Yes. And you should. As difficult as that answer might be to swallow, it best accounts for the biblical record. Let me explain.
An imprecatory psalm is a type of lament. In Hebrew Wisdom Literature, lament psalms are the individual and corporate cries of God’s people. The imprecatory psalms in particular vocalize Israel’s tears in the face of injustice and suffering. By praying down the curse of God on His enemies, Israel sought to hold up the goodness of God’s law for His people.
At root, an imprecatory psalm is an invocation of divine cursing. Examples of these imprecations include Psalms 5, 6, 35, 69, and 109, all of which are cited in the New Testament. Curse pronouncements are interspersed throughout the biblical canon. For example, Jesus calls down woes of judgment on religious leaders in Matthew 23. Paul pronounces an anathema on anyone who preaches another gospel in Galatians 1:8–9. And the martyrs in heaven petition God to avenge their blood in Revelation 6:10.
The consistent witness of Scripture affirms the legitimacy of God’s people making use of imprecatory prayers in their individual, family, and corporate prayers. Underlying this assertion is a basic assumption that the prayers of God’s people should be rooted in all of Scripture. The Psalter is God’s divinely inspired prayer book and hymnal. It gives us the language of petition and praise. The imprecatory psalms help give shape to the hurt and outrage that the people of God at times experience in a world desecrated by sin.
Some react to the harsh language of the imprecatory psalms. While this is understandable, we mustn’t lose sight of what our sin deserves. Others underscore the teaching of Jesus to love our enemies. But loving our enemies in the New Testament never comes at the expense of forgoing appeals to divine justice. Praying for God to punish the wicked is neither unloving nor vindictive but is an expression of faith in Him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23). Still others want to limit the imprecatory psalms to old covenant Israel. While the circumstances of God’s covenant people have changed with the advent of Christ, the same cruelties that plagued Israel as a believing people in a hostile world still haunt the church today. If we remove the vocabulary of the imprecatory psalms from our homes and churches, what else will Christians sing and pray when tragedy strikes?
To pray the imprecatory psalms is ultimately to pray as Jesus taught us to pray. As Christians, we long for God’s kingdom to come. We yearn for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Praying the imprecatory psalms is not a call to arms but a call to faith. We lift our voices, not our swords, as we pray for God either to convert or curse the enemies of Christ and His kingdom.
Dr. John W. Tweeddale is academic dean and professor of theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Fla., and a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.