Happy is he who repays you for what you have done for us – he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.’

How can this the the Word of God?

I believe it is – but not in a simplistic sense. ‘All Scripture is God-breathed’ (2 Timothy 3:16) – but that does not mean that God endorses the words that are spoken or the actions that are related. Other Scriptures teach us not to seek revenge, and Jesus teaches us to love our enemies and pray for them. So what is God saying through verses like these?

This psalm was obviously written after the most horrendous trauma – the conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and their cruel treatment of innocents. I can’t imagine what it would be like to see this happening to my own baby. The grief, anger and desire for justice and for repayment in kind would be overwhelming – and that is what this psalm is expressing. As we read it, we react with horror; we sense that such feelings should not be expressed, and certainly should not be part of Holy Scripture. The fact that they are expressed in Holy Scripture tells us that God not only knows exactly what we are feeling, but also that he is not turned off by them. He does not condemn us for using extreme language to express extreme emotions – even if those emotions are not very godly ones. He does not echo the sentiments – Jesus shows us that – but he does want us to be real with him, and not to pretend that we are unmoved by terrible events. When we see awful things happening in the world around us, and victims reacting in extreme ways, he wants us not to condemn those expressions of hatred, anger, fear or pain but to try to put ourselves in their place and feel what they are feeling. And then to act in love.