Matthew Cantirino below links John R. P. Russell’s post on “Cursing Psalms: An Allegorical Reinterpretation.” In struggling to understand the imprecations in the Psalms, I make something of a similar move to the one Russell describes. The one difference, though, is that I apply the imprecations to myself. I explained in an old post on another blog:
I don’t want to “get around” imprecatory prayers for sentimental reasons. I also reject C.S. Lewis’s idea that they exist in the Psalms as examples of the way we shouldn’t pray. I also don’t want to mitigate the problematic nature of these prayers merely by “spiritualizing” away the problem.
But it did strike me a while ago that that I pray imprecatory prayers against myself all the time, and I welcome others to pray imprecatory prayers against me as well. In his small catechism, Luther talks about us drowning the old Adam in us daily, that a new man should daily emerge. What is this but a prayer of imprecation against the old Adam in us?
God kills the old man (Col 3.3, Ro 6.2,6, Gal 2.20, 6.14,). This is the only “me” that exists prior to baptism, and this is a real death, it is a death more real than physical death. After all, in physical death the spirit merely separates from the body; the death of the old man is, ultimately, the extinction of this self.
I pray imprecatory prayers against myself, and welcome others to do so as well: I pray that every remnant of the old man would be cut off from this world. I pray that every remembrance of the old man would be forgotten, I pray that every cent of the old Adam’s wealth be taken away and given to the new man for his purposes, I want the entire legacy of the old man to die with him. Indeed, I bless the name of the one who dashes my Old Adam’s little ones against the rock – for the rock is Christ (Mt 21.44) and, like me, God kills them in baptism so that the new man may emerge.
But if I want all of that for myself, then how can I deny it to my enemy, whom I am commanded to love as myself? So I pray that God would kill them as well through baptism, that the new man may emerge.
More so, isn’t the prayer, “God forgive them, they know not what they do,” in principle, a prayer of imprecation? After all, God’s forgiveness destroys the sinful man.
To be sure, God may destroy without converting. But that’s his business. We are to take as our example God’s actions in sending rain on both the good and the evil (Mt 5.45). So I pray that God drown the old man daily. I pray it for myself, for his church, and for the whole world. The prayer for grace and forgiveness is a prayer of imprecation against the old, evil man in me.
More generally, God and his people are engaged in a holy war against Satan and his people, and the tool of this holy war is the forgiveness that God offers us in the Word and sacraments, and in his sacrifice, and his people’s sacrifice, on behalf of the world. Ironically, of course, and this is a delicious irony, God kills us by giving us life.