In my recent journey through the Psalms, I’ve been struck by the frequency of both deep laments as well as harsh and angry expressions made by some of the writers. I’ve also been contemplating many of the gross injustices of our world today and find myself frequently sad, angry, and disgusted by some of the morally repugnant attitudes and actions of our age, but also the ones I see deep within in my own heart and soul.
Psalmic laments (expressions of deep sadness) are fairly well-known, as when David in Psalm 6:6 cries, “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.”
Something perhaps less well-known but just as important are the Psalmic imprecations. The word, “imprecate,” means to invoke evil upon or to curse, and there are at least 18 imprecatory Psalms. They include major portions where the author calls upon God to do something terrible to the wicked and ungodly.
Consider these examples:
Psalm 10:12, 15: “Arise, O Lord; O God . . . . Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer.”
Psalm 52:5, “But God will break you [the wicked] down forever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living.”
Psalm 58:6-8: “O God, break the teeth in their mouths . . . O Lord! Let them vanish like water that runs away . . . . Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime, like the stillborn child who never sees the sun.”
Psalm 83:16-17: “Fill their faces with shame . . . O Lord. Let them be put to shame and dismayed forever; let them perish in disgrace.”
Psalm 139:19: “O that You would slay the wicked, O God.”
Growing up in evangelicalism, there seemed (at least to me) to be a predisposition in our worship and scripture readings toward celebration and praise. And that’s all fine and good. God is certainly worthy of celebratory praise, but I’ve increasingly come to realize that while celebration, praise, and thanksgiving are centrally important to a healthy Christian life, some other important aspects were neglected or even ignored.
I somehow got the impression that being sad, upset, and outraged by morally reprehensible views, attitudes, and acts was more of an “Old Testament state of mind.” Jesus had instituted a happier, kinder, and gentler era. We were told to “consider it all joy,” “turn the other cheek,” “overcome evil with good,” and “bless those who persecute us.” Of course, all of these responses have their place in Christian living, and vengeance is properly delegated to God alone since He has all the information necessary to make just judgments. Still, it remains appropriate and healthy for Christians to grieve and be angry at what sin is and does in our time, seeking to be part of a movement toward bringing about the justice of the kingdom of God.
I think a reluctance to respond with raw and honest emotion to the ravages of evil gives at least a partial explanation for some of the mass exodus (some estimates suggest nearly 80%) from church by the current generation of youth raised in evangelicalism. Many were raised in a culture of brokenness and pain. In church, however, they only experienced a culture of superficial happiness and celebration that did not seem willing or even able to explore the depths of anguish, anger, and injustice that have become a daily experience for many in our world today. Because they found no culture of genuine brokenness, distress, and compassion, they turned away to the world around them, a place where there was a willingness to openly admit and express imperfection, anger, and grief.
As the Psalms plainly show, grief and anger over injustice alongside a cry for justice is a very real and legitimate way to relate to God on a deeper level. Still, it shouldn’t stop there. The psalms show that these expressions are ultimately tempered and redirected by the humble recognition and acceptance that it is God who must act on behalf of the victimized and oppressed. He is the one who is continuously called upon to comfort the afflicted and right every wrong.
This does not mean we do nothing in the face of injustice and pain, but it does mean we look to God first and foremost as the One who hears our outraged cries and then enables and empowers us to labor faithfully for His kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Thus, as important as they are, raw expressions of emotion are not enough. Our angst, anger, and anguish must be offered up to the God who feels with us, the God who hears and cares, the God who is angry at sin yet weeps with those who weep. And in the deep empathy of this Holy and emotive God who became flesh and dwelt among and suffered with and for us, we find real hope, genuine healing, and the wisdom and strength to actively and intentionally make the world a better place.