Few issues are as volatile right now as the problem of ISIS. Former President Obama, during his Presidency, stated multiple times that Islam is a “religion of peace”. While some denominations of Islam may seek to have peace, the statement that Islam is itself unequivocally a religion of peace is a historical inaccuracy. Mohammed was a mass-murderer who slayed, not only his own people, but also anyone who got in his path that did not conform to his ideology. The pure form of Islam isn’t peaceful; it’s always been violent. Any religion that views others as opponents to be dominated is not a religion that’s peaceful—it’s a religion of war. Islam desires war and to make everyone submit to what they believe. Now, I realize that’s not what you hear on TV every day, but it is a historical fact.
While Islam continues to be presented as a religion of peace—contrary to historical fact—the truth of the matter is they are not the only (or even the first) people to commit terrorist’s acts against God’s people. There was one person in particular that heavily persecuted the early Church. That man was Saul, who later became the Apostle Paul. Terrorists are nothing compared to the sovereign power of God. God can transform a terrorist and turn him into a bondservant of the Lord Jesus Christ. He did this with Saul when He turned him into the Apostle Paul, a man who set the ancient Mediterranean world on fire for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Christians have been called to love God as well as their neighbors (Matthew 22:37-40). God’s people have been called to love our enemies, and to do good to those who persecute us (Matthew 5:43-48). Is it “wrong” for a Christian to pray specifically with regards to how they feel? Regardless, if one is comfortable or not praying the imprecatory Psalms, or whether they become a core of our prayers, such an approach should remind Christians that the world is full of injustice and God is just. With this understanding, the Christian can leave the wrongs that others have delivered to them in the hands of a Sovereign God.
Too often today the love of God has been highlighted apart from the holiness and justice of God. The imprecatory Psalms highlight the anger or wrath of God. Furthermore, the Old Testament is replete with examples of God’s justice. Once a year on the Day of Atonement, the high priest would enter into the Holy of Holies to offer atonement for the people of Israel. Before the high priest went into the Holy of Holies, the other priests tied a rope around his ankle so if any of the prescriptions and regulations the Lord had established had been violated, the priests could pull out the high priest’s dead body.
The imprecatory Psalms are part of Scripture. God is holy and loving. The God of the Bible is a God of justice who demands retribution to be paid for man violating His law, commands, and statutes. The imprecatory Psalms reveal a God of justice. With that in mind, the reader of these Psalms needs to know the rest of God’s attributes, along with the fact that the God of the Bible is not primarily interested in smiting people and sending them to Hell.
When the totality of Scripture is examined, the God of the Bible emerges as a God who is loving, just, and holy. His holiness demands that He deal with sin. His love compels Him to pardon sinners who come to Him in faith. While the imprecatory Psalms highlight a crucial aspect of the attributes of God, the reader also needs to know the story line of the Bible which focuses on the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.
Matthew 5:43-48 is clear that we are to love our enemies. The supreme command for the Christian is to love God and their neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40). Jesus in Luke 6:27 declares, “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” Christians can pray the imprecatory prayers, but they cannot act on what they are praying. For example, someone could pray, “I feel this way about this person God” (insert how they feel here about this person, people group, etc.), but they are not allowed to act on those feelings on their own accord. I would also counsel people not to tell someone that you’ve prayed for them in such a way. The Christian can pray the imprecatory prayers with the understanding that ultimately what they are desiring is God’s sovereignty to reign in that situation. Our goal as Christians should be to love God and one another. With that said the Christian is to “feel” how they feel, but they must express those feelings primarily towards God with a focus on His will to be done on earth.
One weakness of the diary approach to the imprecatory Psalms is that it doesn’t take these Scriptures seriously. Imprecatory prayers are more than just a “diary approach”, where people share their feelings. Instead, they reveal a God of justice. While the imprecatory Psalms passionately express how the Psalmist(s) felt, they are also part of the Scriptures. As part of the Scriptures, they reveal an essential aspect of God’s character, namely His holiness and justice. Undergirding the imprecatory Psalms is the idea that vengeance belongs to the Lord. The Lord will mete out His justice in His time and according to His sovereign purpose. As such, while the Christian may/should pray imprecatory prayers, they also need to trust the sovereignty of God. When all of this is considered, we come to understand now that He alone will execute His justice on the wicked in His own timing for His own glory.
Dave Jenkins is happily married to Sarah Jenkins. He is a writer, editor, and speaker living in beautiful Southern Oregon. Dave is a lover of Christ, His people, the Church, and sound theology. He serves as the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, the Host and Producer of Equipping You in Grace Podcast, and is a contributor to and producer of Contending for the Word. He is the author of The Word Explored: The Problem of Biblical Illiteracy and What To Do About It (House to House, 2021) and The Word Matters: Defending Biblical Authority Against the Spirit of the Age (G3 Press, 2022). You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, or read his newsletter. Dave loves to spend time with his wife, going to movies, eating at a nice restaurant, or going out for a round of golf with a good friend. He is also a voracious reader, in particular of Reformed theology, and the Puritans. You will often find him when he’s not busy with ministry reading a pile of the latest books from a wide variety of Christian publishers. Dave received his M.A.R. and M.Div through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.