The God Who Acts

By Michael Fitzpatrick

A Reading from Psalm 72

1 Give the King your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to the King’s son;

2 That he may rule your people righteously
and the poor with justice.

3 That the mountains may bring prosperity to the people,
and the little hills bring righteousness.

4 He shall defend the needy among the people;
he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.

5 He shall live as long as the sun and moon endure,
from one generation to another.

6 He shall come down like rain upon the mown field,
like showers that water the earth.

7 In his time shall the righteous flourish;
there shall be abundance of peace till the moon shall
be no more.

8 He shall rule from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.

9 His foes shall bow down before him,
and his enemies lick the dust.

10 The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall pay tribute,
and the kings of Arabia and Saba offer gifts.

11 All kings shall bow down before him,
and all the nations do him service.

12 For he shall deliver the poor who cries out in distress,
and the oppressed who has no helper.

13 He shall have pity on the lowly and poor;
he shall preserve the lives of the needy.

14 He shall redeem their lives from oppression and violence,
and dear shall their blood be in his sight.

15 Long may he live!
and may there be given to him gold from Arabia;
may prayer be made for him always,
and may they bless him all the day long.

16 May there be abundance of grain on the earth,
growing thick even on the hilltops;
may its fruit flourish like Lebanon,
and its grain like grass upon the earth.

17 May his Name remain for ever
and be established as long as the sun endures;
may all the nations bless themselves in him and
call him blessed.

18 Blessed be the Lord GOD, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous deeds!

19 And blessed be his glorious Name for ever!
and may all the earth be filled with his glory.
Amen. Amen.


In recent weeks I’ve been in dialogue with a theological community that insists God does not act, only lures. When they think of the atonement, they see a story of God’s solidarity with us in our brokenness, not a divine action in which we are delivered out of our captivity. As noble as it sounds, I kept thinking about how Hebrew slaves didn’t need someone in solidarity with their slavery; they needed a deliverer who would hear their cries and bring them up out of Egypt. Is this any less true of us in our captivity to sinful powers?

Soaking in the psalms can help us recover these biblical cravings for realized justice. The entire song in Psalm 72 is about what God’s righteousness looks like embodied in the political sphere of a community. The land brings prosperity to the people. Those suffering hardship and oppression have an advocate, “for precious is their blood in the ruler’s sight.” Only because of these righteous actions can the psalmist declare that the reign of such a government will be long.

The righteous ruler is an embodiment of the righteousness of God, “who alone does marvelous deeds.” Solidarity with the afflicted and the needy is certainly important, but we must never forget that in the biblical vision, such solidarity is always for advocacy and deliverance, not simply suffering with the downtrodden. This is what it means to cry out for the rulers to be endowed with the justice of God.

Michael Fitzpatrick is a doctoral student in philosophy at Stanford University. He attends St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, Calif., where he serves as a lay preacher and teacher.

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