Freed to live through the death of another.

A Thought on Imprecatory Psalms

Imprecatory Psalms are those Psalms we have in the Bible where the psalmist calls out for God’s judgement and curses on those who have done evil. The perpetual problem for Christians is, ‘How do we take these Psalms? Do we still use them? Can we really say these things about people? Are we supposed to desire God’s judgement on others?’

These are tough questions, indeed, and this is a topic that deserves far more thought than I’ll give it today. But in my own meditation this afternoon I’ve realized this:

Because God is righteous judge, who is altogether just, it is never wrong for us to long for justice.

Our problem, however, is that we don’t know what justice is.

Sure, we think we do. But the reality is that what we think of when we think of justice generally has more to do with what assuages our sense of ‘wrongness’ than it does with what establishes God’s ‘rightness’.

The downfall of simply thinking in imprecatory categories for those who work evil is that we’re all workers of evil. All of us have sinned and deserve God’s judgement. Any good in us is only because of the image of God impressed on us and the grace of God worked in our hearts. Any sense of justice we have is only present because God has given it to us. How then can we boast about our righteousness and another’s evil and long for them to be judged when we too deserve to be judged?

Ultimately, we must all beg mercy from God–yes, for the evil we’ve committed, but also because we don’t know what his justice established would really look like. Who could have guessed that he would use a cross to show his righteousness (Rom 3.21-26)? Who could have guessed that the innocent being slaughtered for the guilty would accomplish perfect justice (2 Cor 5.21; 1 John 2.2)?

Can I pray that someone would be damned?

It seems that the better question would be, ‘How can I pray for God’s justice to be shown?’ If David prayed for God’s justice, if Jesus came to accomplish God’s justice, and if God was so determined to show his justice that he crushed his Son, then I should be concerned with seeing it accomplished too. But I need to pray with humility. The cross, like nothing before, shows me that I understand very little of the vastness and comprehensiveness and complexity of God’s judgement–and his passion for showing mercy even in the midst of judgement. That’s a vastness, comprehensiveness, and complexity that I don’t get.

So we must be cautious. Pray for justice, yes, we must! But presuming to know what that justice looks like is a far bigger step. For now I’ll pray that God would cause his name to be revered as holy (Matt 6.9) however he sees fit, whether in the damnation or salvation of a particular sinner, I cannot know.


  1. Nick Coller

    Probably one of your best posts, Jules. Brilliant food for thought. Thanks for the challenge!

  2. Nick Coller

    I had a thought on this as I was reading through Lamentations the other day. The reason that the Israelites are praying for justice on their enemies, is because God has inflicted His punishment on them (and they realise this – see Lam. 1:18 – “The Lord is in the right, for I have rebelled against his word”)

    So because they realised that they had sinned against God, and they were punished for it, they also realised that their enemies were sinning against God and as a result they should be punished too.

    We, on the other hand, have ALSO sinned against God, but instead of being shown justice (as the Israelites were by being booted out of their nation), we’ve been shown grace and mercy through the sacrifice of Christ. So because that’s what has been shown to us, surely that’s what we should be praying for our enemies too? If while we were enemies of God, He saved us, then surely He can do that for our enemies also.

    That realisation certainly put into perspective the difference between praying for justice and praying for mercy – in the psalms they prayed for justice, as they received – now we should surely be praying for mercy, as we’ve received.

    Whether this leaves a place for us to still pray for justice I don’t know, but certainly our prayer should FIRSTLY be that God DOESN’T inflict justice – that He extends His mercy!

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