Summary: Psalm 137 and Israel, corporately expressing their grief
This month we are looking at some of the more emotional parts of the bible, the parts where you can go and maybe relate to the feelings and emotions that we go through. Last week I looked at feeling abandoned and Ps 22. This week I want to look at general hurts and pains and Ps 137.
The situation here is that this song describes a group of Israelites who have been captured, taken away in exile and suffering torment, teasing, by their captives. In this part of the Psalm they express their hurt. They are sad. They are hurting. They are missing their home. They are feeling their loss.
Not that they don’t talk about the situation that brought about the loss. Some people will know the situation, the cause of the loss, what the loss is, but they don’t really dwell on whose fault it was. You don’t really see any confession of sin in this passage, you don’t see any blame in this passage, or anger at God, you just hear the pain, the loss, the hurt. There we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. They gave up singing, there was no joy in them. They hung up their harps, unable to sing the happy songs that they previously were taught about God.
You see the torment or the teasing of others, come on sing us a happy song that you used to sing. All that does is heighten the sense of loss that the people feel. How can we sing in a strange land? We have lost our home. We have lost our security, we feel loss and others are making fun of it.
This is the private abandonment of someone that we looked at in the last Psalm, this is a corporate feeling, it is ‘we sat … we remembered … asked us’. It is a group of people feeling the loss together. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt less.
At college there was an article which we discussed called something like, ‘what songs do unhappy people sing at church?’ This is one of those songs. It is for unhappy people, unhappy because of major hurt in their lives.
The other week we had the Grand final, and the Tigers won. For them there was an incredible amount of Joy, however for the opposition there were tears. It was a corporate experience, it wasn’t just one player crying over one mistake, or over his personal hopes, it was the loss of hope for the team for the year. For the group there was loss, hopes not realised.
What do we do when we feel loss? When do you feel loss? DO you know when you feel loss? I know for me sometimes I’m not even in touch with the feelings of loss because I just don’t want to do there. Where do you go? How do you respond?
What sorts of loss do we go through? Maybe the loss of a home, if the lease is up and forced to move. Maybe the loss of a job if we are retrenched. Maybe the loss of a relationship. Maybe it is the loss of a community, the morning congregation are feeling the slow loss of community as their congregation has gone from a couple of hundred to forty or so people. That sort of loss is difficult to deal with.
But what sort of responses are there to loss? There are two that I see in the Psalm. And the first one is a commitment to God and we see that in v5-6.
Within the midst of the loss there is a commitment to stay true to God, to hold on to God, in whatever shape that might come. Here it is in the memory of Jerusalem, the dwelling place of God. Jerusalem is their highest joy, and not because it is a physically nice place, it’s alright as places go, but because of God’s presence there, because of the importance that God put on that place. So therefore they commit to holding dear the things that God holds dear, even though they didn’t do that in the past. But notice how, again there is no dwelling on the past. It is like the past doesn’t matter, what is important is the here and now, the emotions of the moment, the hurt, the desire for commitment to God that comes from that hurt.
We see this sort of response in the character of Job. After he loses everything he has, his wealth, his children, and finally his health, his wife says to him, go on curse God and die, but Job’s response is amazing, others have paraphrased it ‘yet though God flail me yet will I worship him’. Yet though I suffer, though things are bad, though I hurt, and the cause of the hurt isn’t what is important, though I suffer, I will worship God. I will respond with relationship with God.