Dear Friends, These weeks are becoming increasingly difficult for the peoples of the world as the coronavirus continues to spread, bringing with it such suffering and uncertainty. In this Thursday prayershot, Igor Améstegui, our Latin America Director based in Bolivia, a country being ravaged by COVID-19, takes us to Psalm 85.
“What characterizes your prayers in this time of pandemic? Sometimes I feel that I don't know how to pray. The book of Psalms, especially the psalms of lament, have been a help to me. Psalm 85 is a lament from within the community. The author is reminding us that, in difficult times, we need to have a broad perspective that goes from our past, through our present and on into our future.
Looking at the past: forgiveness and restoration
1 You, Lord, showed favor to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
2 You forgave the iniquity of your people
and covered all their sins.
3 You set aside all your wrath
and turned from your fierce anger.
The first verses of this song focus on the sympathetic character of our Lord. He has shown his goodness, by forgiving his people's iniquity and by containing his anger and wrath. How healing it is for us, during this crisis, to be able to look back and recognize the goodness of our God as expressed in his forgiveness and salvation.
Facing the Present: lament and cry
4 Restore us again, God our Savior,
and put away your displeasure toward us.
5 Will you be angry with us forever?
Will you prolong your anger through all generations?
6 Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?
7 Show us your unfailing love, Lord,
and grant us your salvation.
In vv5-6 the lament comes in the form of rhetorical questions. It is good to notice that because of his experience (vv1-3), the answer to his questions is that God will not be angry forever and that he will give life to his people again. And at the beginning (v4) and at the end (v7) of this section comes the request, the fervent cry: “Restore us … show us your unfailing love, and grant us your salvation.” Without faltering, we must believe these words, asking the Lord to give us salvation from this pandemic and to do so because of his great love and not because we deserve it.
Projecting the future: "your kingdom come"
8 I will listen to what God the Lord says;
he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants—
but let them not turn to folly. 9 Surely his salvation is near those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.
10 Love and faithfulness meet together;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.
11 Faithfulness springs forth from the earth,
and righteousness looks down from heaven.
12 The Lord will indeed give what is good,
and our land will yield its harvest.
13 Righteousness goes before him
and prepares the way for his steps.
It is encouraging that this section begins with the Lord's promise to bring peace and salvation to his people, to the people who fear him. Let us make this promise our own. Poetically, the psalmist expresses the values of the society for which we all long: love, faithfulness, righteousness, and peace. The coronavirus is spreading and damaging our people, but several other viruses have been doing as much damage – and doing it for a long time: the virus of corruption, the virus of domestic violence, and the virus of racism. No wonder the psalmist longs for a society characterized by those four values! They are an expression of the Kingdom of God on earth. By identifying with this part of the psalm, we are praying, as the Lord Jesus taught us to pray: "your kingdom come, your will be done."