The story is told that The Times of London at one point early in the 1900s posed this question to several prominent authors: “What’s wrong with the world today?” The well-known author G.K. Chesterton is said to have responded with a one-sentence essay:
Yours, G.K. Chesterton
His witty reply is unnerving and unexpected. But it is also very biblical.
Take, for example, Psalm 10:7, which reads, “His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.” The subject of this verse is a wicked man. This man hates God, blasphemes Him even. He is boastful, impious, cruel to the poor, greedy, arrogant, deceitful, coarse, and murderous. The psalmist calls God to see and act, to judge this evil person and to do it now.
We call this kind of psalm an imprecatory psalm—a psalm that pleads with God to unleash His just vengeance on the ungodly. I wonder if that theme doesn’t resonate with you as you consider the enemies of the gospel of Jesus. Even if we take Paul’s reminder that we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood but against the demonic (Eph. 6:12) and against sin (Col. 3:5; Rom. 8:13), then there is still plenty to target with imprecatory psalms.
But Paul takes us in an entirely different direction when he quotes Psalm 10:7 in Romans 3:14. That unexpected Pauline turn is exactly what Chesterton was espousing in his two-word essay and is a key to understanding Christian salvation. In the first two chapters of Romans, Paul makes a comprehensive case for the ubiquity of sin. He starts with those who are not the people of God, calling out their disobedience. But then he turns his sights on unbelieving Jews, those who think they have secured their right standing with God through religious works or ethnic lineage, and lumps them into the same depraved mass of humanity as the non-Jew. Then Paul searches for a verse from the Old Testament to describe the state of everyone, everyone whose trust is not in Christ alone for salvation, and he considers Psalm 10:7. Paul sees in Psalm 10:7 a mirror to his own dark heart without the grace of Jesus.
Is that how you see yourself? When you read an imprecatory psalm, do you first level it against someone else or against your own unbelief and sin? Do you take the worst that the Bible has to say about the enemies of God and confess that that is exactly who you would be without the electing grace of God? Do you see Jesus there on the cross as He takes the very imprecations of God on your behalf? Christian salvation frees us to be doubly honest. We are brutally honest about our sin and need apart from Jesus. But we’re also brutally honest about free and gracious salvation in Christ alone.