“Be not silent, O God of my praise!” (ESV – Read the chapter)
Psalm 109 here falls into the category of imprecatory psalms. There aren’t very many of these, but they are without fail uncomfortable to read. At least, they are uncomfortable in a culture like ours where being a follower of Jesus is still a pretty safe thing to be, and where we are taught to be tolerant of other people. It is uncomfortable when read through the lens of Jesus’ call to love our enemies. And this one isn’t even the most egregious of the category. There are other imprecatory psalms that are even more violent in their language, in the kinds of things they ask God to do to the enemies of His people.
What are we to make of passages like this? Many will take them as evidence that we cannot believe that all the Scriptures are truly inspired by God. They will use these to argue that the Bible is a mostly human endeavor that includes several examples of what we should not do and how we should not think. (Folks committed to inerrancy believe this too, we just don’t necessarily agree on which passages are which.) They’ll argue that God may have gotten His message into the text, but it was often in spite of the authors rather than because of or through them.
Full disclosure: I don’t agree with that approach. I am firmly committed to the position of biblical inerrancy. I think every word is inspired and, as Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16, that every word is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.
Understanding that, how shall we understand something like this that rings so dissonantly with how we are programmed to think about the attitude we should have when facing tough circumstances? Here are some thoughts.
First, these prayers are fundamentally honest. This is someone pouring his heart out to God from out of the depths of a sustained misery caused by undeserved persecution. If we have that kind of stuff on our heart and mind, why would we hold it back from Him? Why not let it all out? If we are not willing to give all of ourselves to God no matter how messy that package might be, then our relationship with Him is not yet where it needs to be. God wants every part of us. Even the ugly stuff. What prayers like this in the psalms do is to give us license to be totally honest with God about whatever happens to be on our hearts no matter how unholy-seeming it may be.
Second, and this is just as important, never do we get any indication that God answered these prayers. Just because we pray something doesn’t mean God has to answer it. This becomes particularly true when we pray things that are not at all within the will of God. God is just. Always. He always does the right thing without fail. If we pray something like this and it falls outside the purview of what God knows is good and just, He’s not going to do it. He’ll answer it with a no. Better yet, He’ll answer it with a, “My child, I’m so sorry you are hurting. Let me comfort your wounded heart and sit with you in this hard time. You may not understand what it is that I’m doing in your world right now, but if you will trust me, I will see you through it.”
This points to the third thing we can say about imprecatory psalms. When we are willing to be this honest with God, going to Him with our toughest stuff and in our hardest situations, He is then able to work in our hearts to draw us more deeply into a relationship with Him. He is able to give us a bigger kingdom perspective on things. This will help us see that even though we have been unfairly hurt by whoever was the offender, we can respond with the same love He does because He’s still going to work His good plans to completion on our behalf no matter how bleak things look.
Passages like this can be hard, but with a bit of work we can see that far from pointing us away from God, they can point us directly into a deeper relationship with Him. The Scriptures always point us to life. Sometimes the lessons require that we lean in extra hard to the Spirit who speaks through the text, but isn’t the best stuff always the result of a little extra effort? Lean in and let the God who speaks to His people draw you–all of you–into the life that is truly life.