Thursday, March 21, 2013

When Love and Faithfulness Meet

Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky. (Psalm 85.10-11)

Reading the psalms often feels like stumbling on a private conversation in midstream. It’s hard to say exactly what prompted the discussion. But the closer one listens the keener one’s sense that something’s happened and the poets are working things out with God. Sometimes the verses burst with gratitude and praise, leaving little doubt that God has done a wonderful, altogether unexpected—and perhaps undeserved—favor for God’s people. Then again, there are psalms that appear to be composed after the relationship with God has completely fallen apart. The writers’ pens bleed with remorse and pleas for forgiveness.

The conversation—the side we hear, that is—in Psalm 85 sounds like a follow-up to a prior one in which the people begged God to forgive their infidelity. With the repentance taken care of, the poet seeks God’s help in getting things back on track. “You forgave the iniquity of Your people; You pardoned all their sin,” he reminds God. (v2) Yet he’s not quite sure if God’s ready to pick up the pieces and start over, causing us to suspect something very serious caused this latest flare-up in Israel’s perpetual on-again, off-again love affair with God. The psalmist beseeches his Maker with the tremulousness of a faithless suitor hoping to return to his lover’s good graces. “Will You be angry with us forever? Will You prolong Your anger to all generations?” he asks. (v5)

What’s more, he and those he writes for are exhausted. The longing to put the entire nasty episode behind them thrums in the writer’s panic: “Will You not revive us again, so that Your people may rejoice in You? Show us Your steadfast love, O LORD, and grant us Your salvation.” (v6-7) The real question, of course, is, “Is God through with us?” (Massage the lyric slightly, put a steel guitar under it, and you’ve got a country-western let’s-give-it-one-more-try hit single.)

As if to silence his audience’s sobs, the poet says, “Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for the Lord will speak peace to God’s people.” (v8) He goes on to assure his listeners that God will restore them to right relationship. The closing stanza swells with hope. “Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.”

If this conversation sounds familiar, it should. For five weeks now, we’ve trudged across Lent’s desert, wrestling with our failures, praying God’s forgiveness, and trusting God’s mercy and grace will find us. Confronting weakness is an exhausting process. We’re desperate to feel the security of God’s love. By this stage of the journey, we’re liable to panic, wondering why God would stay with us. But God is ever faithful. All the inner turmoil that Lent stirs up will be calmed. God will speak peace. “Surely God’s salvation is at hand for those who fear God,” verse 9 promises.

Unknowingly, the psalmist provides a glimpse of where our journey leads. When love and faithfulness meet, when righteousness and peace kiss each other, faithfulness will spring up from ground in the form of a rugged cross. And righteousness will look down from the sky, brimming from the tender eyes of our Savior. Is God through with us? Hardly. Is God ready to give it one more try? Oh yes. Always. This conversation that began in anguish weeks ago will end with the most forgiving kiss we'll ever know.

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