How should Christians respond to the imprecatory psalms?
GODFREY: It seems to me there’s a lot of confusion on this in part because Jesus has told us to love our enemies, to pray for them. And what we’re being reminded there is we are not to call down imprecations on people for personal reasons out of individual spite.
We need to be careful about that. We need to be very conscious of trying—that part of what we’re called to be as the light of the world is people who love our enemies. Paul talks about how loving your enemies will further increase their punishment. So setting love of enemy radically over against judgment is not biblical.
I think it is not illegitimate to use the imprecations of the psalter to pray for judgment on God’s enemies. Every time we pray, “Come quickly Lord Jesus,” we’re praying an imprecation on God’s enemies. When Jesus comes again, there will be judgment for God’s enemies.
So we have to be careful with them, we have to be sensitive with them. But it is legitimate to pray for the return of Christ and therefore to pray for final judgment.
Now I think when you read the psalter carefully, what you find is—not in every psalm, but in every section of the Psalter—there is first a call to the ungodly to repent, and only then prayers for judgment on the ungodly. Our longing for Christ’s return and final judgment is always preceded by our longing for the elect to be gathered and for the wicked to be converted.
So it seems to me there’s no absolute tension there. In light of the great glory of the final judgment to come, I think we can sing the imprecatory psalms.
MOHLER: I agree with that emphatically and like the way Bob explained it. I have students ask about this because it’s very tempting to pray imprecatory prayers and to think imprecatory thoughts or, as I suggested, to send imprecatory greeting cards. We all know people to whom we would be tempted to send one.
But if we believe in the full authority, truthfulness, trustworthiness of Scripture, then God in His sovereignty not only inspired the psalmist to express this, but to express it for us. We need to read this. We need to read them in worship. We need to read them in our daily Bible study. We need to receive it. But when Jesus was asked by His disciples, “Lord, teach us to pray,” He didn’t teach His disciples to pray like that.
Bob said something else I want to come back to. When you pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” that includes everything uttered in the Psalms and anywhere else in Scripture. There is a judgment coming. And I just think we follow the example of how Christ told us to pray, and we know that everything we need to say is in those words.
VANDOODEWARD: There are times when we realize as believers, as we’re pilgrims in this world, that our hearts just cry out for that.
We were driving down the freeway through Georgia into Florida, and just the billboards along the way, and four young children in the car. And your heart just cries out, “Lord Jesus, come quickly! How defacing, how distorting this is to Your good creation. How this destroys all that is good and holy.”
And so there’s a longing there: “Your kingdom come.” At the same time we pray, as my family does, for example, for dictators, “Oh Lord, please convert this man; but if he’s not going to repent, please remove him.”
Lightly edited for readability, this is a transcript of W. Robert Godfrey’s, Albert Mohler’s, and William VanDoodewaard’s answers given at our 2016 National Conference. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, just visit Ask.Ligonier.org or message us on Facebook or Twitter.