Psalm 85: Justice and Peace Shall Kiss

There is a new sense of time that can come with age: gero-transcendence, or climbing over, transcending, age. Memories of past events from childhood seem like only yesterday. They are as real now as when they first happened. You can hold the past and present together in a new way you couldn’t before. The veil that separates this life from the next gets thinner as we age and grow closer to our ultimate future. Time takes on a whole new meaning because we are caught between this world and the next.

We see in Psalm 85, past, present and future held together in a way that transcends time. Considered a lament by some, a prophetic liturgy by others, it is a beautiful psalm that encompasses past, present and future within the lines of poetry.

Verses 1-3, begin with the past, recalling the “good old days,” a time when circumstances were better. The poet recalls how God restored the fortunes of Jacob – the nation, not the man. “Lord, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.” (1)

In this better time, God restored them to physical prosperity by restoring the land; God forgave their sins and restored their relationship with God by withdrawing his anger. “You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin. You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.” (2-3) It was a golden age romanticized in remembrance as we so often do when thinking about the past.

Verses 4-7 refer to the present, a time of some danger. The people stand before God in their need and plead for God to once again restore their fortunes, reflecting on how God did this in the past. “Show us your mercy, O Lord, and grant us your salvation,” they say, pleading for salvation, a restoration of relationship with God.

Verses 8-13 take us to a future time. God responds to his people and the writer bursts forth in beautiful poetic images of a time in the future when all will be restored. This passage is considered eschatological, referring to end times, the glories of heaven; but it is also situated on earth, God’s glory shows forth on earth. It is a both/and situation – vision of heaven and of heaven on earth.

It is a time when: “Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.” (10) The implication is that these natural pairs have been unnaturally separated in this world but will now be brought back together. Faithfulness will spring up from the earth, righteousness come down from heaven and join together in perfect harmony, between heaven and earth. (11) Earth will finally live in accord with God’s will, how God intended earth to be and God will give what is good.

This psalm is usually read during Advent, as we await the coming of the Messiah, Jesus. It is prophetic, predicting a new time when the Messiah shall reign. “Righteousness will go before him, and make his footsteps a way.” (13)

It is also about salvation. Jesus was born, walked this earth and died for us, to save us. Like God’s kingdom, salvation is already present, and it is yet to come. We need to be busy about working out our salvation even though it is ours already.

In Psalm 85, peace is related to salvation. “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people.” (8) God’s salvation is at hand (9). Certainly that is reason enough for feeling the peace that the world cannot give, that only God can give; a peace based on God’s justice, doing what is right. Wherever there is injustice, there is no peace, which is why there is so little peace in our world.

C.S. Lewis tells us in Mere Christianity, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither. It seems a strange rule, but something like it can be seen at work in other matters. Health is a great blessing, but the moment you make health one of your main, direct objects you start becoming a crank and imagining there is something wrong with you. You are only likely to get health provided you want other things more –food, games, work, fun, open air. In the same way we shall never save civilization as long as civilization is our main object. We must learn to want something else even more.”

And so we need to be busy about building God’s kingdom. We need to be busy about our own salvation as well as the salvation of the world, building a world of true peace based on justice.

What can you do today to recognize the peace that is already available to us as God’s children and yet bring about that future peace?

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