Let me not be put to shame, Lord, for I call upon You; Let the wicked be put to shame, let them be silent in Sheol. Let the lying lips be speechless. Which speak arrogantly against the righteous with pride and contempt- Psalm 31:17-18 NASB
About eighteen months ago I went through a situation that was ugly and unjust by any human standard.
I will not be spilling the tea on all the details, suffice it to say it was a terrible deal that created a lot of unpleasant ripples in my life. In the immediate aftermath I found myself completely shell-shocked and heartbroken by a situation I had zero control over.
I did something I have only done twice in my Christian life and only under the direst of emotional and spiritual circumstances: I cried out to the Lord and asked Him to give me comfort from His word. Then I opened my Bible fully expecting it to open to exactly what I needed in that moment.
For the record, this is not a method I recommend. It is certainly not the greatest way to discern God’s will, obtain answers to life’s greatest questions or even get comfort from Gods word. There’s a lot that could go wrong with this technique. The devil could certainly produce all kinds of mayhem with this sort of spiritual practice. Discernment is critical; therefore, this is NOT a spiritual practice I support as standard part of one’s devotional routine.
All that being said:
God is good and He deals graciously with His people where they are at in the moment. In that moment I felt overwhelmed, crushed in spirit and in desperate need of comfort. I needed to know God saw me and understood my situation. I wanted more than anything in the world to believe He was on my side. The Bible fell open to Psalm 35. Psalm 35 is a part of a collection of psalms known as the imprecatory or cursing psalms. Following are the first eight verses:
Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me;
Fight against those who fight against me.
Take hold of buckler and shield
And rise up as my help.Draw also the spear and the battle-axe to meet those who pursue me;
Say to my soul, “I am your salvation.”Let those be ashamed and dishonored who seek my life;
Let those be turned back and humiliated who devise evil against me.
Let them be like chaff before the wind,
With the angel of the Lord driving them on.Let their way be dark and slippery,
With the angel of the Lord pursuing them.
For they hid their net for me without cause;
Without cause they dug a pit for my soul.
Let destruction come upon him when he is unaware,
And let the net which he hid catch him;
Let him fall into that very destruction.
I will not lie.
That psalm was a salve to my weary, confused and broken soul. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt I was seen, understood and loved by the God of the universe. At that moment I felt like God got me and He truly cared about the details of my situation.
It also raised a few questions in my mind. I had read the imprecatory psalms before but never really thought much about what those psalms mean for Christians. Like most Christians I have been taught to forgive, forget, let go of hurt and pain and trust God to deal with things in His way and timing (Romans 12:10, Matthew 6:12, Matthew 18:21-22, Luke 6:37). The whole notion God would be okay with me asking Him to fight for me and bring humiliation on my enemies was a bit appalling even in the state I was in.
There are a total of twenty imprecatory psalms. The primary purpose of these psalms is to make a an appeal to God for judgment or to call down curses on one’s enemies. The New Testament assumes Christians will have have enemies (Matthew 5:43-44, Luke 19:43). Therefore, imprecatory passages are not unique to the book of Psalms or even the Old Testament. Jesus even quoted two precatory psalms (John 2:17, John 15:25). Matthew 11:2-24, Matthew 23:33, Matthew 26:24, 1st Corinthians 16:22, Galatians 1:8-9, James 5:1-6 and Revelation 6:10 are all New Testament examples of imprecatory New Testament passages.
So. Why would the Bible call down curses on people?
These passages have a greater purpose that just calling down curses on the jerks who hurt us. These passages are gift to us. They prove beyond a shadow of a doubt God sees our suffering and pain. There are times when it can feel as if God is AWOL in the most critical of situations. When we are cheated, slandered or hurt by someone and nothing awful happens to the people who harmed us it FEELS as if God is ignoring our situation. The imprecatory passages remind us God SEES everything. There is no act of injustice, unfairness or inequality that is overlooked or ignored by God. The existence of these psalms serve as a much-needed reminder cares about our pain. God cares so much about our pain that He records the tears of the righteous on a scroll and stores their tears in bottles (Psalm 56:8, Isaiah 25:8, Psalm 116:7-9).
There is a lot of comfort in that knowledge.
Each imprecatory passage reminds us God is not sitting idly by, twiddling His thumbs while terrible people do terrible things. Justice delayed does not mean justice denied. God is the author of justice. When the timing is perfect God will right every wrong and avenge every misdeed (Revelation 20:11-15, Jude 5-7, 2nd Peter 2:4-10). David authored many of imprecatory psalms as he was running from Saul and living as an outlaw. Each one stands as a reminder that God has a way of turning hopeless, painful, awful situations around in His timing.
Ultimately, I believe the imprecatory passages to give Christians a healthy place to vent our pain to the one who understands it most and is most horrified by it. It’s critical to note, each one of the imprecatory psalms reaches a turning point in the lament where the author moves from cursing his enemies to expressing peace with the situation and faith God will deal with evil-doers appropriately. When read with faith the imprecatory psalms take us to the same place.