During the last few days, Psalm 109:8, a Bible verse in the
form of a “prayer for Obama,” has topped the Google trends chart: “May his days be few; may another take
his office.” Evidently, a bumper
sticker emblazoned with this verse has popped up in various parts of the
country. It is a sort of right-wing Christian equivalent to the old “01.20.09” stickers looking forward
to the end of the Bush era.
It was, most likely, intended as a joke. But it isn’t really very funny. Especially since the next verse reads,
“May his children be orphans, and his wife a widow.” The passage goes on the same way–asking God to pulverize this poor
fellow–that he lose all his worldly goods, that his orphans be abandoned, that his
father be remembered as a sinner, and finally, that “his memory be cut off from
Thus, the “Prayer for Obama,” does more than anticipate that
he leaves office; it entreats God to destroy the president.
Psalm 109 belongs to a special category of the psalms known
as “imprecatory” prayers–it is a lament in the form of petition to destroy
one’s enemies. It is the personal
prayer of an individual, someone who has been dealt an injustice by another–and
usually more powerful–person. The
words of Psalm 109 are those of deep agony, the longings of a victim for
retribution and justice. This
psalm is considered one of the most difficult of all the psalms–full of violent
images of vengeance and death.
Many a biblical critic has struggled with its words–and not a
few–including Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant theologians–recommend that
it not be used in public worship, much less as a bumper-sticker political
In his marvelous book, Reflections
on the Psalms, C.S. Lewis observed:
some of the Psalms the spirit of hatred which strikes us in the face is like
the heat from a furnace mouth. In
others the same spirit ceases to be frightful only by becoming (to a modern
mind) almost comic in its naivety.
Examples can be found all over the Psalter, but perhaps the worst is in
109 (p. 20).
Lewis suspects that it may be best to leave such psalms
alone. But then he says that we
must face “facts squarely.”
hatred is there–festering, gloating, undisguised–and also we should be wicked
if we in any way condoned or approved it, or (worse still) used it to justify
similar passions in ourselves (p. 22).
Lewis refers to these psalms as horrible, devilish, cruel,
hateful, and evil. He believes
that Psalm 109–and the poetry of its kind in the psalter–should point us back
to the evil we carry within and teach us each how to behave with goodness,
humility, and love.
According then, to the venerable C.S. Lewis, a “Prayer for
Obama” is really a prayer for ourselves to go beyond “festering, gloating,
undisguised” hatred. “If the
Divine does not call to make us better, it will make us very much worse,” he
reminded his readers, “Of all bad men,
religious bad men are the worst.”