The reports are sickening. Over the past several days we have heard one story after another recounting the attacks of Muslim militants upon Christians in various parts of the middle east. These attacks are precipitated upon the terrorists’ belief that the conflict between the Western world and the Muslim world is a religious conflict. They are correct. Leaders in the West continue to portray this as an ideological battle, or a battle between democratic freedom and third-world ignorance. Secular Western leaders refuse to realize that the horrors which spill out of these idolatrous lands are the endgame of their heathen theology, and that it has always been this way. Christians in the Middle East are paying for this error with their lives.
So what are Christians supposed to do when we read these heart-sickening reports of the precious lives of our brothers and sisters and their children being cut down in brutal ways by the murderous and bloodthirsty worshiper of Allah? Well, primarily we pray the Psalms. Especially the ugly ones.
Take Psalm 109 for example. This is one of the most relentlessly harsh Psalms in the entire Psalter, where David calls on Yahweh to destroy his enemies in the most horrible ways. He calls on Yahweh to judge his enemy, to cut off his life early, to leave his children fatherless and his wife a widow, to send debt collectors to repossess everything he has, and leave him without friend or ally until even his prayer is seen as sin. There are 30 anathemas pronounced by David upon his enemies in this one Psalm.
And we know that this is not a one-off Psalm that stands in contrast to the rest of the Psalter or even the rest of the Bible, this is not the only time that this kind of language is used in the Psalms. In other places, like Psalm 139 we read where David says things like “Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God! For they speak against you wickedly… do I not hate them O Yahweh who hate you? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with perfect hatred, I count them my enemies.”
And it isn’t only David who speaks this way – Moses who was called the most humble man on the face of the earth, prayed in Numbers 10 – “Rise up, O Yahweh, let your enemies be scattered and let those who hate You flee before You.” The prophet Jeremiah sounds a lot like David when he cries out to the Lord, “They have dug a pit for my life… therefore deliver up their children to the famine, and pour out their blood by the force of the sword; let their wives become widows and bereaved of their children, let their men be put to death, their young men be slain by the sword in battle… provide no atonement for their iniquity, nor blot out their sin from your sight, but let them be overthrown before You. Deal thus with them, in the time of your anger.”
Flash forward to the New Testament. In the book of Revelation the spirits of the Martyrs under the throne of God say “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until you judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth.”
Yet even in the light of this language throughout the Bible one might still question whether it is proper for Christians, we who have been commanded to speak blessing and not curses, who have been taught by Jesus himself to love our enemies – whether we ought to ever pray prayers like Psalm 109.
The short answer is “yes.” We are commanded to sing the Psalms. All of them. All the time. Even the ugly ones.
Remember that when we are praying things like this we are not taking revenge, we are not cursing our enemy, we are not abusing our enemy in any way. We are asking God to deal with them. We are asking God to curse them and judge them. We are putting them in God’s hands, which is where they need to be.
The most loving thing we could do for our enemies is to pray for them this way. Remember that the word is a two-edged sword that we all must be cut up by. All of us who have believed and trusted in the Lord Jesus have been struck by the sword in such a way that we have died to the old man and have been raised up in the likeness of Jesus. That is what we would love to happen to the entire Muslim world -for them to be struck down, die to themselves, and to be given new life in Jesus. But if they are not going to submit themselves to the Lord Jesus, then we pray for the other side of the sword. We pray that they would be struck down in such a way that they cannot hurt any more of our brothers and sisters around the world.
To refuse to pray this way is to demonstrate an ignorance of the justice and mercy of God, and at bottom, a real hatred for both the enemies of the cross and our brothers they are slaughtering.