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Cry for Justice

  • October 2020 Issue
Practical Theology

The psalms reveal that our spiritual life is an emotional one. The wide range of human emotions in Psalms 42–72 is so frank that it may even disturb us. The “imprecatory” psalms called upon God to judge the Psalmist’s enemies. The request of Psalm 69:24 is typical: “Pour out your wrath on them; let your fierce anger overtake them.” How can we reconcile such fiery sentiments with Jesus’ command to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44)?

First, it is helpful to realize that some of these psalms were prophecies of the Messiah’s experience. In Acts 1:20, Peter cited Psalm 69:25 and 109:8 as predictions of the fate of Judas. Second, imprecatory psalms expressed the feelings of human authors who had been the victims of injustice. Finally, they reflected God’s hatred for sin and anticipated His coming judgment. Jesus used similar language about sin at times (Matt. 11:21–24; 18:6–7; Mark 14:21).

We can be assured that God’s justice and mercy do not contradict one another. Both reflect His perfect nature. Through the cross, God is able to be “just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). Although the term “imprecatory” means to invoke evil or call down curses on someone, the imprecatory psalms were not intended to call for bad things to happen to people we do not like. Nor were they models of how we should respond to enemies. When Jesus taught His disciples to love their enemies and pray for their persecutors, He echoed the command of Leviticus 19:18: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”

Like James and John, who were rebuked by Jesus when they offered to call down fire from heaven upon a Samaritan village, our cry for justice does not necessarily mean our motives are pure (Luke 9:51–56). Only God is truly just. However, these psalms show that we do not need 
to be afraid to tell God how we truly feel, even when those feelings are not pretty.

For Further Study

To learn more, read War Psalms of the Prince of Peace by James Adams (P&R).

BY Dr. John Koessler

Dr. John Koessler, who retired as professor emeritus from Moody Bible Institute, formerly served in the division of applied theology and church ministry. John and his wife Jane enjoy living in a lakeside town in Michigan. A prolific writer, John’s books include Dangerous Virtues: How to Follow Jesus When Evil Masquerades as Good (Moody Publishers), The Radical Pursuit of Rest (InterVarsity), The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (Moody), and True Discipleship (Moody). John is a contributing editor and columnist for Today in the Word.

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