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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Imprecatory Psalms - Sermon 3 - What does it all mean?

Imprecations and Application
Well we have certainly done a lot of thinking and feeling in these past two sermons. And there is certainly much to think about. And much to feel. But I would now like to move towards application. That is, what can we actually take away from these Imprecatory Psalms.
In the fist sermon we discussed the issue of justice, and how there is real evil in this world and that God takes this very personally. He is concerned with what goes on here on earth and particularly when the evil done on earth affects others. The Bible says in Psalm 89 that righteousness and justice are the foundations of God’s throne. We see that foundational to everything God does is to make sure that all the wrongs are righted and that no evil deed goes unnoticed or unpunished. There are things in this world that are really wrong and one of them is when people violate and abuse others. This is a real evil, and the Imprecatory Psalms are written with an understanding that when you or I are violated, then this is not just a violation of our rights as people, but that this violates the laws of the universe and greatly disturbs the God of our universe. For He cares about this world – and you and I!
In the second sermon we saw that the Imprecatory Psalms are a real life expression of the real life pain and hurt in this world. They are the cries of the human heart; the expressions of a troubled soul. The Bible is not a fairy-tale book written for plastic people who do not feel. It is written for all dimensions of human existence – particularly the deepest and darkest hours of our lives. When we experience the deepest levels of emotional pain, betrayal and suffering, we can open the texts of Scripture and listen to the cries of people who have suffered the deepest levels of emotional pain. In short, the Bible is real.
But now we are asking the question, “What do we do with all this?” How do we actually live our lives in light of the truths that we have just made? You may even be thinking to yourselves, “Man, what you are saying may be true, but didn’t Jesus call us to forgive others who have hurt us? And what about praying for our enemies? Didn’t Jesus call us to do that, too?” These are good questions. In fact, let’s discuss them now. How do the Imprecatory Psalms relate to the teachings of Jesus?
There is one passage that I think provide the main thrust of Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness and love for one’s enemies. That is Matthew 5 verses 3 through 48. A few verses out of this passage read as follows – please listen along as I read:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”

So, Jesus clearly teaches love and forgiveness. But what does it mean to truly forgive a person? And, perhaps the more important question, how do we forgive a person who has sinned against us? Abused us? Betrayed us? May I suggest today that real and genuine forgiveness is a process. [pause] A process. That is, it is not an instantaneous or magical moment when we are zapped with a lightning bolt and all-of-a-sudden we find ourselves with no negative emotions and only have a light and fluffy feeling towards the one who has hurt us. But this is what we have somehow been taught to believe in many circles. To be frank, it seems wrong.
Rather, I think that the road to real forgiveness and even to possible reconciliation – this road to the place of forgiveness often runs through some very dark and disturbing forests where we have to deal with a lot of hurt. This, in my opinion, is when forgiveness become genuine. Not when we try to ignore the pain, shame and hurt inside of us; but when we are able to face ourselves – the deepest and darkest feelings – and say to the one who has cause us pain, “I still forgive you.” [pause] You see when we do not acknowledge the way that we have been abused we risk living in a state of denial. When we deny the reality of our hurt, then there exists nothing to forgive. In other words, when we seek to simply forget, then we have not forgiven. We have simply turned a blind eye towards the reality of our lives.
And I would go one step further. If we do not express the emotions we feel towards the person or people who have hurt us, then we have not been honest with ourselves or with the reality of what has been done to us. But you see that is the beauty – if I can use such a word – of the Imprecatory Psalms. They do not hide from us the most ugly emotions that we feel. May I suggest to you that if the Bible itself doesn’t hide from the most traumatic of feelings, then neither should we.
But then the next step is crucial. You see some would stop with these emotions and allow them to control and consume them. The result? Hate and anger. Fear and paranoia. A life that becomes self-absorbed and mistrusting. Resentful and closed. That’s no way to live our lives. We weren’t made for that. It destroys us. We must move through the emotions and towards the place of forgiveness, healing, and ultimately restoration. When we see things in this way, then the teachings of Jesus do not even need to be reconciled with the Imprecatory Psalms. Because they work hand-in-hand.
How can we sum this all up? How can we bring it all together? Well, first, I wouldn’t want to over simply these issues that we are dealing with because we are dealing with a deeply personal and subjective issue. How the teachings of Scripture work out for you in your individual situation will be different than what they mean for me. But nevertheless I think that we can say that the Imprecatory Psalms are often a part of the journey that moves us from hurt to healing. Viewing the Imprecations in this way allows us to be true to the life-changing teachings of Jesus on forgiveness and love, while at the same time being real with ourselves and dealing with many of the issues that arise from being abused, violated, betrayed, and battered by the evil in this world.
Now, this whole discussion brings us to a decision point in our lives; a fork in the road. If you are here and you are a Christian, I would ask you a very simple question: Are being real with yourself? You see there is a very dangerous theology in some Christian circles. This theology says that no matter how much you have suffered, you are not allowed to truly and genuinely have negative emotions. And, of course, you are never supposed to express them. I would like to suggest that this is very misleading, at best, and at worst it can absolutely mess you up.
It is no coincidence that Christians who encourage this kind of thinking have a difficult time reading the Imprecatory Psalms with any amount of honesty with the texts. But God created us. And he understands the complexity that is involved in our lives when we live through trauma and abuse. For some of us the road to wholeness and forgiveness is long. But it is a journey that we must travel. And through it all – through all of the hell that you might experience – God is still there. And he cares for you. [pause]
Perhaps you are here and you do not consider yourself a Christian. I don’t know what your background is, but maybe this is the first time you have seen the Bible as more than an interesting religious book or a set of religious rules. Perhaps you have always viewed the Bible as a set of out-dated instructions. I would like to suggest to you that the Bible connects with reality like to other book that you will ever read. It is more than just theology or religious jargon. It is about a real God who wants to connect with you. And at the end of the day; when everything is said and done – that is what life is all about. It is about connecting with our Creator.
I would encourage you to seek out this God. I would encourage you to begin to read the Bible. Just start reading. Some parts of the Bible are difficult to understand, but you may be amazed at how much truth there is. And through all this there is our community of faith here at this church who are here to discuss issues related to your life and your relationships with other and with God. If you would like to talk with someone today, there are people waiting here at the front after the service to talk with you. If you would like someone in the church to call you, you can fill out the invitation card in your bulletin.
God is calling us all to live real lives in the real world; through the power of a relationship with Him and through the power of real relationships with each other. Let’s close with prayer.