We all have people in life that we don't like, don't get along with or simply wish would go away. They are people with whom we may disagree or find that they get under our skin. And we are all probably guilty of sending little wish prayers up that sound something like: "Lord, I would be most grateful if you would ring so and so's neck." Or we might wish that the Lord "would move them on" to another church, job, town, etc. And while we may feel and even pray this way sometimes, we also know that Jesus calls on us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt 5:44).
But what do we do with all of those imprecatory psalms? You know, the ones where the psalmist asks God to come down and stomp out the psalmist's enemies by making their lives hell on earth. I am thinking here of Psalm 109.
6 Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy; let an accuser stand at his right hand. 7 When he is tried, let him be found guilty, and may his prayers condemn him. 8 May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership. 9 May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. 10 May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes. 11 May a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor. 12 May no one extend kindness to him or take pity on his fatherless children. 13 May his descendants be cut off, their names blotted out from the next generation. 14 May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD; may the sin of his mother never be blotted out. 15 May their sins always remain before the LORD, that he may blot out their name from the earth.
Pretty harsh stuff from the Bible. You wonder if Jesus had ever read this Psalm when he was giving the Sermon on the Mount. But of course he did. Jesus acknowledges in Matt 5:43-46 that the prevailing wisdom of the day was to love your neighbor but hate your enemy. Jesus calls us instead to love our enemies. So while Psalm 109 may provide us some insights into the way the ancients felt and even expressed themselves to God, it is not necessarily a prayer we should pray. Psalm 109 can help us realize that not everyone in the Bible had feelings of love for everyone, but asking God to kill the children of your enemy does not reflect the cruciform way that we should be viewing all of life.
Which leads me to a recent news article. According to USA Today, there are people who are "praying" Psalm 109 against their enemies. A former Navy chaplain was sued by an atheist organization that discovered that the former chaplain was saying the prayer hoping that God would bring harm to the atheist and his organization. The judge in the case, however, ruled that it is OK to recite an imprecatory Psalm, as long as no one actually gets hurt.
I can't comment on the judge's ruling, but I do wonder about people who are asking God to curse their enemies rather than bless them or, if this chaplain really believes what he preaches, that God would change this man's heart. The article doesn't say, but I wonder how the chaplain reconciles this with the words of Jesus?
Another example of this type of behavior was also exhibited by the Speaker of the House of Representatives in Kansas. Apparently he was emailing Psalm 109 to his colleagues and commenting that "At last—I can honestly voice a biblical prayer for our president!" Whether or not one agrees with the president's politics, I don't think this exhibits the kind of charity that we are supposed to show to others. Does he really wish that Mrs. Obama would be widowed and her daughters fatherless? Again, is this what it means to exhibit love to others, even those we consider to be our enemies?
I admit, imprecatory psalms are a tricky thing for us. They are psalms that call down curses upon an enemy, full stop. But that does not mean that we have to or should use them that way. There is a lot of stuff in the Bible that we don't or shouldn't apply (anyone for stoning rebellious children?). These psalms remind us that the presence of evil in the world is very real and that it causes untold suffering on many. And they remind us that God is not pleased with such wickedness. But the words of Jesus are the other side of the coin for Christians. We recognize the evil that is in the world and may even experience it. But we also know that we are called to do something even harder than asking God for revenge. We are to love our enemies and pray for them. Somehow I am not convinced that is what these other gentlemen are doing.