Emily and I have been in the third book of the Psalter (Pss 73-89) for our daily readings and prayer. This section of Israel’s prayer book contain Israel’s darkest laments, when everything that was once good, is now lost. Reading and praying them is no easy task, yet they teach us that giving voice to anguish, doubt, depression and despair is not a sign of deficient faith, but rather it is the absolute “normal” for the life of faith. Without lament, “we cannot express our solidarity with the sick, the disabled, the persecuted, the tortured, the dying—that is, with those in the depths of despair and darkest desolation.” I think of the hundreds of patients, desperately ill in New York, locked away in silence and seclusion, whose life breath depends on a ventilator. With them are the scores of valiant doctors and nurses working non-stop with no sleep or rest to defeat this unrelenting enemy.
Psalm 85 gives us a helpful paradigm for how we can pray during a pandemic that has stopped the world in its tracks and stripped us of any semblance of pride or self-sufficiency. The psalmist begins by lifting his gaze to the distant past and, rather than pining over former glories, he focuses on God’s mercies —when the Lord renewed his favor, restored Israel’s fortunes by forgiving and atoning for their sin and turning from his anger (vv. 1-3). The memory of God’s unfailing love nourishes his soul and frees him to articulate his most intimate feelings with candor and honesty. The situation has gone on so long, he feels utterly abandoned and alienated—“will you be angry with us forever?” (v. 5). When we are honest with God about how we really feel, truth moves from the head to our heart. In this case the poet’s doubts and despair melt before the fiery flames of God’s unfailing, everlasting love (vv. 6-7).
The corona crisis slaps us in the face with the frailty of our existence and makes us wonder, What if God really dealt with us according to our sins? All of this makes confession essential in our pleading with God to save our world. The connection is made clear by the various uses of the Hebrew verb shuv “to return.” If Israel longs for God to restore their fortunes, turn from his anger and revive them once again, he is more than willing, but God’s people must not turn back to folly.
In verse 8 the psalmist turns from his prayer and attentively awaits the divine response. He does so in complete confidence that it will be a word of shalom to his faithful servants, anticipating that God’s glory will return on an unprecedented scale. The glory formerly scene in the temple, now “dwells in our land” (v. 9; John 1:14) or in Isaiah’s words “fills the whole earth” (Isa 6:3). The psalmist concludes by unpacking that promise with unparalleled imagery.
10 Unfailing love and faithfulness meet;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.
11 Faithfulness springs up from the ground,
and righteousness looks down from the sky.
12 Indeed, the Lord will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
The eternal virtues of God’s character are personified “as angelic forms, cooperating and hurrying forward [in pairs] to dispense his blessings. ’Faithful love’ and ‘truth’, representing God’s constant and enduring commitment, have come together in close embrace. ‘Righteousness’ and ‘peace’, right order in creation and the consequent health and plenty, kiss in loving alliance.” “The symbols of lasting communion between God in his ‘wholly otherness’ and his genuine people…those who fear him in adoration, will at last be united.” This is a new creation and vision of perfect and permanent harmony between heaven and earth. The plea for restoration and revival is met with wellsprings of love, peace and faithfulness, and the Lord blesses his people with goodness and bountiful harvest. This new reality is “vast unspoiled and rich with life…where heaven and earth reach out towards each other in perfect partnership, no longer at cross purposes.” It is the cry of the Lord’s prayer, “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10).
So as this situation forces many of us to pause, may we all give voice to our laments and then bask in the vision that his salvation is near and his love embracing—and then, like the psalmist, may we be roused from basking to following in the footsteps he has set out before us.
13 Righteousness will go before him
and make his footsteps a way.
 Bruce K. Waltke, James M. Houston, and Erica Moore, The Psalms as Christian Lament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), 2.
 John Eaton, The Psalms: A Historical and Spiritual Commentary with an Introduction and New Translation (New York: Continuum, 2005), 306.
 Samuel Terrien, The Psalms, Strophic Structure and Theological Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 608.
 Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, TOTC (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973 ), 308