1By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. 2 On the willows there we hung up our harps. 3 For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” 4 How could we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! 6 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.
7 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!” 8 O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us! 9 Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!
“You are forgiven” I wrote, “but when you die, you are going to hell.” I wrote the words matter of factly and without great emotion. These words were not written to a stranger or a criminal. They were written to my father as he lay in the CCU recovering from a massive heart attack in 1989.
I am not proud of those words now, but when I wrote them I was struggling to move from Hate to Hope. I was struggling to move from the desire for vengeance toward’s God’s call to love. My father walked out on my family when I was 14. He had an affair and decided he wanted something else in life. Needless to say, I hated him for that.
Babylon was not home for the exiles of Judah. They had been captured and carted away to a foreign land. Their temple was destroyed, and now they are lost and in despair. The Babylonians destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. All of the elite, the teachers, business leaders, land owners, artists, all of the prominent people have been taken to Babylon. Only the poorest were left behind to remain in the land and intermarry with Canaanites. They were taken from their homes and land. They were separated from their families. Their homes and their Temple were destroyed. Their families killed. Their children murdered.
Here by the rivers of Babylon, we see the children of Judah expressing pain as they remember Zion. Their captors mock them and sarcastically call for them to sing a song of Zion – “where is your joy?” But the Psalmist asks, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in this strange land?” We don’t belong here in Babylon. We are refugees. We are slaves. How can we sing the Lord’s song in this strange land?
Verses 7-9 are very difficult for us. The words shock us, but if we think about it they express the same feelings many of us have had when we have been through suffering at the hands of others. The Babylonians killed families including children. Children represent the future of their people. Verse 9 represents the pain of the people crying out, “They deserve the same thing they did to us!” I can completely understand this. I’ve been there myself. We’ve all been there.
The Psalms of lament speak to us about putting our suffering and struggle to speech TO God. I really believe that one of the main reasons many of us cannot move on from hate to healing and hope is because we refuse to let go of the pain. It becomes a crutch for us. We won’t let it out. Many of us won’t even give it expression.
I am not proud of what I wrote to my father 1989, although I could come up with 100 reasons why he deserved it. And if I shared those reasons with you, many of you would say to me: I would have done the same thing. My father never asked for forgiveness and never even acted like he did anything wrong. He just lived his life the way he wanted never thinking about the consequences.
I ultimately learned that it was not about HIM for me to be made whole. All through my teenage and college years I was sitting on the banks of the rivers of Babylon trying to sing a song in a foreign land. I was miserable and filled with resentment. Giving those feelings “words” during my freshman year of college was the beginning of liberation for me. I am not lifting up the way I did it, what I am lifting up is the need for expression of our deepest pain and anger.
In order for the pain of our lives to be healed by God, we must give it expression. Cry it out to God – no matter how it may offend our sensibilities. I think this is the beginning of healing. This is how we move from hate to hope and healing.
What do you need to cry out? What is in you that needs to be brought to God in prayer?