Psalm 85 beautifully balances two realities that we often place against each other: grace and wrath. The writer recalls God’s favour to his people in the past, when he withdrew his anger from them (vv. 1–3). He pleads with God to show them grace again (vv. 4–7). He asks whether God will remain angry forever, prolonging his wrath to all generations. He asks whether God will revive his people again.
He then pauses, as it were, to hear God’s answer (v. 8) and returns with an answer of tremendous comfort: “Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land. Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other” (vv. 9–10). In other words, God’s anger at his people’s sin did not invalidate his offer of grace to them. No, his wrath would not be prolonged to all generations because he is a God who punishes sin to the third and fourth generation but who shows grace to thousands of generations (Exodus 20:4–6).
The psalmist paints the picture of God’s people wrestling with the realities of grace and wrath and looking to him for an answer. Like so many before them, and so many more since them, they struggled to believe that grace could turn away wrath. They seemed to believe that wrath had somehow caged grace, which left them vulnerable. They needed to learn, as Preston Sprinkle has said, that “grace has no leash. It’s untamed, unbound, and runs wild and free.” Grace, says Sprinkle, “is God’s relentless and loving pursuit of his enemies, who are unthankful, unworthy, and unlovable.”
Like the Israelites, we often feel as if grace is incapable of escaping the clutches of wrath. Justice and mercy—righteousness and peace—are opposing forces and we struggle to think that they might actually kiss (v. 10). We struggle with at least two realities when it comes to grace.
First, we struggle to understand how God’s grace can be lavished so freely on us. We are accustomed to earning things by merit. It makes sense to us that we must meet certain conditions in order to earn God’s favour. We are taught from the earliest age that we must do something to merit love, service, and acceptance. Even Santa Claus only responds favourably to well-behaved children! We lack a category for unmerited favour. But that is exactly what grace is.
As he pleads for God to show mercy, the psalmist waits to hear what God will say. The congregation waits with him. But instead of telling them that they must perform a list of duties in order to merit favour, he simply says that “salvation is near to those who fear him.” God is eagerly waiting to pour out his unmerited favour on his people.
But, second, and related, we often struggle to accept the forgiveness of which God assures us. Perhaps we have embraced the truth of initial grace, but surely God is not willing to forgive again? And again? And again? Or surely God can forgive white lies and nastiness toward my sibling, but will he really forgive abortion or my sexual sin or my uncontrolled outburst of anger?
Again, the psalmist wants his readers to believe that God will forgive them as he forgave them in the past. He wants his people to believe that he will forgive them regardless of the sins they have committed, if only they will embrace his forgiveness in repentance and faith.
Do you struggle to think that God’s grace is available to you? Have you constructed a cage in your own heart from which grace cannot break free? Allow this psalm to encourage you that, in Christ, grace has been unleashed. Forgiveness is available—again and again—for the worst sins you have committed because Christ died to secure your eternal redemption.