My dear friends Sylvia and Ann have come to my home each summer since Steve’s death — true and faithful friends who radiate the love of Christ. Each year we renew our friendship through tears and laughter and prayer. I am blessed by their seeking hearts, hungry for God, and by their unselfish husbands who give them up, knowing what this time means to us all. Again, this year, they helped me in both spiritual and practical ways. (Ann and Sylvia gave me the necklace I’m wearing from the Holy Land that says. “I am my beloved and my beloved is mine.” Then they took me shopping because “my wardrobe looked a little tired.”) I love them so! What a gift from God friendship in the Lord can be.
In my deep woods, Ann’s cell phone didn’t have a signal, so my friend Linda took my house phone to Ann’s room and plunked it down on the bedside table for her to use. The next day, Ann picked it up to make a call. But she accidentally grabbed the Roku television remote that was sitting next to it. When Ann came down the hall carrying the remote, and telling us she couldn’t get the phone to work, Sylvia and I collapsed in laughter! (We actually have a history of being technically challenged and I could regale you with stories about any one of us or all three of us together!) But in this particular episode, I saw a great illustration for the cursing psalms.
We must use an instrument in the way the creator of that instrument intended it to be used. Otherwise it definitely will fail and frustrate us.
Tim Keller gives a wonderful message on Genesis 1 in which he explains that this chapter is misinterpreted because people are asking a question of it that the Creator never intended for it to answer. They ask “How was the world created” as if the genre of Genesis 1 was a scientific treatise. Instead, because the genre of Genesis 2 is poetry, the question is going to be philosophical. The question Genesis 1 asks is “Why was the world (and man) created?” And the answer is to glorify God — for everything He does is good, is good, is good.
So what are we to do with the “cursing or imprecatory psalms,” like Psalm 35, which has the psalmist asking the Lord to have the angel of the Lord chase his enemy down a slippery slope to his destruction? How did our Creator intend us to use these psalms? Are we, indeed, to curse our enemies? It would seem so, upon first reading. But we need to understand the Creator’s purpose for the imprecatory psalms of lament.
USING THE IMPRECATORY PSALMS AS OUR CREATOR MEANT THEM TO BE USED
C. S. Lewis points out in Reflections on the Psalms, we must “not for a moment see all this vindictive hatred as good and pious.” We know that Jesus commands us to love and pray for our enemies, but it isn’t just the New Testament — even the Old Testament tells us not to hate or bear a grudge against our enemies. (See Leviticus 17, 18, 19). So what are we to do with these psalms?
I want to bring you thoughts from some of the best minds and hearts I know, and then this forum is for us to discuss in love and to seek God. He does have a reason He created these psalms, and we must ask Him what it is. But we know, according to the heart of the gospel, it is not to pray curses upon our enemy. So how are we to pray them? I will share what I have learned that does walk in line with the gospel in hopes it will be helpful. I don’t have the complete answer, but I will share with you what I do know.
One of the most helpful illuminations came from Philip Yancey in The Bible Jesus Read. He tells how his friends would tell him to read the psalms when he felt sad or stressed — and he would come across one of the “winteriest” psalms and come away frostily depressed! But then he realize that the psalms are not like other books of the Bible, written from God to man, but instead, this is the prayer journal of the Bible, and it is as if we are looking over the psalmists journal as he laments his real emotions and feelings to God. He is writing what Sara Groves calls “processing songs,” trying to process the injustice and pain in the world and in his life. It is a lament in which he tells God how he feels, honestly, what he desires, honestly — but then, allows God to speak back to him.
I will tell you one way I have prayed using the cursing psalms — and I will tell you that some disagree with me, so you may as well. One of my daughters was in a relationship with a man who was hurting her, but she was putting up with it. Honestly, my genuine feelings were like those of the psalmist. I wanted this man’s way to be dark and slippery, with the angel of the Lord chasing him. I knew God wanted me to be honest with Him, as long as I was listening to Him in return. He did, indeed, convict me that it was wrong for me to be praying for the destruction of this man. The Lord began to give me compassion for this man and I prayed for his healing. However, I did not see change. So then I prayed (and I know this is the controversial part) that if God knew his heart was not going to soften, but rather harden, that God would take him out of my daughter’s life. And indeed, that is what happened. God gave my daughter enough discernment to draw a boundary and keep it, then brought compassionate believers in her life who sheltered and guided her, and took this man out of her life forever.
I have prayed the same for those who seemed bent on destroying others in our community — and I have seen a school superintendent removed, a hospital administrator removed and a doctor removed. However, I didn’t pray for anyone’s death, but sometimes wonder — for they lost their jobs in my community only to get jobs in other communities.
I have prayed for the deaths of evil leaders who are committing holocausts, if that would be God’s way of dealing with them. I know Bonhoeffer was part of the plot to kill Hitler, and wrote to his sister-in-law:
“If I see a madman driving a car into a group of innocent bystanders, then I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe and then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.”
Did Bonhoeffer pray for Hitler’s demise? I think he must have — though that doesn’t mean he did not forgive.
There is much to ponder, and I’ll be eager to hear your thoughts on how you think our Creator intended us to use the imprecatory psalms. But I do know we are not to, as Lewis said, see vindictive evil as good and pious.”
I also know that our real enemies are not flesh and blood, and I can pray these psalms quite verbatim for the devil and his angels. And I can find comfort in knowing God will always have the last word, and only give Satan enough rope to hang himself.
1. What stands out to you from the above and why?
2. At this point, what do you think is one purpose of the imprecatory psalms?
Monday-Wednesday Bible Study
3. Read Psalm 35:1-10
A. What lament, and what feelings do you see honestly expressed to God on the part of David?
B. What is particularly grievous about the scheming of the enemies, according to verse 7?
C. Jesus quotes this psalm concerning himself in John 15:25. What is the context?
D. Though Jesus might have felt what David felt, how does He actually respond when the scheming enemies come against him in John 18:4-11? What do you learn from this?
E. How do you see victory at the end of this section? (Psalm 35:9-10) How did this happen for David? For Jesus? How will it happen for you, no matter what life holds?
4. Read Psalm 35:11-18
A. What lament, what particular pain, do you see honestly expressed to God?
B. How did Jesus experience the betrayal of friends, of those whom He had loved?
C. What victory do you see at the close of this section? (verse 18)
5. Read Psalm 35:19-28
A. What feelings do you see here? Can you identify in any way?
B. How did the enemies of Christ gloat at the cross?
C. What victory do you see at the end of this psalm?
6. How do you think our Creator, who created the imprecatory psalms, intend us to use them?
7. Take a section of this psalm in which you identified with the pain, and pray it, in the way You believe Your Creator would have you pray it.
8. Pray for the persecuted church. Reportedly the latest method being used by jihadists in Syria to eliminate Christians is crucifixion. I know we must pray for strength for our brothers and sisters, and I agree with Tertullion that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. But how are we to pray for those who persecute? Indeed, we can pray they will be moved by the testimony of those they persecute. We can pray for changed hearts. Do we also pray that God will remove them or take their lives? I don’t know. When I don’t know how to pray, I have prayed: “This is my thought, but You know best.” Pray here for the persecuted church, and, as His Spirit leads you, for those who persecute.
Thursday-Friday: Piper written sermon
8. Share your notes and comments from the above.
9. What is your take-a-way and why?