Imprecatory Psalms and Fred Phelps

The 94th Psalm:

O LORD, God of vengeance, God of vengeance, shine forth!
Rise up, O Judge of the earth, render recompense to the proud.
How long shall the wicked, O LORD, how long shall the wicked exult?
They pour forth words, they speak arrogantly; all who do wickedness vaunt themselves.
They crush Your people, O LORD, and afflict Your heritage.
They slay the widow and the stranger and murder the orphans.
They have said, “The LORD does not see, nor does the God of Jacob pay heed.”
Pay heed, you senseless among the people; and when will you understand, stupid ones?
…He has brought back their wickedness upon them and will destroy them in their evil; the LORD our God will destroy them.

It is always an occasion for conflicted emotions when a bona fide enemy of the Gospel, a gross arch-heretic, passes into eternity to give an account of his life to the Creator and Judge, Jesus Christ.

John 5:22 – For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son.

John 3:17-18 – For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

On the one hand, the prospect of any individual passing into torment and destruction at the hands of his Creator is extremely saddening. God wrote His law on the heart. He made clear His existence and every human’s guilt before this powerful Maker. He gave the Bible and made provision so that it could pass into even very remote parts of the Earth and that people could read it there. On and on it goes, the story of God’s outreach to humanity, the Gospel of His grace spreading everywhere.

And yet savage wolves arise even from within the ranks of those who should be shepherding and serving the flocks entrusted to them, who rip the flock apart and bring shame and reproach upon the name of Jesus. And when we consider that when one of those, such as Fred Phelps, sees his days come to an end, bringing completion to his curses against the Bride of Christ, his lewd, foul, and false uses and expositions of the law of God, and his refusal, in the throes of his special brand of lunatic hyper-Calvinistic, to share the good news of Jesus Christ, shall we not also rejoice that the wicked has received his due?

You see, not everyone is Fred Phelps. Not many achieve his level of wickedness, and more importantly, not many do so while retaining the name and trappings of the Church of Jesus.

Proverbs 21:27 – The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination, How much more when he brings it with evil intent!

You see, it matters a lot in whose name one does a given activity, especially a very public one. When Westboro “Baptist” “Church” goes on the rampage at a soldier’s funeral with signs saying “God Hates America” and stick figures simulating anal sex acts, it brings reproach on the name of Jesus in much the same way that Westboro Hindu Veda Temple’s engaging in similar acts would not do. Nobody would connect Jesus to “God Hates Fags” if not for Fred Phelps. Thanks to him, and to the overwhelmingly disproportionate media coverage he and his cult have received for decades, millions of Americans make that precise connection now.

This connection has consequences. Let me give a couple of examples from my own life. Abolitionists of human abortion employ graphic images in our struggle to agitate and awaken our culture of death and the slumbering churches to the horror of the slaughter and sacrifice of children occurring 3,500 times per day in our midst. Often, people’s consciences are so seared, their hearts so deadened and hardened, that there is literally nothing we can say to try to get them to care, even a little. Nothing we can do, short of violence, which is of course impermissible. However, when we display graphic images much like Jesus did when He gave Himself over to be crucified in public (rather than, say, executed in a small, private dungeon via humane lethal injection), some of those people start to care again, and we pray that such encounters lead to repentance. As another example, street preachers stand up in public and proclaim the law of God and the glorious Gospel of Jesus.

And one of the single most frequent responses we receive is: “Shut up, Westboro freaks.” I heard that exact statement just this morning as I was pleading for the lives of the preborn at the local child sacrifice center/abortuary. It is to the point where virtually every time I preach in the open air or engage in a law and Gospel discussion on the streets with someone I don’t know, I have to try to remember to throw in the caveat: “We’re not like Westboro. Those guys will give an account for what they do.” We have to write articles to dispel the frequent comparison to Westboro. I’m not alone in this.

This man, despite the small size of his cult, has had a significantly negative impact on the general societal disposition toward these very necessary and difficult ministries. And why? Because he employs the same methods we do, and the message of Gospel-less condemnation and unrequited doom he communicates has the effect on the unregenerate masses that Romans 7 explains:

For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death…But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.

And this is Phelps’ legacy. He who preached a twisted version of the law of God, devoid of any Gospel, has now passed into eternity without the benefits of the Gospel. He who denied hope to his listeners has now lost any hope he would have had.

If there were ever a better time to pray imprecatory Psalms in modern America, I can’t think of one offhand.

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