It’s Narcissist Friday!
Imprecatory prayers. When you read them in the Psalms they seem almost shocking. After all, aren’t believers supposed to be nice? To call down judgment and punishment on those who cause our suffering just doesn’t seem consistent with “love your enemy,” does it? Christians should just “turn the other cheek” and suffer in silence, right?
Recently a commenter asked about imprecatory prayer (thanks Kathy!) and whether it is appropriate for those who suffer at the hands of someone who is cruel. I am going to say that it is.
Interestingly, “to imprecate” simply means to pray. It seems to have a particular sense of verbalization, to say out loud or to write the things we feel. So the prayer is purposeful, intentional, and not just a thought. It gathered a negative meaning along the way and is used today in the sense of “to curse,” or to call down punishment. When we pray about the pain we suffer, we may want the cause of that pain—even if it is a person close to us—to be broken so that he/she will stop.
Three thoughts come to my mind. First, in the midst of pain and suffering imprecatory prayer is normal. That is not a moral judgment. You just want the abuse to stop and it is normal to lash out against the one who hurts you. Just as it is normal to want to hit back or want justice, it is normal to take those feelings to God. In fact, those feelings should be taken to God. That’s what David did throughout the Psalms. God was the source of David’s hope, the One who helped in times of trouble. So taking those feelings to the Lord and letting Him work in your heart is the right thing to do. If your words come out stronger and with more venom than you would normally speak, God understands.
Second, look at the things Jesus said about the Pharisees and religious leaders of His day. He wasn’t particularly nice, was He? No, He spoke truth about them and their ideas. Many of us were taught that, if we can’t say something nice, we shouldn’t say anything. That is neither taught nor modeled in the Bible. We are to speak the truth with love. When Jesus spoke the truth about the Pharisees or Paul spoke the truth about the Judaizers, the words were not very nice. How do you nicely say that someone is lying or is being abusive? There may not be a nice way to speak up against the false teaching of a leader. But it is often very important that the truth be told—nice or not.
So to go to God in prayer and speak truthfully about the abuse and the abuser might seem like you are being judgmental or condemning. To ask God to stop the abuse might mean to ask Him to stop the abuser. It might take something serious to stop the abuser. That’s up to God.
I know that people get uncomfortable when they read things like David asking the Lord to “break the arm of the wicked and evil man,” in Psalm 10:15. But understand that David doesn’t really care whether God breaks the person’s arm. The point is that God would stop the power of the evil man from doing damage, that God would take away his strength. And when you pray that God would take away the strength of the abuser, be aware that God might break his arm. It’s up to God to choose the method.
Third, remember that under grace we know that even the discipline of the Lord is for the person’s good. Yes, we are to love our enemies. Sometimes that might mean that we ask God to break them so they will call out to Him and open their hearts to Him. I would not ask God to send anyone to hell, but I would ask Him to get their attention so that they can see what they are doing. I might have suggestions as to how God could do that, but I would always yield the methods to Him. I might even be motivated by my pain, but under the pain is always love for those He loves.
Brokenness is a painful process. Some people have to lose almost everything before they will see that the Lord is the One they need. Is it cruel for me to ask Him to break them, to destroy their power, or to humble them? Not if my hope is for their salvation or for the protection of their victims.
Vengeance does belong to the Lord—and He chooses to love. Anyone who comes to Him will find forgiveness and acceptance, even your abuser. In Christ, we understand and accept this. We even rejoice in it. But there is nothing wrong with praying for the abuse to stop, even if it hurts the abuser in the process.
One more thing. When you read something from the Beatitudes, like Matthew 5:44 (“love your enemies”), remember the context. Jesus is speaking to the Jews under the law. He is saying, “The will of God for you is this. To live perfectly in His will, you should be doing this.” But Jesus is fully aware of His purpose. He knows that we cannot live perfectly in the will of God. He knows we need a Savior. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is calling the Jews away from the compromises of their lives and to Himself as their Savior. He is not leaving them with impossible commands. He’s telling them He understands.
God understands your feelings. He accepts your anger and frustration. When you cry out to Him in pain, He still hears you and loves you. If you say things that seem too strong, that accuse and condemn, you are not judged. You may have noticed that He doesn’t do the terrible things you might wish He would do. He will do what is right and in the right time.
Someday the abuser will stand before God and suffer the condemnation he has deserved and chosen . . . or he will stand forgiven in relationship with Jesus. Both justice and mercy are under grace. And you will be safe forever in the hands of the Lord who loves you.