Psalm 139 is one of the more famous Psalms of David. In it we find the famed Psalm 139:7—Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?
Other parts of the Psalm are widely recognizable to many. Pro-life advocates are found of citing Psalm 139:13-14—
For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
Many find comfort in Psalm 139:17-18—
How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.
When I awake, I am still with You.
Yet, many, or shall I say most, do not continue reading. After all, the ending of Psalm 139 (v. 19) is quite troubling: O that You would slay the wicked, O God. Depart from me, therefore, men of bloodshed.
And what about Psalm 139:22? I hate them with the utmost hatred. They have become my enemies.
How are we supposed to understand such statements?
Psalm 139 is an example of what is termed an imprecatory Psalm.
I am writing this because recently Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes published such a prayer in a book called A Rhythm of Prayer: A Collection of Meditations for Renewal, edited by Sarah Bessey.
Dr Chanequa’s prayer begins, “Dear God, help me to hate white people.”
This naturally caught the ire of many who simply failed to take the time to understand the context of her prayer and her life-story behind it.
The prayer calls upon God, like David and many of the Psalms (see Psalms 5, 6, 11, 12, 35, 37, 40, 52, 54, 56, 57, 58, 59, 79, 83, 94, 137, 139, and 143), to express how one feels.
In other words, instead of turning to actual hate, she turned to God. She shared with God how she was feeling. Her feelings, which most of us cannot understand because we have never faced the kind of hatred she has had to endure, were lifted up to God. Instead of acting upon her feelings, she prayed!
Was she actually praying that God would help her hate white people? No, an imprecatory prayer is when you pray to God instead of doing what you are asking God to do.
If we take the prayer at face value, instead of misreading it, the prayer itself suggests that she does not actually hate white people! That is why she is asking God to help her hate!
Because she doesn’t hate them, but deep down she wants to. She knows she shouldn’t want to, and so she offers the prayer to God! Instead of actually doing it—hating white people—she turns it over to God.
This is what imprecatory psalms do! This is what David did in Psalm 69:24—Pour out Your indignation on them, And may Your burning anger overtake them.
Did David actually want God to destroy his enemies? Probably not. Especially when one considers that at various times his biggest enemies were his own kids. But even if he did, and we all have such feelings at times, David and Dr. Chanequa know that they are praying to a God who is just and merciful!
If you think this is just an Old Testament thing and that the New Testament moves beyond such attitudes, you might want to note that Paul quotes Psalm 69 in Romans 11:9-10—
And David says,
“Let their table become a snare and a trap,
And a stumbling block and a retribution to them.
Let their eyes be darkened to see not,
And bend their backs forever.”
Imprecatory prayers are a means of righteously releasing anger instead of doing so wrongly!
In other words, they are a means of prayer for a righteous person who has been wronged and who is suffering. Instead of acting on that wrong with rage against those who have wronged them, they take it to the Lord!
If you knew the story of Dr. Chanequa and what she has lived through as a black woman, instead of castigating her, you might respect her even more so!
So, is it okay to hate white people? No, we shouldn’t hate anyone. We are called to love them. But we all have hatred in our hearts at times. Especially when we have been wronged. Dr. Chanequa has modeled for us something that we may do when such moments arise. PRAY!
Thanks, Dr. Walker-Barnes.
Rob Dalrymple is the director of Determine Truth ministries, a nonprofit designed to prepare and equip the church for work in the kingdom of God. Rob also serves on the board for NEME (Network of Evangelicals for the Middle East). To learn more, go to his blog. You can also find his podcast at “DetermineTruth” on podbean, iTunes, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts; and you can find Rob on Facebook. This article was originally published on Rob’s blog and appears here by his kind permission.