“Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.” (Psalm 85:10 NRSV).
What does it mean to live as a people who believe in God”s mercy and justice, and that they actually make a difference in this world? In our lives? These were some of the questions on my mind as I went for my morning run and listened to an interview with renowned justice activist Bryan Stevenson.
The answer that God seemed to give through the words of Stevenson was both unexpectedly simple and at the same time complex—hope. “Hopelessness is the enemy of justice,” Stevenson emphasized. “If we allow ourselves to become hopeless, we become part of the problem. . . . Injustice prevails where hopelessness persists.”
As I write these words, the year is still new, a time that is often filled with renewed energy, hope, and possibility. But this last year felt different, to me at least. In the midst of a pandemic and deep social division, hope these days feels like a commodity dispensed in unusually small portions—just enough to survive, perhaps, but hardly thrive. We’re all tired, desperately so.
But Stevenson’s words made me realize that maybe fatigue and despair offers us an opportunity to realize how deeply we need to draw from a source of strength beyond ourselves. Vital hope, the kind described in Scripture, has always been rooted in something deeper than the ups and downs our emotions, than the amount of stress we’re carrying in our bodies, and whether we have the strength to face what life puts in our path.
Hope is rooted in the goodness and justice of God—in the promise that the universe is held in love. And, as Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, hope is rooted in the surety that, however grim the currently reality is, in the long run the moral arc of the universe is tilted towards justice. The kind of hope that sustains and carries us through the hard times is hope only found in the movement of God’s Spirit—carrying, sustaining, and guiding us towards life.
Psalm 85:10 offers an intriguing picture of that kind of hope—one in which our longings for heaven and earth to be united in wholeness and justice are finally satisfied. “Righteousness”—tsadiq—and “peace”—shalom—united in a kiss, our world at last governed by the wholeness and flourishing God has always intended. The other intriguing thing about this verse is its one of those Hebrew verses that can be translated in either past or future tense—either fulfilled or future. Skim a few different translations, and you’ll find many translations that choose both.
But of course, for New Testament believers, both ways of reading it are true now. Christ’s death and resurrection has already secured this promised future, and it’s something we experience now. But it’s also something that, until Christ returns, lies tantalizingly just out-of-reach in its fullness.
“Righteousness” is a word we too often think of as denoting some kind of abstract moral purity, a bit intangible and out of reach. But the Hebrew word often translated “righteousness”—tsadiq—can be translated with equal accurateness as “justice,” and it’s a word with tangible on-the-ground impact. As Cornel West famously put it, “justice is what love looks like in public.” And in Scripture, to be one of the righteous—the tsadiqim—is to be a part of a community that fiercely believes in and lives for God’s justice to be seen on earth, not just in heaven. It’s to be part of a community that believes that shalom—creation flourishing as it was meant to be, with no one harming the flourishing of another—is not only possible, but the future promised in Christ. The future we’re called to live into now.
To live that way requires hope. Not blind optimism, but a hope rooted in the belief that God’s grace, goodness, and resurrection power is big enough to reach deeper than the most broken parts of ourselves, our country, and our world.
That kind of life also requires hope that God’s justice is actually good for us—that God’s justice is not designed to tear down or destroy, but to invite us into something better. Hope gives us the courage to let God’s Spirit show us the truth about our past and carry us a different future. Because, as Stevenson puts it, “We all need mercy, we all need justice, and — perhaps — we all need some measure of unmerited grace.”