Monday, October 21, 2013

Infants Against the Rocks???

Today is the first day in our 42nd week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures this week are:

  •  Lamentations 1-5; 1 Peter 4; Psalm 137
  •  Obadiah; Jer 40-42; 1 Pet 5; Ps 147
  •  Jer 43, 44, 46; 2 Pet 1;
  •  Jer 47, 48, 49; 2 Pet 2; Ps 80
  •  Jer 50-51; 2 Pet 3
Okay, so I wanted to avoid this one.  I wanted instead to turn your attention to the hopeful passage in Lamentations 3:22-26, 31-33 (NIV), which says:

22Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him...”
31For no one is cast off
by the Lord forever.
32Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
33For he does not willingly bring affliction
or grief to anyone.

That is what I wanted to do, because Lamentations is such a sad book to read, but right in the middle of it we find these words of encouragement.  I really wanted to talk about that, but instead, I'll talk about this other passage that i wanted to avoid.

Without giving any introduction, I'll simply give you Psalm 137 (NIV):

1By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
2There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
3for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4How can we sing the songs of the Lord
while in a foreign land?
5If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill.
6May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.
7Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did
on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried,
“tear it down to its foundations!”
8Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is the one who repays you
according to what you have done to us.
9Happy is the one who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.

What???  Did I just read that last verse correctly?

Yep.  That's what it said.  See why I wanted to avoid it?  But then, if I avoided it, you'd just say, "Look--he just wants to write about the comforting scriptures, and wants to avoid difficult passages."

And you'd be right.  That's what I want to do.

But I can't do it.  

This is just too disturbing to ignore.  "Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks?"  Really???

Just five minutes ago, I was snuggling my 7-month old grandson, and now I can't leave Psalm 137 alone.

Is this the Word of God?  

The answer is, yes and no.  What do I mean?  

The Bible is given to us as a record of God's revelation of Himself to humanity, in the person of Jesus Christ.  Not every word of the Bible is about Jesus, though.  Much of it shows the human condition of sin, and our need for a Savior.  It is a record of our depravity as much as it's a record of salvation.

And in our depravity, sometimes we utter some pretty abominable things.  This is a record of one of those abominable things.  The psalmist and his people have suffered miserably at the hands of their oppressors, who now mock them as they demand songs of joy from the subjugated people.  In the poet's words we can feel emotions like sorrow, longing, patriotism, hatred, and vengeance.  Each of these is part of the human experience.  As such, God chose to include them in the great library of sacred literature that we call The Bible.

When we say that God is the author of the Bible, do we mean that God promotes the murder of infants?  Of course not!  What we mean is that when the psalmist felt horror and lamentation and even disgust at what the Babylonians had done to his people, the Holy Spirit said, "Why don't you write about that?"  Maybe the psalmist wrote the first draft and tried to make it sound all religious and proper, and the Holy Spirit even said, "Come now, you can do better than that.  Why don't you write what you really feel.  Because I know your heart anyway, you might as well put your feelings down on paper.  It will be cathartic for you."  At least, I can imagine the Spirit of God saying something like that.  So, God inspired the psalmist to write.  And the psalmist wrote.  And, after all the revisions were done, this is what we have.  A perfect depiction of all the emotions that defeated people feel.  And God liked that poetry so much that He wanted you to read it.  So His Holy Spirit preserved it for us in the Bible, just so you could understand that some of the emotions you go through really aren't all that weird.

There are other examples of this in the Bible.  For example, when Paul got so upset over people teaching the church in Galatia that they had to be circumcised in order to become Christians.  You can just imagine how few men wanted to become Christians, if that was a requirement!  Paul wrote:

Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.  As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! (Galatians 5:11-12 NIV)

Was our loving God saying that He wanted these dear, misguided, clearly wrong-minded teachers to castrate themselves?  Clearly not.  Paul said it.  Because that's what he felt.  And God thought it was pretty important for readers throughout the centuries to understand just how upset pastors and apostles can get when false teachers get a hold of their people.  So the Holy Spirit, who inspired to write, also inspired all the copyists and editors for the past two thousand years to preserve Paul's written tirade.  Just so you could understand.

Many other examples exist, but I'll just leave it at those two.  The Bible is God's perfect book--but not because everything it says is perfect.  Dashing infants against rocks, and Galatians castrating themselves--these things are far from perfect.  The Bible is perfect in that it communicates the depravity of our human condition, and our need for a Savior.  It uses some pretty rough language in order to illustrate this, but rough language is sometimes necessary in order to get a point across.  Once we understand our own sin, the Bible points us to Jesus, who is the only one who can save our souls and make them perfect.  And, even though it's sometimes hard to read, I'm glad that God chose to include the writings of imperfect people in order to communicate His perfect truth.

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