This past weekend I spoke on divine violence at Mountainside Baptist Church in Fernie, BC. My first talk was a sermon on the imprecatory (or cursing) psalms. These psalms express hatred of one’s personal enemies (which the psalmist assumes are God’s enemies as well), they describe God as hating the evil doers as well and as relishing their impending destruction (the metaphor of sardonic laughter comes up more than once). These psalms also include imprecations for the family of the evil doer all the way down to that preeminent image of viciousness, the bashing of babies skulls (Psalm 137:9).
There’s no two ways about it: the imprecatory psalmist is not the kind of person most of us would want for a neighbor. So it begs the question: what are we to do with these psalms? And this leads into a broader question: what are we to do with the other portions of scripture that seem to conflict with our most basic moral sensibilities?
In my experience most Christians have one way to deal with these texts: they ignore them. But this response is little more than a recipe for a festering cognitive dissonance. If you believe the Bible is an authoritative divine word for the human community, it behooves you to wrestle with these texts in a quest to understand them and their place within the canon.
With that in mind I offer my sermon on the imprecatory psalms: