A Good Reason to be Angry?
Does watching the news make you angry? It seems that all over the world, there are deep political, social, and religious divisions that show themselves in lies, accusations, and partisan speech. What do we do with that? Or what do with do with the relative or neighbor that is out to ruin our reputation or cause us harm?
Maybe this is where our study of the psalms can help. There are some psalms that make us cringe. Right? They sound angry, vindictive, and violent. Bible scholars refer to these as imprecatory psalms and they are all found as a subset of the larger category of lament psalms which we looked at in an earlier post.
Lament psalms, J.P. Moreland says, are “complaints and expressions of sadness and disappointment with God.” So, when someone is lamenting or complaining, they might also be experiencing anger or desperation. It’s that mood that causes us to want to fight back. Is that always wrong? Let’s look at a few examples.
May those who seek my life be disgraced and put to shame; may those who plot my ruin be turned back in dismay.
May they be like chaff before the wind, with the angel of the Lord driving them away; may their path be dark and slippery, with the angel of the Lord pursuing them.
David, an innocent man, is being chased down by Saul and his armies and he knows he will be captured unless God fights for him. So, he asks God for what he really wants: drive my enemies away, disgrace them, defeat them. It’s strong, but we can probably understand why he would pray this way. Here’s the good part: By giving this over to God, David was able to resist the temptation to take matters into his own hands and kill Saul when he later has what seemed like a golden opportunity. He backed away from the murder, resting, it seems, in God’s ability to take action when the time was right.
Break the teeth in their mouths, O God; Lord, tear out the fangs of those lions!
This is David, too. Break their teeth? Really? Doesn't sound too spiritual. But, when you look at the context, you see he is crying out against wicked rulers and unjust judges. He is comparing them to lions who are seeking to devour and destroy by their wicked means. By asking God to break their teeth, he is asking that their power, and thus their threat, be taken away. He is pleading with God to act on behalf of those who are suffering under these evil rulers. The result? Look at how the psalm concludes:
Then people will say, “Surely the righteous still are rewarded; surely there is a God who judges the earth.” (verse 11)
David is asking for justice so God, and only God, will be acknowledged as the true judge of mankind.
In your might uproot them and bring them down.
For the sins of their mouths, for the words of their lips, let them be caught in their pride.
For the curses and lies they utter, consume them in your wrath, consume them till they are no more.
Then it will be known to the ends of the earth that God rules over Jacob.
This time, David’s angry because Saul has sent men to spy on his house so they can capture him. He’s cut off from his own home and lives in constant danger because of Saul’s paranoia. But he seems to know what to do with his frustration. He decides to stand down and ask God to take appropriate, though harsh, action against his enemies. He states that by not seeking revenge himself and, instead, asking God to act, God will get the glory for the victory which David is sure will come.
Thinking about it:
Maybe the first thing we learn from the imprecatory psalms is that there is a place for our anger. In these examples, David was angry about injustices he saw and/or experienced: He had lethal enemies he did not deserve, and there were wicked rulers and judges mistreating the commoners. He was a warrior and must have had the temptation to take matters into his own hands. But he didn’t. He took his anger to God and asked God to do what David would have liked to do himself. Then he walked away, leaving it in God’s hands.
Are you angry about something today? Now you know what to do.
“Do not say, ‘I will repay evil’; wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you.” - Proverbs 20:22