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Why would you pray for bad things to happen to someone?

Have you every prayed that God would do something terrible to someone? I haven’t. Not ever. I didn’t think you were supposed to do that. But a few months ago, I was reading Psalm 109 and the author is asking God to do unthinkable things to folks who have lied, accused and attacked him:

  • Kill him, so his wife is a widow and his his kids to wander around begging for food!
  • Curse his ancestors and don’t let there be any future generations!
  • Let the banks and even strangers help themselves to everything he owns!
  • Make sure no one remembers that he even existed!

It’s one thing to pray and ask God to protect you from your enemies or make them go away. It’s another to petition Him to not only end his life, but make his family miserable, too!

Other prayer requests in the psalms call for horrible things to happen to bad people:

  • “Break the arm of the evildoer” (Psalm 10:15)
  • “Break the teeth in their mouth!” (Psalm 58:6)
  • “Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime” (Psalm 58:8)
  • “Terrify them with your hurricane!” (Psalm 83:15)
  • “Let burning coals fall upon them! Let them be cast into fire.” (Psalm 140:10)

I don’t remember ever learning about this in classes on prayer. Nor do I teach anyone to do that. But these imprecations pour from the hearts of those who brought their petitions or sang songs to the Lord. That is why they are referred to as “imprecatory psalms,” which call for misfortune to happen to an enemy.

I don’t think these psalms show up very often in the propers of the day. Yet they are still very much a part of the inspired Word of God. They are also songs, lyrics that express the emotions and yearnings of God’s people. The authors are laying open their hearts in difficult times, turning to the one who declares, “Vengeance is mine” (Deuteronomy 32:35).

These kinds of psalms reveal our very human, very sinful nature. Sometimes we don’t feel like loving our neighbor, much less our enemy. We cry out for justice. We may not cry out to God, but we expect it from the governing authorities. So much is wrong in this world and we want a fix.

The “fix” isn’t always punishment, though. Sometimes the fix is mercy. Or forgiveness. Or kindness. Or sacrifice. Or redemption. When Jesus came, he brought with him some other options that aren’t as violent. He will take care of our enemies one day. Maybe not today, but one day. Just remember that the real enemy isn’t flesh and blood. The real enemy is spiritual. And He’s already won that victory.

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