So, you’re probably reading this thanks to that incredibly disturbing title. No, it didn’t come from a movie, a serial killer, or Sparta.
In fact, it’s in the Bible, and there’s one huge reason why I’m glad it is.
Everybody loves a feel-good Bible verse. We have them hung all over our houses, and one walk through a greeting card aisle is a dizzying affair of flowers and puppies with nice scriptures overlaid on top. I whipped up the one below:
Isn’t that nice? I can just see that hanging in some old woman’s kitchen.
But the whole Bible isn’t like that. There is some messed up, disturbing stuff hanging out in between its pages.
One of the more disturbing comes to us from Psalm 137, a song that was likely written by a Levite musician charged with leading a community in worship. It begins humbly enough, with the speaker remembering Jerusalem.
“Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem. We put away our harps, hanging them on the branches of poplar trees. For our captors demanded a song from us. Our tormentors insisted on a joyful hymn: “Sing us one of those songs of Jerusalem!” But how can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a pagan land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget how to play the harp. May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I fail to remember you, if I don’t make Jerusalem my greatest joy.” – Psalm 137:1-6
Seems normal enough. Everybody is clearly sad to have lost their home, and understandably so. But their attitudes towards their captors, the Babylonians, takes a much darker turn in the final stanza.
“O Lord, remember what the Edomites did on the day the armies of Babylon captured Jerusalem. “Destroy it!” they yelled. “Level it to the ground!” O Babylon, you will be destroyed. Happy is the one who pays you back for what you have done to us. Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks!” – Psalm 137:7-9
Yikes. Read that last sentence again. “Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks.” This would not look very good on a puppy poster. See?
It’s just not the same.
But in all seriousness, people are shocked when this type of stuff shows up in the Bible. I, for one, am glad it’s there.
Christianity and a lot of churches have become places where you are expected to clean yourself up before coming in, and once you become a Christian, you’ll never have problems again and will probably skip around happily for the rest of your life like Snow White.
That could not be further from the truth, and this passage shows it. The person singing this is crying out to God in frustration and agony, wondering what is going on and expressing an anger so strong as to murder the captor’s offspring. It’s a raw, real prayer.
Prayers, especially in America, have become sterilized. We are taught to pray in formulas instead of genuine conversation. We approach God with thanks and praise, which is great, but we tend to keep our true feelings bottled up, as if God will punish us for bringing such things to Him.
One of my favorite verses is James 4:10, which in the Message version says:
“Quit playing the field. Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious. Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet.”
We all have doubts, fears, concerns, things that anger us and agonize us, but God is big enough to handle it all.