In the newly published first volume of his Ethics as Theology, entitled Self, World, and Time: Volume 1: Ethics as Theology: An Induction, Oliver O’Donovan suggests that the moral life is not something we choose to enter but something we wake to: “Let us say, we awake to our moral experience in the beginning. What seems like the beginning is not really a beginning at all. We wake to find things going on, and ourselves going on in the midst of them. The beginning is simply the dawning of our consciousness, our coming-to to what is already happening and to how we are already placed.”
Sure, “it would be nice to test the ground of morality before we step into it.” But it’s always too late: “Already we are asking questions about our actions and obligations. Already we are contesting the reasons for acting in this or in that way” (2).
Wakefulness as the moral stance is also supported by the Bible: “the command to wake is addressed in the New Testament chiefly to the church, which ought to be able to count, if any agent could, on being awake already. It sets the church in a moment of crisis, put on the spot, by relating the achieved past to the future of Christ’s coming and to the immediate future of attention and action. Wakefulness is anything but a settled state, something we may presume on. . . . It brings us sharply back to the task in hand, the deed to be performed, the life to be lived. Waking is thrust on us. We do not consider it, attempt it and then perhaps achieve it; we are claimed for it, seized by it. That is why it is not just one metaphor among many for moral experience, but stands guard over the birth of a renewed moral responsibility” (9).