A skeleton in the closet?

Church Bulletin:

Some of the prayers in the book of Psalms concerning the wicked certainly pack a punch.

Psalm 109:7-13, “When he is judged, let him be found guilty, and let his prayer become sin. 8 Let his days be few, and let another take his office. 9 Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow. 10 Let his children continually be vagabonds, and beg; let them seek their bread also from their desolate places. 11 Let the creditor seize all that he has, and let strangers plunder his labour. 12 Let there be none to extend mercy to him, nor let there be any to favour his fatherless children. 13 Let his posterity be cut off, and in the generation following let their name be blotted out”
Such portions of scripture are known as ‘imprecations’ meaning curses. While they do not occur that often, they are found on a number of occasions in both testaments. Non-Christian people use them to say that Christianity sanctions hatred, and many believers don’t know what to do with these texts in light of Jesus’ instruction to love our enemies. Here are a few thoughts:

• The Psalms are poetic and convey highly stylised and symbolic word pictures. The imprecations of the New Testament belong to a different covenant and genre; as such they do not embody the same kind of language. Therefore Christians today probably wouldn’t express themselves exactly as the psalmist did.

• The imprecations are ultimately concerned with God’s holiness and justice on the earth. Even secular people are concerned with justice and recognise the need for punitive measures in dealing with crime.

• Christians are nowhere encouraged to be vengeful, but rather to love their enemies just as God blesses both the righteous and the wicked. We are to pray for people who oppose us in the same manner we see Christ praying for the forgiveness of those who were crucifying Him.

• It is right to pray that God would bring justice to a fallen world, particularly when His people are undergoing severe persecution. Such prayers however are to be preceded by crying out for the salvation of the oppressors. Justice is not contrary to mercy; Christ offers mercy to all, but one day will return in order to judge.

We should not feel embarrassed about the imprecations in scripture. They have much to teach us about the holiness of God, the wickedness of sin, the need for forgiveness, the place of justice, and the coming judgement. It is a question of rightly understanding their place and using them appropriately. You may find these two books helpful: Is God a moral Monster? by Paul Copan; Crying for Justice by John N. Day.