Should We Curse Our Enemies?

There’s a fist-shaped hole in the door of my childhood bedroom. It was there when my mom and I moved in, and I’d soon learn it portended what my stepfather could do. Even writing this, more than two decades after moving away, I still feel fear.

My stepdad was a deacon in our local church and well respected in the community. He led more people to Jesus than I ever have or likely will. His explosive anger never reached outside the home, so perhaps it makes sense why our church leadership thought I was a rebellious teenager making trouble and gossiping about a “godly” man.

I left home before I graduated from high school, and then just before college, Christ called me to himself. I had a lot of anger built up from those years with my stepdad, and I definitely wasn’t ready to forgive. Over the next few years, Jesus taught me to love my enemies in a most unexpected way—through praying the imprecatory psalms.


“Imprecation” is a fancy way of saying “curse,” and an imprecatory psalm is a “cursing psalm.” We see imprecatory prayers regularly in the Bible, such as when Nehemiah utters a more refined version of “I’m rubber and you’re glue”: “Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives. Do not cover their guilt, and let not their sin be blotted out from your sight, for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders.” (Neh. 4:4–5).

‘Imprecation’ is a fancy way of saying ‘curse,’ and an imprecatory psalm is a ‘cursing psalm.’

Paul wasn’t averse to issuing curses either: “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed” (1 Cor. 16:22). And even Jesus issued “woes” upon the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 23) and upon Judas (26:23–24).

Note Nehemiah prayed against Sanballat and Tobiah, infamous antagonists of God’s people in Jerusalem. Paul prayed against those who turn away from God, and Jesus aimed his woes at arguably the vilest people in the Gospels. If we’re inclined to think of a “curse” as a personal vendetta, the imprecatory psalms reorient our understanding. Imprecatory psalms aren’t petty prayers. These “cursing psalms” are “justice psalms,” prayers that God would do what he’s promised: judge righteously on the earth.

Justice for the Vulnerable

Tucked into a long series of laws meant to govern the newly formed nation of Israel is a passage with important insight into God’s concern for the weak and vulnerable.

You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless. (Ex. 22:21–24)

The Lord doesn’t say he will rebuke the vulnerable for crying out against their enemies; rather, he says he’ll “surely hear their cry” and respond in judgment. Strong words from the Creator of the universe.

In the surrounding nations, the three groups of people the Lord mentions here—sojourners, widows, and the fatherless—would all have lacked a family head and a kinsman redeemer to protect them. They would have been utterly alone in societies where the “safety net” consisted exclusively of kinship ties. But by making this law, God established Israel as a different kind of society, one that protected the weak. And if his people failed to keep the law, God promised to defend the weak himself.

Justice Rooted in God’s Word

Other passages in Scripture likewise demonstrate God’s just character. We see his justice in Genesis 3 with the serpent, Adam, and Eve; in Genesis 6 with the flood; and in Genesis 11 with the scattering at Babel. In Genesis 18, Abraham appeals to God’s justice in his prayer for Sodom and Gomorrah: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (v. 25). Psalm 58 concludes with the answer to Abraham’s question: “Surely there is a God who judges on earth” (v. 11).

Lest we think justice is only an Old Testament concept, the apostle Paul argues that God’s justice was at work on the cross, offering “grace as a gift . . . to show God’s righteousness [justice], because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.” And why did he pass over former sins? “To show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:24–26).

Praying for justice, then, is rooted in Scripture, where we see three ways God demonstrates his justice. First, the Lord invites the weak and vulnerable to bring their complaints to him. Second, he’s proven he will judge evildoers. Third, he gloriously offers justice poured out at the cross for our salvation.

Praying for Justice So We Can Love Our Enemies

God’s justice in the cross brings us to the crux of the issue: Should we curse our enemies? Doesn’t Jesus say to love our enemies?

Even if we think of imprecatory psalms as justice psalms, the fact remains that they are prayers for recompense, for comeuppance, for God’s judgment—not often for his forgiveness. But in my experience, crying out for God’s justice when there was no one else to help me freed me to love and not hold a grudge against my stepdad. Rather than carrying around my anger, never allowing the wound to heal, Psalm 58 and Psalm 109 taught me to bring that injustice to the Lord and trust him to act justly (cf. Rom. 12:19).

Crying out for God’s justice when there was no one else to help me freed me to love my stepdad.

To answer the question plainly: yes, Christians today can and should pray imprecatory psalms.

These psalms, with their cries for vengeance and justice, show us mere mortals how to relinquish our right to vengeance and trust the Lord. They’re a model for raw, honest prayer that confesses an unyielding and unwavering trust that God is “just and the justifier” (Rom. 3:26). The Lord gladly hears these prayers, and he’ll answer them in this life or the next. The wrongs done against us are put into perspective when we realize justice is just a matter of time.

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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