Why So Much Anger?: #YesAllWomen and Psalm 137

The Hebrew Text of Psalm 137. Photo by Raphaele Esposito
The Hebrew Text of Psalm 137. Photo by Raphaele Esposito

In response to the recent shootings in Santa Barbara, the hashtag #YesAllWomen has swarmed social media sites. Millions of tweets have begun or ended with #YesAllWomen – signaling their intended support of the movement. Originally, I noticed a few friends of ours using the hashtag on twitter to share stories and statements supporting women and decrying physical and sexual abuse. Curious, I clicked the tag itself and was pulled into a world of emotion-laden tweets. Stories of abuse dismissed by those in power, the reality of women feeling unsafe at night, lamenting the constant need to be able to protect oneself from assault.

I was a little overwhelmed at first. The voices of pain, of grief, and of loss made sense. I could understand the need to be heard, the need to lament, the need to stand instead of stay sitting in the shadows. But I was not prepared for the rage. Anger bubbling forth into full-fledged rage against the reality of suffering, abuse, and fear. It was a rage I was not prepared for and one I was not sure how to handle.

Even though I knew that most of those using the #YesAllWomen were not directing their anger at ‘men in general’, I sympathized with the men who felt attacked, who felt they were being blamed or dismissed because of the depravity of others. I knew in my mind that their anger was justified, but emotionally, I began to feel defensive. The rage, the anger was so raw and right in front of me that I could not ignore it. I talked with my wife about her reactions and experiences of #YesAllWomen. I discussed with male and female pastors – my desire to stand with the suffering and yet my confusion about how to deal with the rage it expressed. I prayed and waited, hoping God would lead the way for me.

Then, yesterday, as I was preparing for an upcoming sermon series on the Psalms, I came across Psalm 137:

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept

when we remembered Zion.

There on the poplars

we hung our harps,

for there our captors asked us for songs,

our tormentors demanded songs of joy;

they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How can we sing the songs of the Lord

while in a foreign land?

If I forget you, Jerusalem,

may my right hand forget its skill.

May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth

if I do not remember you,

if I do not consider Jerusalem

my highest joy.

Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did

on the day Jerusalem fell.

“Tear it down,” they cried,

“tear it down to its foundations!”

Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,

happy is the one who repays you

according to what you have done to us.

Happy is the one who seizes your infants

and dashes them against the rocks.

There it was again – grief, questioning, and rage. “This is raw hate,” Eugene Peterson says, “who let this in our prayer book?” Isn’t the rage inappropriate? Ungodly? Breaking the commandment to love our neighbor? Grief – yes. Awareness and mourning – yes. But rage? Should #YesAllWomen really say no with such vehement anger?

What Eugene Peterson went on to say about Psalm 137 in his book, Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer, deserves being read in full:

We have been brought up, most of us, interpreting what is wrong in the world on a grid of moralism. Moralism trains us in making cool, detached judgments. Deep down, the moralist suspects that there are no, or at least not very many, real victims. People get what is coming to them. In the long run people reap what they sow. The rape victim, the unemployed, the emotionally ill, the prisoner, the refugee – if we were privy to all the details we would see that, in fact, “they asked for it.”

The Psalms will have none of this. The Psalms assume a moral structure to life, but their main work is not to train us in judgmental moralism but to grapple with evil. Their praying insights have identified an enemy and they respond in outrage. They hate what they see. On behalf of all the dispossessed, the mocked, the dehumanized of the earth they pour into the ears of God their sightings of the enemy, not “siphoning off hate, but channeling it in effective ways, in covenantal shapes.

These two paragraphs shook me. Wake up. There is evil in the world and we are right to be angry about it. Like the psalmists, many of those using #YesAllWomen see the afflicted, the dispossessed, and the dehumanized and they hate what they see. Even if some of the rage is unchanneled and undirected, the response should not be detachment from the victims. Instead, our response should be one with the Psalmists. Name it – things are not as they should be. The situation is far from normal. Then bring all the griefs, the pain, and even the darker emotions of hate before the Living God.

Loving your neighbor doesn’t mean ‘just be nice to each other.’ Christian charity does not mean we need to be ignorant of evil. There are inappropriate forms of rage and there are many ways we can channel hate that is destructive. But when faced with evil, rationalizations and moralism just doesn’t cut it. Loving your enemies includes acknowledging that they exist and that their victims do too.

Sometimes rage is the only thing that wakes us up from our slumber of ignorance and rationalization. The Psalmists knew it and #YesAllWomen is aware of it as well. When confronted with the reality of the abuse and degredation of men and women created in the image of God, we should be angry. Perhaps we aren’t angry enough?

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