This blog is devoted to discussing the pursuit of eternal life.
Discussion and participation by readers is desired,
but contributions should correlate to the book,
The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology
of Perseverance & Assurance

Thomas R. Schreiner
& Ardel B. Caneday

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Propriety of Christians Invoking God's Wrath and Curses upon Evildoers

Finally, someone has written and published a book that does not attempt to mute or to mollify the Bible's imprecations--imprecatory psalms, imprecatory prayers, and imprecatory interjections. No contemporary author has addressed the issues with such clarity, candor, and correctness as John N. Day has done in his Crying for Justice: What the Psalms Teach Us About Mercy and Vengeance in an Age of Terrorism.

John Day writes,
A few modern treatments can be found of the imprecatory psalms and the problem of their relation to biblical theology and to what is in some circles called the "New Testament believer." These treatments, however, have been, in large measure, cursory, and the proposed solutions have been largely inadequate theologically. The imprecatory psalms have been unsatisfactorily explained in three ways: (1) as evil emotions--whether to be suppressed or expressed [C. S. Lewis & Walter Brueggemann]; (2) and old covenant morality inconsistent with the new covenant church [Carl Laney & Meredith Kline]; (3) words appropriately uttered solely from the lips of Christ and consequently uttered only by his followers through him and his cross [James E. Adams & Dietrich Bonhoeffer].

In contrast, I propose to recover the proper use of the imprecatory psalms for the New Testament church. First, these psalms root their theology of cursing in Torah. Authorization to cry out for God's vengeance is strongly set out in the Song of Moses (Deut. 32), the lex talionis (e.g., Deut. 19), and the covenant of God with his people (e.g., Gen. 12). Second, this theology is carried through essentially unchanged to the end of the New Testament canon (e.g., Rev. 6:10; 18:20), buttressing its applicability to believers today. Some Old Testament and New Testament passages appear to contradict the cry of the imprecatory psalms, but texts through Scripture also confirm the right of God's people to plead for justice (pp. 10-11).
Why do so few Christians embrace biblical imprecations? Why do so few pray imprecatory prayers? Why do so few call upon the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ to frustrate, to curse, and to destroy evildoers? Why do so many scowl when they hear us who preach imprecatory psalms as properly and rightly belonging to us as Christians? Why do so many scold us who do pray imprecations upon evildoers, including evildoers who claim to be Christians? Why do so many rebuff and rebuke us who instruct and admonish believers to follow in the apostle Paul's steps who interjects, "If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come!" (1 Corinthians 16:22), and to join those souls in heaven when they pray, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" (Revelation 6:10).

I have long made the case that besides being poorly taught concerning the Scriptures by inadequate preachers and teachers, the principle reason Christians reject any proper use of imprecation for themselves or by other believers is that those who object are immature and falling short in godliness. Day agrees and cites J. W. Beardslee, "The Imprecatory Element in the Psalms," Presbyteriand and Reformed Review 8 (1897): 504 who agrees with both of us. Day summarizes Beardslee, by saying, "as the soul comes to stand where God stands, as it becomes progressively conformed to the image of its Creator (Col. 3:10), it will feel as God feels and speak as God speaks. Thus, not only will there be a deep abhorrence of sin, but there will also be a righteous indignation against the willful and persistent wrongdoer" (p. 125).

Why are we so loath to invoke imprecations against evildoers, whoever and wherever they may be? Do not be deceived, my friends. It is not because we have become godly and devout. It is because we are not godly enough. It is because we are not yet enough like God. It is because we do not yet sufficiently have God's abhorrence of wickedness and of those who do wickedness. If we do imitate God and invoke imprecations against evildoers, it is not because we are vile and wicked and full of evil wrath and vitriol and mean-spiritedness. It is because God's grace has worked mightily to transform us into his likeness. Thus, we invoke God's wrath and curses upon evildoers because of his grace and mercy shed abroad in our hearts and not contrary to his grace and mercy.

It is the godly alone who can say with the psalmist,
But I pray to you, O LORD, in the time of your favor;
in your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation.
Rescue me from the mire, do not let me sink;
deliver me from those who hate me, from the deep waters.

Charge them with crime upon crime;
do not let them share in your salvation.
May they be blotted out of the book of life
and not be listed with the righteous (Psalm 69:13-14, 27-28).


Jeremiah said...

Convicting word, Dr. Caneday. This book sounds like quite a stimulus for the mind and heart.

I'm glad that you have decided to continue blogging (It seemed as though you had some serious hesitations about a month ago). Though I know you're busy, it really is a blessing for me, and undoubtedly many other readers as well.

Blessings to you. Hope your classes are going well.


Matt said...

Anecdote: at my brother's wedding our dad prayed a prayer of damnation on anyone who would attempt to destroy their marriage. People's discomfort was palpable. This sounds like an interesting book.

Matt Reimer

A. B. Caneday said...

Thanks, Jerry. I still have hesitations whether to continue blogging.

Matt, I have also heard such a prayer at a wedding.