Translation and reflection by Dr. Ellen F. Davis
This is a psalm, an ancient poem-prayer, for a moment of profound threat, such as the one in which I write. At this moment, Hurricane Ida is landing in Louisiana, the second storm in a year to make modern history in that state with its brutality. Psalm 85 speaks to this immediate situation and likewise to the long-term global tragedy of which Ida is yet another piece of unwelcome evidence. Our land, God’s earth – “your land” (v. 2) refers to both – is in desperate need of God’s restorative work. We, God’s people, must hear and enact God’s word of shalom, which is not “peace” in any simple sense, but rather a comprehensive condition of wellbeing, one that binds together people, land, and God in a covenanted unity.
Many psalms appeal to our visual imagination, but none offers a more vivid picture than this one. Covenant-loyalty, truth, righteousness, and shalom are here embodied attributes – divine and human, heavenly and earthly – all actively engaged in the work of restorative living. All must be fully enacted on earth, and enabled from heaven, if we are to turn firmly and forever away from the “stupidity” (v. 9) that has made us humans a deadly threat to God’s earth and all its inhabitants.
John August Swanson offers one picture of restorative living, with people, animals, plants, earth, and sky bound together in the dynamic interaction that the psalmists call tsedeq, “righteousness” (vv. 12, 14). Tsedeq is an essentially relational term – not just playing by the rules, but living creatively in order to further the wellbeing, the shalom, of our fellow creatures, human and nonhuman. In contemporary English, “sustainability” might be the word that best captures the psalmist’s intent, to denote the kind of creaturely living that invites God to enter into our world and walk with us the difficult path ahead.
Ellen F. Davis is Amos Ragan Kearns Distinguished Professor of Bible and Practical Theology at Duke Divinity School.
Copyright 2003 by John August Swanson
Serigraph, 24” x 28.75”
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This blog shares the activities of Creation Justice Ministries. We educate and equip Christians to protect, restore, and rightly share God's creation.