Sunday, February 5, 2012

Psalm 85 – When Hope Wins Over Despair

“Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;

righteousness and peace will kiss each other.”

~Psalm 85:10 (NRSV)

All the Psalms tell a story within the frame of the emotions; the cognisance of this performing life, the agonies and ecstasies, and all between. We can’t help but sow our full selves into this life and we take the things that occur to us personally, accounting them within varying levels of God’s blessing or otherwise.

Not always are we happy with what God is taking, or has taken, us through.

This Psalm is enclosed within the communal setting; the community, perhaps in the exilic sense, sits in the in-between place, recalling the grace of God in having saved their ancestors (verses 1-3), but not having yet realised such deliverance themselves (verses 7-9).

The Communal Lament

Such a genre characterised here, the communal lament, a community sharing collective despair, may seem disjointed from a contemporary viewpoint; unless we have experienced national or international or overwhelming conflict, especially from the receiving end.

But hardship is closer to home for all of us, particularly the tumult of family pain—tragic loss of life, irreconcilable drug addiction, the victims or family of perpetrators of crime, etc. We give way to the temptation to blame externals, including God, because the pain is too much to deal with. Even more do we polarise within the family—as we share the pain we are tempted to deflect it; and that often means the forming of resentment and dysfunctional anger.

The test of the psalmist, as he represents his community, is to keep faith with the saving nature of the Lord—both in terms of history, reflecting on the experience of his ancestors as carried through their oral tradition, and their hopes for the future.

Neither the psalmist, nor their community, nor even us, can afford to give up on such a hope. Such a situation is a knife edge—faith is the only sane choice, however difficult it is to procure.

Preferring Hope Over Despair

At verse 7, the psalmist commits to hope rather than falling into despair. And a new season is launched.

At the transition, before vision of salvation comes, when the temptation to give up is in full flight, it is difficult to decide for hope. But, once the decision is made a miraculous spiritual relief is experienced immediately—a blessing for showing faith.

What comes as a result is revelation that would not ordinarily be seen in the absence of faith. God gives the psalmist the encouragement of his Presence. The psalmist is shown the nature of God in the blessing—the character of God in steadfast love and faithfulness, righteousness and peace.

Further revelation discloses how God brings faithfulness and righteousness (verse 11) together in the order of deliverance, for the Lord has empowered the psalmist’s faithfulness which rises to meet Divine righteousness coming down from heaven. Salvation is a two-way street.

The decision to trust God reveals faith, and that faint confidence translates into burgeoning confidence for the psalmist. From recognition of his own problems, and those also of his community—and capitulation—he is dissuaded, as he refocuses on the transcendent grace of the Lord, his God. Joy fills him, not despondency.


Trials are a knife’s edge: what beckons is hope or despair. Hope fuels our confidence, but despair kills our vision for fear. Choosing faith opens our minds to what God can do. Nothing is impossible for God.

© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

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