Bible for Thinkers

Liberals love the Bible, too. We just look at it differently. This is a place to discuss the Bible where you don't have to check your brain at the door. There are many ways to see it, and many ways to have it come to life.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Psalm 137

Psalm 137 is a problem for a lot of folks. It starts out as a lament...wondering how a captive people can go on in exile. I can't read those first lines...especially starting at verse 2..."On the willows there we hung up our harps. For there our captors asked us for songs..." without hearing the haunting song from Godspell taken from this Psalm.

But not even Godspell could deal with the last verse, as the Psalmist moves from lament to anger against conquering Babylon: "Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!" And there the Psalm ends.

In my experience, people freak out when they get to this verse. It's a reason many people decide that the Bible isn't for them. Worse, it is the reason some who call themselves Christians have felt justified in killing the children of their this is some sort of divine permission for infanticide.

I have actually used this Psalm in worship. I used it at a candlelight vigil on September 14, 2001, three days after America discovered what it feels like to live in many other parts of the world. I didn't use it to encourage vengeance or to glorify the horrible act it portrays. I used it because it told the truth about the rage and anger that rose in our hearts that week. The ugly, ravaging truth.

That's what the Psalms are for. They are prayers...prayers that were sung to God in private and in public...prayers of saints and sinners alike. They aren't shining examples of how God's people SHOULD pray, they are gritty, amazing records of how the people of God DO pray in all sorts of circumstances.

The Psalms have glorious odes of praise like Psalm 100. There are deep words of comfort like Psalm 23 and pleas for mercy and forgiveness in the wake of sin like Psalm 51. There is lament, awe, confusion, joy, resentment and...yes...even the extreme and brutal anger of a brutalized people.

I think we need Psalm 137 to remind us of what is in the human heart, even when it is not pretty. And I think we need Psalm 137 to remind us that God is big enough to handle even the darkest corners of our hearts without striking us with lightning. Such thoughts do their greatest damage when they are hidden and repressed, only to surface in some sudden, horrid action that we cannot even explain to ourselves. Far better that we pull them to the surface and give them over to God, who can take our cries of "Crucify him!" and turn them into "Father, forgive them, they don't know what they're doing."


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