Preparing for Worship: Praying Our Anger

Preparing for Worship: Praying Our Anger

John Haralson   •   July 28, 2017


Christ separating the sheep and goats, 6th century mosaic 
Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy.
 

You, Lord God of hosts, are God of Israel. 

Rouse yourself to punish all the nations;      
     spare none of those who treacherously plot evil.  
Psalm 59:5


Dear Friends,

Here in Psalm 59, King David is demanding that God “wake up”. David believes God is acting like he is sleeping, like someone either oblivious to or refusing to respond to the injustice David is suffering. David’s desire is for God to act in judgment against the unjust and wicked people that were seeking his life. This is a highly personal and emotional plea for God to carry out his justice on earth.

Do you pray like that? 

And, perhaps more importantly, should you pray like that?

Last week, we considered Psalm 58, which is also a prayer asking God to come and act in judgment. These psalms are called “imprecatory psalms”, because they call down curses (imprecations) upon those who oppose God in the world. 

Many thoughtful Christians have concluded over the years that prayers like this shouldn’t be prayed by people who are followers of Jesus. However, as I pointed out last week, a more nuanced reading of the New Testament indicates that psalms like this do have a place in the Christian life. If you weren’t at church last Sunday, listening to this sermon from Psalm 58 will be helpful.

Here is the reality of the lives we actually live: the world is full of wickedness, and the innocent are subjected to violence and death at the hands of evil people on a daily basis. And, we ourselves, from time to time, experience suffering at the hands of others when we have done nothing to deserve that suffering.

How are we supposed to respond to such things? 

I think we are supposed to get angry. It is true that anger can, and often does, become a sin. Yet, not all anger is sinful. There is such a thing as righteous anger, which is passionately opposed to sin and death. You see, anger is the flip side of love. If you love something or someone, you will become angry at anyone or anything that tries to damage the object of your love. A lack of any type of anger actually shows that we have grown cold and numb. Anger isn’t the opposite of love; indifference is.

Psalms like this actually give us freedom to be angry. Yet, and this is very important, these psalms encourage us to pray our anger directly to the Lord. We are to place our desire for things to be right into God’s hands. Our anger, as the book of James tells us, does not accomplish the righteousness of God. Our anger is ultimately ineffective at truly restoring our world. 

But, these psalms teach us that God’s anger is actually pure and cleansing. His righteous justice, which is always perfectly tempered with his mercy, is needed to heal our world. As C.S. Lewis analogized in The Chronicles of Narnia, God isn’t tame, but he is good.

This week: Psalm 59, Praying Our Anger

Liturgy is here.

I hope to worship with you.

John