Preparing for Worship: Praying for Justice

Preparing for Worship: Praying for Justice

John Haralson   •   July 21, 2017

Photo from Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, Sistine Chapel. 

The righteous will be glad when they are avenged,      
     when they dip their feet in the blood of the wicked. 
Then people will say,      
     “Surely the righteous still are rewarded;      
     surely there is a God who judges the earth.”

Psalm 58:10-11

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
Colossians 3:16

Dear Friends,

Each summer at Grace, we take a break from our normal sermon series and return to the Psalms. We do this because the psalms are God’s gift to us, as they teach us how to talk to God. In 2010, we started with Psalm 1 and have been taking them in order ever since.  

One of the great things about taking the Psalms in order is that you can’t skip the ones that are really hard to understand. This week and next week, we will be considering two Psalms that are called “imprecatory psalms”. These psalms are prayers calling for and even celebrating God’s judgment on his enemies and, by extension, the enemies of his people. 

In this week’s psalm, for example, here are just two of the curses called down by the Psalmist on the unjust:

     May they be like a slug that melts away as it moves along, 
          like a stillborn child that never sees the sun.

What are we to do with such prayers?

The imprecatory psalms are tough to deal with. I’ve known people who have walked away (or kept away) from the Christian faith because of them. Also, many thoughtful Christians―perhaps most famously C.S. Lewis―believed that the imprecatory psalms have no place in the life of a follower of Jesus. The Lord’s commands for us to love our enemies and pray for those who  persecute us make a strong case for seeing the imprecatory psalms as prayers that should no longer be part of how we talk to God.

Yet, the New Testament has a more nuanced picture than this. Jesus, who commands us to love our enemies, also pronounced curses upon the Pharisees, whom he judged to be enemies of God (Matthew 23). In addition, the Apostle Paul, while urging us to refrain from taking vengeance into our own hands, still commands us to “leave room for God’s wrath” (Romans 12:19). And, perhaps most pointedly, in Revelation 6, the souls of those martyred for their faith cry out to the Lord for him to avenge them. 

So, it will take some hard work, but I think there is a nuanced way to pray the imprecatory psalms on this side of Jesus. This week and next week, we will try to make some sense of these challenging prayers and see how we can receive them as a gift from God.

This week: Praying for Justice, Psalm 58 & Colossians 2:9-23.

Liturgy is here.

I hope to worship with you.

John

PS: Here is a helpful article that will prepare you for Sunday.