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Psalm 85:8-13

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. Surely his salvation is near those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. 

Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. 

Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven. The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest. Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps.

Since my kids were younger, I have been trying to treat teach them to formulate sentences and arguments based on the principles and rules of logic. Without calling it such I have taught them about syllogistic structures and the Socratic method; I have taught them about the law of non-contradiction and the law of the excluded middle. I have tried to help them formulate their perspective or position on things in a manner that is both compelling and winsome but also succinct and accurate. In their own way, it's fun to watch the gears of their minds turn as they seek to articulate a desire or a request, or to formulate an argument against something I might have said. My daughter, who is now 10, has gotten quite good at these things.

Interestingly, one of the unforeseen implications of this type of teaching and training with her has been how, if she articulates something compellingly and winsomely, and if she implements the logical structures that I have taught her to work with, she comes to the conclusion there is only one reasonable way to understand a particular situation or one reasonable response to a particular request. Which, of course, is to acquiesce to whatever she has asked for or argued about. From her perspective, it is unfathomable that we might think differently than what she has so compellingly presented. And so, a lot of our conversations recently have been about us assuring her that we understand the argument she has made and helping her to see that we fully comprehend the position that she has taken; and yet, we disagree about her conclusions or we hold a different opinion. And sometimes, because she is so locked in on her own perspective, we have to say something like, “It is our responsibility as parents to make this decision in this way on your behalf.” or, “We really believe this is best for you and your brother and so we're going to do it this way.” Admittedly both of these are versions of “Because I said so.” And we are aware that her accepting that won't last too much longer.

One of the reasons I think it is so important to be intentional with our children and the language we use is because of the way our culture, maybe because of postmodernity, has embraced the dissolution of language and seemingly rejected the necessity of an ontological referent for truth. That is to say, under the banner of tolerance, people are now able to hold or believe or argue for two competing and contradictory positions. Further, another person is unable to contradict or challenge a perspective even though it denies the law of non-contradiction, for instance. Instead, people go around discussing and articulating “my truth” and requiring those who hear it to affirm it. It seems we have forgotten how to have differences of opinion and yet maintain respect and relationship. In its place is a rejection of authority and an internal localization of truth. In this age of authenticity, to lean on an idea from Catholic social philosopher Charles Taylor, it is my desires that become the arbiter of truth – and only for me, you get to arbitrate your own truth. 

And so, a friend might tell you, “Unless you affirm my decision about some aspect of my identity, unless you allow me to live out the desire I feel, you are being intolerant, and you aren't truly loving me.

When used in this way, I believe words like “love” and “truth” are being defined rather anemically - that is without life and blood, without a depth that comes from being connected to something beyond internal referent or self-disclosure. In this way truth becomes limited to self-expression and love is diminished to vanity. The understanding of the deeper reality that is truth and love is lost to a contemporary and post-christian culture. We are, almost without knowing it, accepting a parody of the real thing; a lesser and cheaper version of what is intended by God and revealed most explicitly in the person of Jesus.

Psalm 85:10 starts us in that direction: “Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.

In saying love and faithfulness meet together, the Psalmist starts from the perspective that love is. That is, love isn’t just a feeling someone might experience, there is an external, ontological referent, that determines the proper use and meaning of the word love. Love, the Hebrew word is hesed, which means “loyal love” or “covenant love”, is an attribute of God; meaning it is something that he does. But as an attribute it also means it is an aspect of God; meaning it is part of his being. As 1 John 4:8 says, “God is love.” Therefore, as attribute and aspect of who God is, we must also let God define for us what true love is and what loving looks like in the world.

But also, the psalmist connects love and faithfulness. The word translated faithfulness here means truth. Love and truth meet together; they are connected and not exclusive of the other. That's what Paul means in 1 Corinthians 13:6 he says that, “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” Anytime we deny the truth, meaning we deny what is real or we deny what corresponds to reality, we are denying love. It is not loving nor truthful to permit and encourage vanity.

If it seems that truth and love contradict each other or we are presented with a dichotomy we must choose between, we have misunderstood love or misconstrued the truth or not properly appropriated either.

This unity is further exemplified by the psalmist when he writes, “righteousness and peace kiss each other.” Righteousness is a very inclusive term that means not only right behavior or right conduct, but also justice and integrity; it also means, simply, “rightness” – which is to say, this is the way it should be. The word peace also means more than “not war.” Peace, in the Hebrew conception of the word shalom, means “wholeness;” it means “properly put together in the right order of things.” Therefore, just as love and truth are complementary terms not competing ones, so to righteousness and shalom are complementary terms – they “kiss.” Contrary to so many popular notions, to be a whole person – to be true to your self – you must seek righteousness. Again, that also means we must conform our ideas about what “wholeness” means for me to the revelation of God’s design and purposes.

Both sets of these complementary realities are seen most clearly in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ. In Jesus we see perfect righteousness and a perfect keeping of the law – and we see a person who knows exactly who he is in relationship to the Father; who shows us what it means to be a whole human. In the preaching ministry and conversations of Jesus, we see how truth and love can be found as one. (You can think here of the Samaritan woman at the well [John 4] Or the woman caught in adultery [John 8]). All of these aspects and attributes of Jesus culminate on the cross. In the words of Tim Keller, “When Jesus bore our punishment on the cross, love and holiness “kissed” – they were both fulfilled at once. Love without holiness is mere sentiment. Righteousness and law without a grasp of grace is Pharisaism.”[1]

Love and truth are complementary; wholeness and obedience to an external code are not contradictions. And this isn’t “because I said so…” it is because Jesus shows it so. I pray we might all accept it and live it.

Jesus, thank you for showing me how love and truth come together perfectly on the cross. Help me to understand shalom (wholeness) is found in your righteousness and in my living rightly as a result of knowing you and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name, Amen!

[1] Tim Keller, Songs of Jesus, 209.