The imprecatory psalms give us permission to push boldly against evil.
I saw an image last week that I cannot shake: a Ukrainian father gripping the face of his young son’s lifeless body, which is entirely covered in a blood-stained sheet except for a halo of blond hair. This grief-stricken father presses his face against his son’s hair, clinging to him, desperate and broken. I close my eyes to pray and I see this image.
When I think of it, I am heartbroken. But I also feel angry. I brush up against something like a maternal sense of rage. An innocent child was violently killed because Russia’s leader decided that he wanted a neighboring sovereign country as his own.
The violence in Ukraine makes me, like many of us, feel powerless. I watch helplessly as tanks roll into cities, as civilian targets are shelled, as the lives of whole families are viciously snuffed out. What do I do with this anger and heartbreak?
As I discussed recently with David French and Curtis Chang, I find myself turning again and again to the imprecatory psalms. Each morning I’m praying Psalm 7:14–16 with Vladimir Putin in mind: “Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies. He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made. His mischief returns upon his own head, and on his own skull his violence descends” (ESV).
An imprecation is a curse. The imprecatory psalms are those that call down destruction, calamity, and God’s judgment on enemies. Honestly, I don’t usually know what to do with them. I pray them simply as a rote practice. But I gravitate toward more even-keeled promises of God’s presence and mercy. I am often uncomfortable with the violence and self-assured righteousness found in these …