Pour out your wrath on them; let your fierce anger overtake them. 25 May their place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in their tents. 26 For they persecute those you wound and talk about the pain of those you hurt. 27 Charge them with crime upon crime; do not let them share in your salvation. 28 May they be blotted out of the book of life and not be listed with the righteous. (Psalm 69:24-28)
When suffering severe injustice, David composed this psalm, which includes some shocking language and imagery. Indeed, in the verses above, he prays for the damnation of his attackers (verses 27-28). Derek Kidner, one of my favorite commentators on Psalms, points out that “this startles us into feeling some of the desperation that produced” this pointed prayer. As we begin to feel the desperation of those suffering unjustly, we can no longer remain complacent or apathetic. This prayer jolts us awake.
Were we to read this psalm in isolation, we may be tempted to take unjust action ourselves, of the sort we have seen in pockets across the nation this week. In a thirst for justice, one may quickly turn to vengeance. How do we proceed?
The key—not just to this psalm, but to pursuing racial justice in this nation today—comes in the clear foreshadowing of Christ’s suffering sprinkled throughout this psalm (verses 9 and 21 especially). On this side of the cross, we seek justice differently. At his martyrdom, for example, Stephen sought vindication, not retribution, and prayed that God would forgive his murderers (Acts 7:54-60). Indeed, Jesus himself cried out from the cross—the single greatest injustice the world has ever seen—”Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
This psalm reminds us that we are right to seek justice. When crimes occur, the criminal should be charged (verse 27). At the same time, reading this psalm in light of the cross changes how we seek justice. Rather than perpetuating a cycle of violence and vengeance—whether police and rioters or simply a gossiping colleague—we entrust ourselves to him who judges justly and lavishes mercy. We can forgive, even as we continue working for justice (Micah 6:8), because God has forgiven us through the injustice Christ suffered on our behalf.