Something incredible is happening in Psalm 85. First, the poet speaks with a bluntness that makes our expectations of God perfectly clear. In response to God’s anger the poet says to God, without hesitation or embarrassment, that it’s time for God’s anger to subside and for joy and forgiveness to take its place. Second, Psalm 85 paints for us a portrait of a God who is not only willing to forgive, but eager to forgive! This God is so far bent toward joy and forgiveness that his anger evaporating is a sure bet. God’s desire to forgive is so dependable that the poet feels all the freedom in the world to prod God toward going ahead and getting past the anger and to the forgiveness.
Psalm 85 has something to say about God’s anger in the first place because the Psalmist speaks on behalf of all of Israel in the midst of national grief. We get no specifics, but it is clear that all of Israel is mourning their failure to be faithful to their covenant and covenant partner. They’ve messed up and God is justifiably upset.
So Psalm 85 does what so many psalms do – tell stories; resort to memory. “LORD, you were favorable to your land. You forgave the iniquity of your people. You withdrew all your wrath.” (85:1-3) God has a proven track record of forgiving and renewing his people. With a history like this, the poem now overflows into prayer. “Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us. Will you be angry with us forever? 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.” (85:4-7) Surely we don’t have to pretend that God will be angry forever, do we? We and God both know that’s not who he is. There will be renewal and joy, love and salvation; we have no doubt.
Now the poem comes screeching to a halt. “Let me hear what God the LORD will speak.” (85:8) We’ve made our case by now. We’ve retold the history. We’ve unleashed our desperate prayer. Now it’s time to listen. “Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, for those who turn to him in their hearts.” It’s kind of obvious, isn’t it? When we stop talking and make every attempt to listen, when we lower ourselves into a posture of silence, the first thing to find us is peace. And from within this peace comes the assurance of new things. “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. The LORD will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.” (85:10-12) The love, faithfulness, righteousness and peace of God will all collide together in the most affectionate, even romantic way (God is often described in scripture as a husband). Every bit of restoration the Psalmist is asking for is on its way, and then some.
It is in God’s nature to forgive and renew and bless with joy and peace. It’s just who he is. So we ask. We cry out. We pray. We knock at the door, because when we ask and ask and ask (as bluntly as our hearts feel the need to), it’s simply not in God’s character to say no. Renewal and joy and peace are things we pursue with tenacity, with great faith and boldness, because a God this far bent toward joy and forgiveness has given us no reason to doubt that it will happen.