(Continuing my reflections on Psalm 137 from the other day…)
That these words from the lips of the Jews exiled in Babylon are preserved in holy Scripture is scandalous:
Happy are those who repay you
according to what you have done to us.
Happy are those whose seize your infants
and dash them against the rocks.
I haven’t heard it myself, but I don’t think I’ll be surprised if someone tries to undermine the credibility of the entire Bible with this one text. You can’t say things like that! It’s offensive. It’s politically incorrect. It’s hate language. If Jesus calls us to love our enemies, what’s this doing here?
Allow me to point out that while the Jewish exiles may have wanted to dash Babylonian infants against the rocks, there is no biblical or historical evidence they ever did so.
In a course I took at Regent College called “Praying By the Book,” Professor Darrell W. Johnson suggested something to the effect that the very reason the Jews didn’t kill any Babylonian infants is because they expressed their lament without trying to hide or deny it. Acknowledging their anger – their rage even – helped them at least in part to deal with it.
Thinking of Jesus’ call for us to love our enemies, it’s been pointed out to me that in order to love my enemies, I have to identify my enemies. Who is causing me pain? Who is provoking my anger? Often the pain and anger come not from vague, indefinable circumstances but from particular incidents involving particular people. Once I’m honest with myself and with God, declaring, This is what I want to see done to So-and-so, then I can pause and ask for the Holy Spirit’s help to do exactly the opposite.
I don’t recall any instances when that wasn’t terribly difficult. I also don’t recall any instances when that wasn’t absolutely necessary.
I suspect that if Israelites were anything like people are today–Christian, Jewish, Muslim, atheist, Marxist, Hindu, Buddhist–some of them DID dash little ones against the rocks. That being said, one would hope with Prof. Johnson that the relationship of faith/lament/pain/vengeance, etc. would be affected by Christian faith.
As to enemies, I won’t confess on-line. I do know that the prayer that seems right to me is this: Lord, help him/her [the “enemy”] to flourish in your sight.
Thanks, Curt. You said the other day something about one church tradition that whispers the so-called “imprecatory” psalms instead of saying them aloud as they do the other psalms, affirming their place in Scripture while simultaneously noting their darkness.