I picked up Resurrection and the Moral Order (Oliver O’Donovan) in seminary, knowing that I wasn’t going to get to it anytime soon. It kept coming up and had a reputation as a huge, important book for understanding the study of ethics from a Christian perspective. So I got it, and set it aside, knowing that eventually I’d long to return to the well of academic discourse.
That’s where I am now.
Continue reading A Book About One Thing: Resurrection and Moral Order
From verse 6 on, God is described almost as a Greek god: chilling up in heaven until the cry of his faithful reaches him. Then he realizes: “oh, right” – throws lightning bolts, rides clouds and rescues his people. The psalm is full of anthropomorphisms like this, descriptions of God as a human being.
How does this make sense? God is the creator of heaven and earth, not quantifiable or containable. God is beyond us: not someone who can be out of earshot, or who wears a cloak of darkness.
In these description, God condescends to our understanding. Using Calvin’s metaphor, God speaks in baby-talk to fit our capacity. All discussions of God are fundamentally inadequate. Nothing gets close to comprehending God, even our fanciest theological and philosophical descriptions. We just have various layers of inadequacy, closer or further from the truth.
Continue reading Psalm Psnippet 18: God, more than Zeus
“You fill their [the wicked’s] womb with treasure;
They are satisfied with children,
And they leave their abundance to their infants.
As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;
When I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.” (Ps 17:14-15)
A classic way of understanding the Old Testament says it is limited to seeing God’s blessings in material blessings: children, riches, property, security. The covenant that God makes with Abraham is to bless him and make him a great nation – to Solomon, God promises to give wealth and security because he is pleased with him.
But here the psalmist sees something different. Continue reading Psalm Psnippet 17: To see God is more
“I say to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord/ I have no good apart from you.’”
We use extravagant language when we’re in love and that’s how this reads at first: You are my everything, the apple of my eye, the focus of all my desire.
But the psalmist isn’t just expressing the depths of his devotion to God here. He’s reflecting the fundamental nature of reality as personal and good.
The LORD (a personal name for God) is identified as the Lord over the psalmist. This is more than a formal identification – it is the establishing of a weighty relationship with rights, obligations, respect and love.
All that is good comes from God as the creator of all that is. Flowers are beautiful, that is, because God rejoices to make them that way. More than that, as Psalm 16 emphasizes, God protects his people particularly. Because of this relationship, all of the particular goods the psalmist receives he can simply identify as from God.
This cry of love is part of the psalmist reminding himself of all God’s blessings. To me it reads as someone assuring himself in a difficult time. If the Creator, the foundation of reality, is a person that you can call ‘my Lord,’ we can be certain his love will preserve us.
In my current job, we call a lot of people prophets. Progressive religious folks love to think of themselves as playing Moses proclaiming to Pharaoh: “Let my people go!”
But recently I’ve been reading Jeremiah and thinking more of the false prophets. These are the people who assured the King that everything would be well with Israel and that they could continue living in the land and oppressing the poor. They claimed victory when the enemy was besieging Jerusalem and said that a rebellion against their new rulers would prosper.
Notably, they were wrong. Regularly. But people kept listening to them and threw Jeremiah and other true prophets into cisterns, into jails and out of the city because they didn’t want to hear their message.
I think we have some false prophets in our midst today. Not just the folks that John Fea helpfully labels Court Evangelicals – though they are great examples of the category – but also people of any background who keep claiming that things are fine.
While collusion allegations grow stronger: the administration just did what all campaigns would do. When war with North Korea looms: the President is demonstrating strength, the only language that Kim Jong Un understands. When our President has trouble condemning Nazis: he is just trying to bring our nation together and adequately apportion blame.
Such consistent lapses in moral reasoning are a sign of false prophecy. When they are a regular part of a political party’s public stance – as is inevitable when a party needs to defend its morally bankrupt leader – that is a sign that the party has become one of false prophecy. Biblical discernment seems to urge us to stop giving these folks power. In our current two-party system, it is difficult to suss out exactly what that looks like but it seems imperative.
Current political life isn’t ancient Israel. Comparisons of anyone with prophets of any kind are usually a little tired. Still, we have a problem with false prophets today – people who consistently speak with a moral disingenuousness. The proper solution is true discernment: the ability to see the truth, speak it, and act accordingly. I pray that leaders of all kinds demonstrate this kind of prophetic moral voice.
(Latest in a short, unprofessional, series of Psnippets reflecting on Psalms)
Psalms like this combine brutality and grace. We open with a simple question: who can dwell with God. This feels double-barreled: asking both who gets to live in the Temple and who gets to experience closeness with God.
Thankfully, the psalmist quickly answers: people who speak rightly (avoiding lies and slander), who discern rightly (praising and condemning correctly), who act with integrity and who embrace economic justice.
This gives us a snapshot of what is important to cultivate closeness to God but also, if we are honest with ourselves, it oppresses us. I can’t even tell the truth fully to myself, much less my neighbor. I get priorities misplaced all the time. Throughout the list, I see how I fail.
But Jesus. (classic Sunday School answer)
He fulfills all these requirements. And he dwelt with God, enjoying complete communion within the Trinity. But he gave that up, entering into our world so that through union with him we can be united to God. We can dwell on God’s holy hill because we are in Jesus and he is in us. His righteousness counts to us, through no benefit of our own. What would condemn becomes a way to praise Jesus.
Psalm 14 shows us the intimate connection between morality and knowledge through its breakdown. We trace the results of lack of knowledge leading through corruption to judgement.
The psalm opens by telling us how a fool acts: they tell themselves that there is no God. Folly is connected to a certain self talk – a deliberately lying to yourself. This deception leads to more immoral behavior: “abominable deeds.”
Then the scene shifts to heaven, where God checks out the situation – tries to find anyone who understands. The gloss on understanding is to seek after God. Knowledge, in other words, is a form of spiritual curiosity rather than the self-limiting closure of options that we saw in verse 1.
But instead of seeking understanding/God – “there is no-one who does good, not even one.”
This foolishness directly causes a violation of the twofold commandment: all evildoers “eat up my people as thy eat bread” and “do not call on the LORD.” These two are so interlinked that we can’t discuss them separately.
God doesn’t just let his people be destroyed but will rescue the poor from the corrupt fool. Our willful lack of knowledge cannot stand in light of the wisdom of God which finally will restore his people.
Obviously, this feels relevant to our current situation in which it feels like some of our political leaders embrace folly and turn away from God. This means they exploit the poor. But Psalm 14 has a reminder: God will be the refuge of the poor, even in the face of the fool’s plans.