Cursing with God
The Imprecatory Psalms and the Ethics of Christian Prayer
Imprint: Baylor University Press
Sales Date: 2022-10-15
416 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
- Published: November 2022
To the modern ear, the concept of cursing sounds otherworldly, mystical, abhorrent. For some the idea may evoke images of terror—images not of God but of the devil. How then are Christians to understand the imprecatory psalms, which are violent and, for many, disturbing prayers for judgment that seem to contravene Christ’s command to "love thy enemy"?
Drawing together redemptive-historical biblical theology and narrative ethics, Trevor Laurence’s Cursing with God assesses the imprecatory psalms and the viability of their performance by the Christian church. Laurence argues that prayerful enactment of the imprecatory psalms is an obligatory exercise of the church’s God-given calling as a royal priesthood in God’s story. This study evaluates the imprecations within their intertextually constructed narrative world, presenting a biblical theological reading of their petitions as the faithful prayers of the royal-priestly son of God whose vocation is to guard God’s temple-kingdom from the forces that would defile it and to subdue the earth as sacred space. Attention to the New Testament’s polyvalent interaction with the imprecatory psalms discloses how the New Testament narrates God’s work in Christ with reference to the figures and structures of the imprecations.
With the resultant biblical theological synthesis as a narrative framework for ethical reflection, Cursing with God culminates with a proposal for faithful Christian cursing that coheres with the church’s royal-priestly vocation and inter-advent location in God’s narrative and contends that imprecatory performance has the dynamic capacity to stimulate faith, hope, and love while galvanizing the church to work for a more just world. With scholars, students, and trained clergy in view, Cursing with God aims to generate a recovery of the imprecatory psalms in Christian worship and piety.
Foreword, by Peter Leithart
Introduction: Ethics, Biblical Theology, and the Imprecatory Psalms
1 From Israelite Psalms to Christian Prayer: Paths Old and New
2 Cursing in the Psalms: The Imprecatory Psalms in Redemptive-Historical Perspective
3 Cursing and Christ: The Imprecatory Psalms and the New Testament
4 Cursing in Christ: Ethically Faithful Christian Performance of the Imprecatory Psalms
Conclusion: Cursing with God
Appendix: Cursing in Corporate Worship: A Sample Liturgy of Imprecation
Trevor Laurence is a member of a too-small class of biblical scholars, combining highly rigorous exegesis with imaginative engagement and firm evangelical convictions with trauma-sensitivity. This first monograph punches far above its weight among first forays into book-length academic publishing. It will prove to be an indispensable contribution to Psalms scholarship with the potential to be deeply impactful for the Church.~Helen Paynter, Coordinator of Theological Education, and Director of the Centre for the Study of Bible and Violence, Bristol Baptist College
This riveting book reengages the imprecatory, or ‘cursing,’ biblical texts that petition God in response to violence and other evils suffered. Sometimes omitted from lectionaries because the reader calls down a curse or judgment of destruction onto their enemies, Christians’ cries for God’s justice—as these texts are read liturgically—in Laurence's view may yet serve as a powerful resource for forming disciples both to pray and to live virtuously in a world where ‘the wicked prowl…vileness is exalted’ (Ps 12:8). Whether you agree or disagree, this book should not be ignored.~Esther D. Reed, Professor of Theological Ethics, Theology and Religion, University of Exeter
Laurence’s impressive book is inspired by his wife’s simple but profound question: ‘What are we supposed to do with the imprecatory psalms?’ That question, coupled with—as he puts it—a glad admission of the authority of Scripture, leads Laurence, not to some sort of facile defense, but to the deepest of engagements with what many deem to be the Bible’s most challenging texts. A practical theologian as well as a biblical one, Laurence is interested in interpretation and performance, going so far as to include a sample liturgy based on Psalm 58. No doubt some readers will debate or nuance Laurence's redemptive-historical and Christological-narratival interpretive framework, but his ultimate conclusion is persuasive: ‘the psalms of wrath’ are necessary for proper communion with God, capable of healing, cultivating virtue, and providing a witness in a world gone horribly wrong. No one who wants to understand the imprecatory psalms can avoid this learned and pastoral study.~Brent A. Strawn, D. Moody Smith Distinguished Professor of Old Testament and Professor of Law, Duke University
A remarkable work—lyrically inspiring and imaginatively compelling. For many, it will represent a paradigm shift. Laurence not only rehabilitates the imprecatory psalms for use by the church, but he demonstrates their compatibility with Jesus’ call to love our enemies. This is more than a treatise on imprecation; Laurence offers a profound work of biblical theology in service of the church. He draws our attention to imprecation hiding in plain sight in the New Testament, and he charts a path for churches who are ready to recover this neglected aspect of the whole counsel of God. In a world plagued by injustice, this book is a gift we urgently need.~Carmen Joy Imes, Associate Professor of Old Testament, Biola University and editor of Praying the Psalms with Augustine and Friends