By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there we hung up our harps.
For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.
Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem’s fall, how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down! Down to its foundations!”
O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us!
Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!
I don’t remember too many times of hearing this Psalm sung in worship on a Sunday…
There are few passages in the Bible that express anger, hurt, and pain more than this Psalm. This is a Psalm recounting the time of the exile when the people had been taken from their homeland and brought under the rule of another. There, the Psalm recounts how their captors sought to make them sing like nothing had happened. Just ignore what had taken place. But the grief cannot be forgotten…If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! My tongue to the roof of my mouth…And then the last two verses…first one that sounds like hoping for revenge and then the second is an unspeakably awful sentence…Yet…how many of us when we grieve, when we are angry, feel and think and say things that are born out of the pain and anger we feel?
The other night, we went with the youth group here to see The Fault in our Stars – a story focused two teenagers who are battling cancer. A friend of theirs (also one battling cancer) was dumped by his girlfriend when the cancer struggles got too hard. So, the three of them decide to go and egg her house. You can see the relief and the release when the eggs are being thrown and I found myself thinking “sometimes there aren’t enough eggs.” He was not only throwing eggs at her car, but at his disease and what it had cost him. Throughout the rest of the movie, I kept wondering where I had paraphrased that line from as I was remembering, “Sometimes there aren’t enough rocks.” Finally after the movie, I googled the line and found that it was from Forrest Gump – the scene when Jenny comes upon her dad’s old house – her dad who had abused her and wounded her in so many ways. She starts picking up rock after rock and throwing it at the house until finally she has no more to throw…
This is a very real Psalm and one that reflects the realities that we face when we feel deep loss and pain. So often we try to erase it away for ourselves or for others, but as one of the lines from Fault in our Stars says, “pain is meant to be felt.” Pain has to be felt. It has to be expressed. It has to be released. Sometimes it can come out in ways that are “acceptable.” Sometimes not. But it has to be expressed. And even when it is let out – however it is let out…sometimes there aren’t enough rocks. Sometimes there aren’t enough eggs. Sometimes, the pain comes back. I remember a man named George who shared with me about the Psalms about 12 years ago. As his wife was dying from an incurable condition, he shared about how the Psalms expressed the feelings for which he had no words. He read this Psalm with me on one particularly hard day. It was exactly what he felt that day.
The good news…the good news…God can take it. God can take whatever we dish out. Whether we are angry at another, at circumstances, at life, at God…God can take it. I think God would rather us express our deepest feelings of joy, grief, whatever rather than us express what we think is “appropriate” – God wants us to be real.