O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is he who repays you
for what you have done to us -
he who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.
It is easy for me to sit and watch the news each evening and pass judgment on the unfolding activities.
With great pride, I decide which behaviors are acceptable to me . . . and which behaviors are over the line. Almost without serious reflection, I am able to identify "the good people" and "the bad people." And when I see something especially grievous, I say (often right out loud), "I would certainly never do that."
And that comment means only one thing. The ONLY thing that comment truly means is that I have not experienced the pain and the suffering and the heartache of the person that I am judging in that moment.
The truth of the matter is that I have no idea what I would do.
Of course, I want to believe that I live with complete self-control. I want to believe that the Spirit of God has so changed me that I am now a different person. I want to believe that God is producing within me the fruit of the Spirit. I want to believe that even my anger at some great injustice would be channelled in healthy and productive directions.
And I sincerely hope that those things are true.
But if one of my children died in the way that George Floyd died, I have no idea what I would do.
And you might be wise to withhold your judgment of me, because you don't know what you would do either.
How would I express my anger? Would I protest and march? Would I riot? Would I destroy property? Would I lash out at those who had caused my pain? Would I start a fire? Would I ask you to help me avenge my loss?
I honestly don't know.
Psalm 137:8-9 (the verses quoted above) are probably the most embarrassing verses in the entire Bible. The raw honesty of the heart cry here is breath-taking. In these verses, the people of God are blessing the person who will avenge the suffering that has been caused by the Babylonians. From a place of painful exile, God's people are celebrating the person who will pay back the Babylonians for what they have done. And what is called for here is not some general, genteel revenge. What is called for here is taking the infants of the Babylonians and dashing those babies against the rocks.
So much for the fruit of the Spirit! So much for an attitude of forgiveness! Still, these words, by God's direction, somehow have found a place in Scripture.
And while I want to reject the spirit of Psalm 137:8-9 and explain that those Old Testament behaviors are a thing of the past . . . and claim that I am now a new creation in Christ . . . I am compelled to probe the depths of my heart and admit that I could easily feel the very same anger. And perhaps even act on that anger.
And the fact that I am hesitant to own up to that admission means only one thing. It means that I have never experienced the level of pain and loss that shows up in Psalm 137:8-9.
Just as I feel the right to judge the people I watch on television these days, I feel perfectly free to sit in judgment of the Psalmist.
But I can do that only because I have never felt their pain.
One day, Jesus was so deeply grieved and upset and angry that he turned over the tables of the money changers. He was in a holy place, a place set aside for worship and prayer. Utterly broken by what he saw, Jesus destroyed the property of others.
Yes, Jesus was completely under control. Yes, he knew exactly what he was doing. Yes, his anger was thoroughly righteous. Still, he destroyed the property of others. And we can argue, of course, that those money changers deserved that destruction. Even so, it is a remarkable scene and Jesus' behavior is stunning.
Personally, I'm not a turning-over-tables kind of guy. So I'm pretty quick to claim, once again, that I would never do that.
But the fact that I would never do that means only one thing. It means that I have never felt the grief of what Jesus felt that day. It means that I have never been so deeply moved by injustice that I simply had to act. It means that I have not suffered the losses that demand that things be different.
And here's what I realize today.
I am usually proud of myself when I say, "I would never do that."
But in truth, I should be ashamed.