Advent, Psalm 145 and a “Fantastic” Vision

“There is a time and place in the ceaseless human endeavor to change the world, when alternative visions, no matter how fantastic, provide the grist for shaping powerful political forces for change. I believe we are precisely at such a moment.”

So wrote David Harvey in his 1989 book Spaces of Hope.

To change the world we need alternative visions, “no matter how fantastic.”

And curiously enough, Harvey wrote that while all the main institutions where one might expect alternative visions to be born – political parties, the academy, the arts, etc – had been so taken captive by the cultural status quo to have rendered no alternative visions, the church was the one notable exception. In the church Harvey had seen an alternative vision.

That’s quite the thing for a neo-Marxist to say. (And sadly, not totally reflected in the experience of many of us as insiders in that church.)

Now often we read the Bible, and especially the Psalms, in a way that is decidedly short of providing anything like a radically alternative vision of life. We tend to domesticate the Bible, making it a book of lovely personal piety while stripping it of its power to shape alternative visions, no matter how fantastic.

Take these lines from Psalm 145:

“The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

If you think that you’ve heard that before, you likely have.
This is the most common way in which God is described in the Hebrew scriptures.

And if we hear these words as personal comfort, then that is a good thing.

God knows (literally) that many of us have been burdened by a God
who seems to be harsh and judgmental,
quick to anger and abounding in wrath.

But read on and you will see that this is a view of God
embedded in a view of creation.

Look again at the world that is painted with the words of the psalmist:
The Lord is good to all,
and his compassion is over all that he has made.

All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord,
and all your faithful shall bless you.

The Lord is faithful in all his words,
and gracious in all his deeds.

The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.

You open your hand,
satisfying the desire of every living thing.

My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord,
and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever.
Do you hear what the psalmist is saying?

The Lord is good to all,
his compassion is over all that he has made.

All your works shall praise you.

The eyes of all look to you,
you satisfy the desire of every living thing.

And so, all flesh will bless his holy name.

Now that is, I think, “fantastic.”

The psalmist invites us to abandon a world
subject to geo-political control,
disenchanted by the scientific method,
a mere object of our technological mastery,
and reduced to market manipulation,

in order to enter into a world
that sings praise,
that is suffuse with the faithfulness of God,
that is a subject in a relationship of covenant,
and is enveloped in nothing less than the compassion of the Creator.

It seems to me that any alternative vision
that offers us anything less than the world imagined by this psalmist,
will invariably fail to see us through the crises of our times.

Freeing this language from the shackles of personal piety,
and recognizing that praise, faithfulness, covenant and compassion
go all the way down,
permeating all of creation,
just might engender a vision of the world that goes beyond
geo-political control,
scientific disenchantment,
technological mastery
and the marketization of all of life.

We enter Advent this week with Psalm 145.
We enter Advent longing for an alternative vision.
We enter Advent, recognizing just how “fantastic” it all is.

PS As we enter into Advent, you may want a resource to help you focus your thoughts, prayers and meditation for the next four weeks. You know, something that might take you deeper into Advent longing, deeper into a radically alternative and even ‘fantastic’ vision of the world and your place in it. Well, a few years ago Sylvia Keesmaat, Richard Middleton, Mark Vander Vennen and I wrote a devotional book called,

The Advent of Justice

Rooted primarily in readings from Isaiah, The Advent of Justice leads readers into a longing for justice, a longing for a world in which faithfulness and compassion go all the way down. All proceeds from the sale of this book go to support the work of Citizens for Public Justice, a Christian political policy and advocacy organization in Ottawa.

You can purchase copies of the book through cpj at



Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian, a retired CRC campus minister, the founder of the Wine Before Breakfast community, and farms with Sylvia Keesmaat at Russet House Farm.He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

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