By Terrell Carter
I enjoy reading the psalms because I appreciate the candor and openness that comes through many of them. There were multiple writers of the Psalms, and each writer brings their own personality, temperament, hopes, fears and emotions to each writing. Emotion that is based on what they, or God’s people, were experiencing at a unique time within their journey of faith. Many times, the fact that they were writing from an emotional standpoint, caused them to express a greater level of vulnerability and transparency before God. A level of vulnerability and transparency that caused them to leave everything on the table as they communicated with God.
Psalm 85 is one such writing that is filled with vulnerability and transparency. In it the writer reminisces over the past, a prior time when good things were happening in life, and simultaneously hope for a better future for the nation of Israel. We do not know what the problem is that the nation is facing at the time this psalm was written, but apparently, things in their world were not going very well and the writer pleads with God to restore their world to what it used to be, if not make it better altogether.
Although we do not know what the root problem is that the writer is addressing, we do know what the writer’s hope is. Restoration from God for the nation. God coming to their rescue. God coming to their defense. God coming to their aid. And with God’s arrival would come hope that they would make it through whatever situation they were facing. When God came, hope, healing, restoration, and freedom were never far behind.
The writer’s hope is exemplified in a word that is used multiple times in the passage. It is the word peace. In the original Hebrew it is the word shalom. In general, everyday use, shalom can mean peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquility and can be used idiomatically to mean both hello and goodbye. But in the wider, bigger picture of being in relationship with God, shalom means so much more. It carries with it the idea of life being the way it ought to be. The way God intended.
The writer is asking God to restore things to the way they ought to be. That God would allow them to return to a fruitful relationship with their Creator and each other, and that their world and life would be made right, again. The writer is hoping that things would return to the way they should be. Not the way they were.
Although this psalm records a people’s emotional plea to God for deliverance based on things that were happening at a specific time in their history, it has a greater purpose than that. It can serve as a point of inspiration for us today as we each navigate our individual and corporate circumstances.
The holy promises of God were what the writer was banking on. The promise that God would never leave or forsake God’s children. We can experience the same hope that the writer has. The hope that because God has done for us before we can have faith that God will do for us again. Just because things have not yet been restored to the way they should be does not mean they will not be. It means that we can continue to trust that God is working in whatever situation we find ourselves and at some point, we will experience true shalom. True peace. True restoration.
Terrell Carter, D.Min., is assistant professor and director of contextualized learning at Central Seminary in Shawnee, Kan., and pastor of Webster Groves Baptist Church in Webster Groves, Mo.