol prudence, wisdom, humility, love and righteousness. Perhaps the root of them all is the fear of the Lord, that orientation of heart and life in which one is meek before God, open to God, listens to God’s word, and obeys God’s commands. Eugene Peterson argues that the fear of the Lord, this attentiveness to God, lies at the root of all true Christian spirituality.

Our proverb today is quite straight-forward—in English, at least: what is desirable in a man—and one might also say, in a woman—is kindness and integrity (cf. the virtuous woman on whose tongue is the “law of kindness” (31:26)). The NASB notes that kindness might be rendered loyalty. The Hebrew word is hesed, often used of God’s covenant loving-kindness. God’s love is also faithful, and so loyalty is not inappropriate, although Murphy notes that kindness is the normal translation of the word (Proverbs, WBC; 145). It seems odd, therefore, that Murphy makes an entirely different and obscure translation of the verse:

One’s desire, one’s disgrace;
so better poor than a liar (140).

Murphy reads desire as the greed which accumulates wealth through deceit and which therefore leads to disgrace. As such, the poor person who has not resorted to such greed and deceit is better. Murphy’s intent is to force the two lines of the proverb into a harmony bearing a single message. This is unnecessary, however, especially when it requires obscure translations of both desire and kindness. In many of the proverbs, the second line expands the thought of the first line, complementing and extending it in new directions. That appears to be the case here. The proverb is not a comparison between the rich and poor, although this comparison occurs often enough elsewhere. Rather, it is about desirable character, or the character that makes one desirable. Earlier in the chapter a similar comparison is made between “the poor who walks in his integrity,” and the “one who is perverse in speech” (19:1). Understood in this way, the proverb commends two character traits: kindness and integrity.

Kindness, as we have seen, is grounded in the divine character. God is kind. God’s covenant love and faithfulness are expressed in God’s kindness toward his people (see Deuteronomy 7:9; Hosea 2:19). In the New Testament, God’s work of salvation is the expression of God’s kindness: “But when the kindness of God our Saviour and his love for humanity appeared, he saved us…” (Titus 3:4-5). It is the kindness of God which draws men and women to repentance (Romans 2:4). Indeed, throughout the ages to come, God intends to lavish the riches of his grace upon his people in his kindness toward them in Christ (Ephesians 2:7).

Kindness, therefore, has to do with active goodness and benevolence which seeks the welfare and benefit of another. In the New Testament, believers are commanded to be kind to one another (Ephesians 4:32), and to serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13). Yet kindness is also the result of the ongoing presence and action of the Spirit in our lives (Galatians 5:22-23). It may be that as the Spirit prompts us to kindness and we respond with obedience, the fruit develops and grows.

Better to be poor than a liar. The liar is someone who practises deceit and spreads falsehoods thus rendering themselves untrustworthy and undependable. Their lies tear at the fabric of relationship, undermine confidence, and betray trust. If it is better to be poor than a liar, then being a liar is most undesirable, for who wants to be poor? What is desirable, therefore, is honesty, truthfulness and integrity. These characteristics, too, are grounded in the character of the faithful God who is true to his promise.

God is not a man that he should lie, nor a son of man that he should repent. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not make it good? (Numbers 23:19).

A few years ago a common bumper sticker read, “Practise random acts of kindness and senseless beauty.” Although clichéd, this is sound counsel, so long as the random refers to the recipient of the action, rather than to an occasional practice! Kindness should not be a random or occasional practice, but a constant disposition, a developed habit, and a consistent pattern of life. This is a model of masculinity sorely needed in our present world. What is desirable in a man? KindnessHonesty. These are all the more necessary in a world in which cunning and violence are idealised and idolised. In these ways we image the God in whose image we are created. In these ways we participate in the divine life and become the men—and women—God calls us to be.

He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

The Warden (Trollope)

Books 1I was inspired by Stanley Hauerwas to read some Trollope, and this was my first. An easy to read mid-nineteenth century novel (1855), in which the author intrudes into the narrative at a number of places. It is a gentle story of a good and honest clergyman hounded by the press for what they consider to be a moral compromise and an abuse of position. Harding, caretaker of a hostel with twelve elderly men in care, is accused of illegitimately taking the money which should by rights belong to the twelve men in the home. The introductory essay situates the narrative in real events unfolding in England at the time. It highlights the growing power and amoral posture of the newspapers, and details  the response of Rev. Harding to the pressure he experiences.

Hauerwas appreciates Trollope because he develops and portrays the character of Harding, the depth of his honour, his wrestling with moral ambiguity, his decision to choose the highest and the best rather than simply settle for what was permissible or good, even at great cost to himself and his daughter. For Hauerwas, Trollope’s stories illustrate the narrative context and formation of virtue, that is, that virtue is formed in the concrete experience of life and community.

In one scene, the moral activist Mr John Bold who launches the action against Mr Harding, is appealed to by Mr Harding’s elder daughter to drop his case:

‘Pray, pray, for my sake, John, give it up. You know how dearly you love her’ [Harding’s younger daughter]. And she came and knelt before him on the rug. ‘Pray, give it up. You are going to make yourself, and her, and her father miserable: you are going to make us all miserable. And for what? For a dream of justice. You will never make those twelve men happier than they now are’ (50).

The WardenIn this instance, Trollope shows that justice can never be simply the application of an abstract principle, but must be concerned with actual situations and actual people, otherwise it is “a dream of justice” and not actual justice.

We see something of Trollope’s humour, as well as his understanding of morality, in the following description of “Dr Pessimist Anticant” – an allegorical reference to Thomas Carlyle, a Scottish essayist and historian:

[He] had passed a great portion of his early days in Germany; he had studied there with much effect, and had learnt to look with German subtlety into the root of things, and to examine for himself their intrinsic worth and worthlessness. No man ever resolved more bravely than he to accept as good nothing that was evil; to banish from him as evil nothing that was good. ‘Tis a pity that he should not have recognized the fact that in this world no good is unalloyed, and that there is but little evil that has not in it some seed of what is goodly.

Returning from Germany, he had astonished the reading public by the vigour of his thoughts, put forth in the quaintest language. He cannot write English, said the critics. No matter, said the public: we can read what he does write, and that without yawning. And so Dr Pessimist Anticant became popular. Popularity spoilt him for all further real use, as it has done many another…

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.