Psalm 85 offers lyrical language that seeks to express how good things can be when God puts the world to rights. Forgiveness, the nearness of salvation, and the descending of God’s own peace are ingredient to this goodness. Indeed, “righteousness and peace will kiss each other” (v. 10), a lovely image of well-being.
“Surely God’s salvation is at hand,” intones the Psalmist. Often set to music, this ringing affirmation offers encouragement to people who walk in darkness, at the edge of despair. To proclaim the nearness of redemption amidst the brokenness of life is radical faith.
During these weeks before Christmas several of my friends (who will remain nameless!) are rather hooked on the Hallmark Channel with its formulaic approach to making sure Christmas arrives just right—with a blooming romance, chaste kisses, happy children, not too troublesome pets, beautiful decorations, a church service, and the requisite snow at the ending. Many of us (I mean them) are enchanted by this aspirational vision of a season laden with expectations. Only if it were so simple; the challenges resolved in two hours.
Our communities are troubled by racism, insularity, and great disparity between rich and poor. Competing narratives divide us, and our perspectival bias is hard to set aside. Consider the tragic events of Ferguson; will that city experience the promised “steadfast love and faithfulness” envisioned by the Psalmist? Yes, if we will participate with God in the mending of the world. If Christians do not live in hope, we have abandoned our charism.
The promises of Psalm 85 come in the mist of current distress and recall the goodness of God. God’s pathway of righteousness (v. 13) will not be deterred forever, even though the promise of peace seems far off. Despite all, Israel believes that “the Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield is increase” (v. 12).
This communal prayer of lament and petition acknowledges that God is ever mindful of the people, even when God’s anger is kindled by waywardness. Anger is a sign of deep connection and care, yet mercy is God’s ultimate word to the beloved people.
As we prepare to welcome the coming of Christ once again, we yearn for the vision of harmony brought about by God’s approaching glory. It is drawing near.
Molly T. Marshall