Much can be said about this royal psalm, the last in the second book of psalms. Although there is some debate over authorship, it seems likely that the author is David, writing a somewhat hyperbolic and celebratory ode to his son and eventual successor, Solomon. While there is much grandiose and potentially distracting language in the first eight verses, there is hidden within an interesting and provocative glimpse into the cosmology of David and his contemporaries, one which might serve us well in this present moment of devastating environmental degradation and vast social inequalities.
This cosmology is revealed in verses two through four. In verse two the psalmist describes the duties and responsibilities befitting a king. The message is strikingly clear: the king exists to be both judge and executor of righteousness and justice, not merely on behalf of the general public, but especially on behalf of the poor, needy, marginalized and oppressed. Verse four mirrors the sentiments found in verse two, going so far as to mandate the destruction of all who would oppress these “least of these,” but it is in verse three where things get interesting. Sandwiched in between verses two and four is a seemingly incongruous reference to creation, the mountains and hills in particular, places traditionally associated with both the hazards and dangers of travel as well as encounters with the living God.
The psalmist is making a powerful statement in this triad; the implication is that the cosmic order of creation is directly linked to and dependent upon the moral order of those inhabitants who possess moral agency within it (i.e., human kind). The psalmist suggests that it is in fact the healthy morality of human beings, rooted in justice and equality, which opens the gate for the bounty of nature to descend from the high and inaccessible points of creation. In essence, a fully realized and integrated natural world depends on the moral development of its people.
We might be tempted to condemn such a cosmology as overly simplistic and perhaps even mechanistic, a naïve cause-and-effect view of the universe without subtlety and nuance. True, the psalms represent a consciousness that is quite different from our own, even primitive by some standards. Our emergent, empirical knowledge of the universe is beyond the scope of anything the psalmist could have imagined, and yet are we not witnessing the negative inverse of this correlation? If we struggle to believe that a heightened sense of morality would yield environmental integrity, can we at least venture to admit that a lack of social morality has led to environmental disintegration?
Within the field of environmental justice, much effort is placed in articulating and communicating this negative correlation between abused ecological systems and oppressed people. One of the major tasks we are charged with is drawing the connection between environmental degradation and human injustice and thus elevating our collective consciousness to perceive the two as inextricably linked.
Indeed, we members of the so-called first world have reaped incredible materialistic benefits on the backs of the global poor and at the expense of the biosphere. The breakdown of our collective morality, the absence of our concern for justice and equality on a global scale, has led to the destruction of the natural world, the disintegration of a natural order that is built on integration and, yes, justice.
Once we begin to perceive this breakdown of our ecological systems in terms of justice and a concern for the oppressed and poor, a vital door is opened that will expand our circle of compassion to include all of creation. It is only with such a holistic and comprehensive view of our universe and our relationship to it that we will have hope of actually welcoming the radical reality of the Christ child, God-With-Us, Emmanuel.
Divine Author of Life,
As we reenact with much anticipation your emergence into our consciousness this Advent, whisper in a way so that we might remember your eternal presence within our hearts, calling us to a path of justice and equality, of humility and compassion, not only for our immediate community but for the entire extended community of all creation. Guide us through the wilderness of Love so that we might live in such a manner that gives life to others.
In the name of the One who gives the possibility of true Life, Jesus the Christ. Amen.