FREE THEME WEEK – Psalms!
This week we are looking at seven different types of psalms. So far we’ve seen wisdom, royal and lament. Today we are looking at, perhaps, the most difficult of all, imprecatory. Imprecatory means, quite simply, to call down a curse upon another.
Now, this is kind of tricky for Christians. After all, Jesus taught us that we are supposed to forgive as we want to be forgiven. We are supposed to love our enemies, right? So how exactly can we justify praying imprecatory psalms as Christians?
Let’s look at an example of an imprecatory Psalm 69.
1 Save me, O God,
for the waters have come up to my neck.
2 I sink in the miry depths,
where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters;
the floods engulf me.
3 I am worn out calling for help;
my throat is parched.
My eyes fail,
looking for my God.
4 Those who hate me without reason
outnumber the hairs of my head;
many are my enemies without cause,
those who seek to destroy me.
I am forced to restore
what I did not steal.
It starts out quite similar to a psalm of lament, as we discussed on Tuesday. “Help God! Things are going badly. I’m sinking. Everyone is out to get me! I’m all alone!”
He goes on to appeal to God for help.
19 You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed;
all my enemies are before you.
20 Scorn has broken my heart
and has left me helpless;
I looked for sympathy, but there was none,
for comforters, but I found none.
21 They put gall in my food
and gave me vinegar for my thirst.
Again, this has a familiar ring to it. The gospel writers used this scripture to point to Jesus on the cross- remember when he said he was thirsty and they gave him vinegar to drink?
So far, we are still lamenting. It’s dark, but it’s about to turn darker:
22 May the table set before them become a snare;
may it become retribution and a trap.
23 May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see,
and their backs be bent forever.
24 Pour out your wrath on them;
let your fierce anger overtake them.
25 May their place be deserted;
let there be no one to dwell in their tents.
26 For they persecute those you wound
and talk about the pain of those you hurt.
27 Charge them with crime upon crime;
do not let them share in your salvation.
28 May they be blotted out of the book of life
and not be listed with the righteous.
Yikes! It just got real! The person doesn’t just want God to save him, he wants God to crush his enemies.
“Pour out your wrath on them!” “May they be blotted out of the book of life.” Wow! That’s pretty intense.
“May their place be deserted.” Luke quoted that verse in the book of Acts when he talked about the need to replace Judas as one of the 12 Apostles.
How does this kind of call for God to damn your enemies fit within the overall message of the gospel of Jesus’ love and forgiveness?
Time and space doesn’t permit the kind of deep digging we might need to do to really get this, but I’ll take a stab at it. When people hurt us, I mean really hurt us, our normal reaction is to want to hurt them back. The desire to get revenge and retaliate when wronged is pretty normal, if we’re being honest. So what do we do with that hurt, that anger, that pain?
Well, we know that some people take a gun and go shoot people at school or at work. Some people take to social media and try to destroy another person’s life and reputation. If you’re Carrie Underwood: “I dug my key into the side
Of his pretty little low Mercedes Benz
Carved my name into his leather seat
I took a Louisville slugger to both head lights
Slashed a hole in all 4 tires
And maybe next time he’ll think before he cheats.”
Sure, who among us hasn’t wanted to do that, and worse?
But as Christians we’re supposed to love our enemies.
Paul says in Romans 12
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Yes, there’s a lot in there about how we are supposed to not pay people back, we’re supposed to love. Sandwiched in the middle of it all is “leave room for God’s wrath.” Yes, God is a God of tremendous love, grace, mercy and forgiveness and he offers even the worst of sinners the chance for mercy and forgiveness- but he also knows how to do wrath. He knows how to punish the unrepentant- and the Bible makes it clear that he will do so.
I don’t know who deserves mercy and grace and who deserves a cosmic butt-kicking, and neither did the Apostle Paul, and neither do you. So we leave it to God. Imprecatory prayers are simply ways that we say to God, “I’m hurting and I want to hurt back, but I’m not going to. I’m going to trust you to deal with this person the way you choose. (but here’s my pain and rage-fueled suggestion for how I’d like you to do it)”