“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – for ever”
Life can seem unfair. Things can look bad.
1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
2 There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
3 for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
When the Psalmist writes, Israel is in captivity. The Babylonians have come in and taken them into slavery. This was a situation they knew they would only find themselves in if they were collectively disobedient. Being right with God equaled being In Israel and worshipping in Jerusalem. Being rejected by God equaled captivity.
To be a Jew then meant to be set aside for God. To be chosen away from the rest of the world, to be God’s special people. To be rejected by God meant loosing identity, it meant loosing their sense of significance; and loosing their land. And to make matters worse, the Babylonians mocked them and asked them to sing songs about God.
As Christians – God’s chosen people – living in today’s world, the boot on the human face, it is hard to feel constantly connected to God, Let alone praise him. The sense of God’s absence, or what we perceive to be his passiveness is magnified. With all the power at his disposal, why is it that people die of hunger, children get abandoned, siblings become strangers, and divorces happen. Fathers reject sons, loved ones pass away, heartbreak and loneliness are commonplace even within the church. Meanwhile thieves get away, embezzlers get rich, and power stays with the corrupt. And at times corrupts the true.
4 How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land?
Well first thing is to follow the psalmist and remember Jerusalem.
“They defeated the evil one by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony”
Last time I focused on the ‘word of their testimony’ part of this verse as an urge to us for honesty with each other, sharing the moments of God’s blessing and intervention in our lives. This time I focus primarily on the ‘blood of the lamb’ part of this verse. The first thing this speaks to me about is that God didn’t let the evil one prevail. Even from genesis where sin has caused mans separation from Eden (the place of unity with God), within the curses of separation is a promise. Of one whose heel will stamp on the head of the serpent.
The problem of the world is the human beings within it. Adam and eve with the freedom that God out of his love gave them, for pride and selfishness turned away from him. What we see and experience are the accumulated effects of this same pride and selfishness over the span of man’s reign.
The solution to the world comes from the God who made it and them. This is the Good news, that God has not left the world – and us – in the state that we are in. That there will be an End, which will in fact be a beginning for perpetual joy and fellowship, and deep intimacy with Father. In fact with Christ, this end has begun.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only begotten son, that whoever believed in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.
may my right hand forget its skill.
6 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.
Remember that God has a plan. And that there will be an end to injustice – the boot kicking the face will be stopped. There will be an end to pain, to sorrow, to rejection, to insecurity, to sickness and to loneliness. There will be a beginning to life, to joy, to peace, to reconciliation, and to freedom.
The Psalmist says.
“happy is the one who repays you
according to what you have done to us.”
But does this mean we can’t complain about how things currently are? At times I’ve found, that being a Christian magnifies the sorrow of the situation. Knowing how good things were or could be, or will be (in our case) makes how things are sometimes more painful. For instance: I pray for the health of my non-Christian friends because the thought of them dying without ever knowing the love of God through Jesus is difficult to deal with. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to actually loose a loved one before they knew God. Or even just loose a loved one. I haven’t spoken to my father in months. Knowing God and his love for me, amplifies the desire to be loved by my father and increases my pain at his silence. These things make some of my conversations with God extremely difficult.
I remember the first time I spoke to one of my friends (he was not a Christian then) about God, he swore at God. Life had been so hard on him that the thought of God loving him didn’t make sense. And a God who seemed to stand by while everything bad took place in his life wasn’t worthy of praise but on the contrary – to my friend – should be cursed. I stepped back because I thought lightning would strike him and was a little shocked when it didn’t. What actually happened was a slow resilient hug from heaven. He was a Christian in the space of months and still is today.
9 Happy is the one who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.
This is the anguish of a true complaint. The sorrow of the situation expressed. We all want some sort of retribution and the psalmist is merely asking for what was done to Jewish children to be done to their captors. The law of an Eye for an Eye. The problem with this law is that if we call for it then we have to live by it. And by the same law that the psalmist condemns he is condemned: the Israelites wouldn’t be in captivity if they hadn’t disobeyed God and the wages of sin – disobeying God – as we all know is death. So having been forgiven, or even praying for forgiveness, we are left to wrestle with forgiving others. Turning the other cheek is difficult.
This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t complain. Knowing the end, knowing Jesus should usher us into freedom not into bondage. Paul says “there is nothing that can separate us from God’s love” and that God’s “grace is sufficient for us”. This means that we can come boldly before God with our deepest pains’ deepest anguish and darkest laments knowing that the father – thanks to Jesus – understands. And we know this because on the cross, in the darkness, in the loneliness where he who was perpetually in a relationship was separated from his family and himself, and was being mocked by us; the people he was suffering to save. Jesus, feeling abandoned by his father, complained.
“Elohi, Elohi, Lamma Sabbach thani”
“My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me”
Jesus more than us, understood God’s plan for humanity. He even knew the glory that he would receive after he resurrected. That didn’t stop him crying out to his father. And when he died, the curtain that meant Jerusalem was the only place where we could find God was split in two. We were given the right by his blood to come before God as sons and not criminals.
So… take a moment.
Be Still and Know!
Feel Free to in comment or query.
One Reply to “Psalm 137”
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this psalm, Denis. Being a Christian certainly isn’t about being ‘above’ the pain of the world, but sharing in it while hoping for its transformation.