Is it wrong to ask God to condemn those who have hurt you?
David was secretly a vengeful man. To be fair, his life was in danger. King Saul had been jealous of his success and popularity ever since he defeated Goliath. So jealous, in fact, that he figured the only way to be satisfied was to get rid of the source of his jealousy. For the king, that meant killing David.
After several close calls, David fled to Carmel, along with his band of followers and their families. While he was at Carmel, he helped take care of a local landowner’s flocks during the shearing season. When David asked for help later on, the man, whose name was Nabal, spitefully turned him away.
For David, that was the last straw. He ordered his men to get ready for battle, and they prepared to march on Nabal’s house. If it hadn’t been for the timely arrival of Nabal’s wife, Abigail, David probably would’ve wiped out his household (1 Sam. 25).
I suppose I can understand his actions a little. Between King Saul, the Philistines, and even fellow Israelites who betrayed him, David was surrounded on all sides by enemies. His response to Nabal could easily have been just a gut reaction. David was used to enemies attacking him, so he did what he’d always done. He prepared to defend himself.
But when people take justice into their own hands, it is often much more cruel than when it is carried out by legitimate authority. So David would ask God to deliver justice for him. Many of the Psalms ask God to pour out His wrath on His children’s enemies. Perhaps one of the more disturbing ones is Psalm 109.
“Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy;
let an accuser stand at his right hand.
When he is tried, let him be found guilty,
and may his prayers condemn him.
May his days be few;
may another take his place of leadership.
May his children be fatherless
and his wife a widow.
May his children be wandering beggars;
may they be driven from their ruined homes.
May a creditor seize all he has;
may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.
May no one extend kindness to him
or take pity on his fatherless children.
May his descendants be cut off,
their names blotted out from the next generation.
May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord;
may the sin of his mother never be blotted out.
May their sins always remain before the Lord,
that he may blot out their name from the earth” (Psalm 109:6-15).
Harsh, isn’t it? Try reading it in the King James Version. Verse 6 essentially reads, “Condemn my enemies, and may all the devils of hell welcome them with open arms.” But the rest of the passage is just as unnerving. The Psalmist asks God not only to condemn his enemy, but also to destroy his enemy’s children and even his land, without the slightest chance of forgiveness and salvation. And I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to imagine David had Saul in mind when he wrote these words.
But the question still remains: Was he right to ask such a thing of God? Was it wrong to ask him to condemn those who hurt him? And what about us? After all, we are called to love our enemies and to bless those who persecute us, right (Rom. 12:14)? What about the person who has to deal with a toxic workplace? What about the high school student who is bullied by a teacher? What about the family that has to deal with an abusive spouse or parent? These people all face enemies of their own, and they’re not always nonbelievers. Sometimes the hardest opposition they’ll face comes from fellow Christians. What do we say to those people, especially when they truly feel the same way David did in Psalm 109?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that sometimes forgiveness means not carrying out my definition of justice. As R.C. Sproul observed in a sermon on Romans 12, human justice tends to be more than what the offense deserves. We don’t just “get even,” we “go one better.” God’s justice, however, is perfectly fair. In the end, he will repay the wicked according to what they deserve—no more, no less. That is why we are called to not take revenge ourselves and to instead “leave room for God’s wrath” (Rom. 12:19).
Still, it’s hard to think of the times that people have hurt me and my family and might not seem to be facing any consequences. It’s even harder when I realize that it is not my place to deliver those consequences. Deep down, my heart wants closure, and my depraved nature wants satisfaction. How often the two are almost the same thing!
So I pray. I pray that God gives them exactly what they deserve, that they do receive consequences for what they did, that they fail to find success in what they do, and that the life they’ve built for themselves comes crashing down around them. I pray that God delivers justice on my behalf. After all, it’s his prerogative, not mine.
But I also pray for a forgiving heart. I have to be ready to give the same grace to those who seek my forgiveness as God gave me through Jesus Christ. I cannot truly say I have been forgiven if I am not willing to extend it to others when they ask me for it. If I don’t forgive those who ask for it, then I am no different than the servant in Jesus’ parable who refused to cancel his fellow servant’s debt after he himself had had his debt canceled (Matt. 18:21-35). If someone who has wronged me asks me for help, I must be willing to set my grudges aside and offer my aid. That’s the kind of attitude Paul is talking about when he says, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.”
But am I right to ask for divine vengeance upon those who’ve wronged me, even if those people deserve it? Honestly, I don’t know. If the Psalms have anything to say about it, it’s that it is OK to feel this way. I guess it’s part of being human in a fallen world. And if God knows my every thought, he knows what I’m feeling. Not only that, but he wants me to bring those feelings to him in prayer. He’s big enough to handle it. He promises that his people will receive justice eventually, and he will keep his promises. He will punish those who oppose him and his people, and he will do it swiftly. I just have to be patient and wait on his timing.
In the meantime, I must also be willing to extend forgiveness to those who ask for it, even if I don’t think they deserve it. That’s what God did for us through Christ, so I must also be ready to share that grace with others. It’s not easy, but it’s something God calls us to do.
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Don’t miss this week’s must-read articles:
- Tell A Better Story
- ‘Rebirth’ for a Wisconsin Church
- Book review: A Church Called Tov, by Laura Barringer and Scot McKnight