Curse Not, But Bless

Dr. Brian Allison

Americans, and even Canadians, were shocked and appalled over the Oklahoma City tragedy. The death toll from the bombing reached well over 160. That tragedy seemed utterly senseless. Last week a resident of Oklahoma City was interviewed, and he remarked, "I am a God fearing man; and I am sure that there is a special place reserved in hell for the perpetrators of this crime." The language of this resident connotes a curse. Many people unknowingly utter curses. We reserve such harsh language for those whom we think deserve the severest kind of punishment.

Christians live in a hostile world

The Scriptures teach that Christians are not to curse anyone. We read, "Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not" (Rm. 12:14). As Christians, we are to love our enemies. This directive and exhortation not to curse, but rather to bless, our persecutors is a particular demonstration of Christian love. Now this fact does not preclude becoming righteously indignant, and even outraged, with our enemies because of their oppression, injustice, or atrocities. We can legitimately pray for God to vindicate His righteousness and His holiness. The heavenly martyred saints cry out loudly, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" (Rev. 6:10). But we are to stop short of actually cursing.

We live in a fallen world – a world that is tainted by sin which manifests itself in violence, crime, and obscenity. We live in a world that, for the most part, is opposed to God and His saving cause. It is opposed to the Gospel and to those who would proclaim it. Thus, Christians will suffer persecution in this world. We read, "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you...Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know the One who sent me" (Jn. 15:18ff.).

The term 'persecution' basically means "the state of following hard after;" and so a persecutor really seeks to make another person's life miserable, and even unbearable, particularly because of the beliefs that that person may hold. Persecution consists of being personally attacked, either verbally, emotionally, or physically. To suffer persecution is to suffer such things as harassment, injury, and abuse. In my third year of university, I became a Christian and was excited about my new found faith. I shared my testimony with a classmate friend. In response, he scornfully looked at me and began to mock me. I sat in that class feeling utterly humiliated and defensive. My so-called friend had persecuted me.

What is cursing?

Cursing is the utterance of judgement statements against our enemies. To curse one's enemy is to speak belligerently and castigatingly against him or her, desiring their downfall. The account of Shimei cursing David makes this point clear. We read, "And thus Shimei said when he cursed, 'Get out, get out, you man of bloodshed and worthless fellow! The LORD has returned upon you all of the bloodshed of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned; and the LORD has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom. And behold, you are taken in your own evil, for you are a man of bloodshed'" (2 Sam. 16:7f.).

Zachary Taylor (1784-1850), the 12th president of the United States, served in the U.S. Army prior to entering the presidential office. He fought in the Mexican War. While he was engaged in battle at Buena Vista, Santa Anna, the dictator of Mexico, sent word to him requesting surrender. Taylor tersely and directly replied, "Tell him to go to hell." That reply was not so much a statement of profanity, as it was a statement of a curse. Cursing someone is not simply casting a spell or a hex. Again, cursing is expressing the desire or wish for the destruction or harm of those that oppose us. For example, when Jesus and His disciples were traveling on their last trip to Jerusalem, they were passing through the territory of Samaria. When they had come to one of the villages, the resident Samaritans were not welcoming Jesus (because He had set Himself resolutely in the direction of Jerusalem). Subsequently, John and James, indignantly responded, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" (Lu. 9:54). They were about to utter a curse! Jesus subsequently rebuked them, "You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them" (Lu. 9:55).

Now our natural reaction to persecution is often one of vindictiveness or retaliation. Accordingly, to curse is a natural tendency in our reaction to those who have hurt us. Now cursing may assume either a secular or a religious form. The secular form is expressed by such statements as: "I wish you would go to hell;" "I wish you were dead;" "I wish you would drop dead;" etc. The religious form is expressed by such statements as: "May God strike you dead;" "May you burn in hell;" "I pray that God will pay you back;" "I wish God would destroy you;" etc.

What is blessing?

Blessing is the utterance of beneficent statements toward another. To bless someone is to pronounce a favourable and provisional word upon him or her, desiring their good and prosperity. In writing to Gaius, the apostle John blesses, "Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers" (3 Jn. 2). To bless your persecutors, you must be willing to give up your rights. For instance, you are to bless (not condone the actions of) that abusive husband – "Lord, I pray that You will undertake for my husband and make him wise. I pray that You will prosper him. I pray that he may know Your goodness in the land of the living." That certainly is tough to do, especially when you are hurting. Further, you are to bless that oppressive employer – "Father, I pray that You would bless my boss who takes advantage of me and makes my life miserable. Please visit his household with health and strength, and do him good." You are to bless that insensitive, cruel colleague who 'gets on your nerves and under your skin' – "O God, may Your mercy and grace rest upon my co-worker, and may she have good success." You are to bless that ungodly government official who continually presents obstacles and 'red tape' – "Lord, may You save this person and bring him into the joy of Your kingdom."

Blessing, instead of cursing

We, as Christians, are Scripturally forbidden to personally desire the destruction of those who personally hurt, persecute, or abuse us. Rather, we are to seek their good. We are to bless our enemy, regardless of what he or she has done to us. We are to love not only passively (i.e., not desiring their destruction), but also actively (i.e., desiring their prosperity). The Scriptures teach, "To sum up, let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kind-hearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for this very purpose that you might inherit a blessing" (1 Pe. 3:8f.). Accordingly, grace must prevail in the Christian's heart to achieve this. It is relatively easy not to utter a condemnatory word against someone who has hurt us, but the challenge comes when God expects us to utter instead a favourable word toward someone who has hurt us. John Calvin (1509-1564) writes, "I have said that this is more difficult than to forego revenge when one has been injured. There may be some who keep their hands from violence and are not driven by a desire to do injury, but they would still like destruction or loss to befall their enemies from some other source. Even if they are so much at peace as to wish them no evil, there is hardly one person in a hundred who desires to do good to anyone from whom he has received injury. Indeed, most men start cursing without any sense of shame. God, however, not only restrains our hands from doing wrong by His word, but also subdues the bitter feelings in our minds. Not only so, He would also have us be concerned for the well-being of those who bring destruction on themselves by wrongfully injuring us" (Romans, 274). So not only are we not to desire our enemy's damage or destruction, we are also to desire his or her happiness – the principle of contrary returns. In receiving evil, a Christian should respond by doing good.

The principle of contrary returns demonstrates that God's value system is completely opposite that of the world's. The world's value system says: "If you hurt me, I'm going to hurt you;" "If you steal from me, I'm going to make you pay;" "If you mess with me, I'm going to put you down." God's value system says: "If you take my shirt, I will also give you my coat;" "If you slap me on the right cheek, I will also turn to you the left;" "If you force me to go one mile, I will also go with you two" (cf. Mt. 5:38ff.).

The 17th century Scottish Covenanters provide a good example of blessing, rather than cursing, those who persecute. They were persecuted by the Church of England and suffered horrendous torture, and often death. Margaret MacLachlan, a seventy year old widow, and Margaret Wilson, an eighteen year old maid – numbered among this band – paid the ultimate price for their Christian convictions. The following is an excerpt from Jock Purves' book, Fair Sunshine, "From the darksome prisonhouse, the soldiers took them to the banks of the Blednoch Burn which fills with Solway from the sea when the swift-running tide comes in. Two long wooden stakes had been fixed deeply in the bed of the burn. The farther out one, nearer the oncoming waves, was for mother Margaret; and the other, nearer to the land, was for Margaret the maid. We never read of any word the old saint spoke. It appears that, sick at heart and disappointed with madly cruel humanity, she turned to unending communion with the Lord. 'It is needless to speak to that damned old bitch,' they [her persecutors] rudely cried, 'let her go to hell,' and they tied her roughly fast to her leafless, but fruitful tree. So came the hungry waters up and up, every wave splashing death, until she was choking in their cold, cold grasp...The waters were now around the [young maid], and she began to sing a plaintive melody she had often sang among the hills when the fellowship of the hunted worshipped God...The cold waves dashed over her head. Loosely tied, the soldiers pulled her out of the water, and when she could speak they asked her to do what the Covenanter could not do - to pray for the King...She murmured that she wished the salvation of all men, and the damnation of none. They dashed her under the water and pulled her out again. 'Oh, Margaret, say it,' pleaded some. 'Lord, give him [the king] repentance, forgiveness and salvation, if it be Thy holy will,' she whispered...And they brutally flung her back into the waves, where she died a virgin martyr of eighteen summers." Margaret Wilson died while blessing her persecutors. This should be the practice of every persecuted Christian – "bless and curse not."

Perhaps you are a non-Christian, and your wrongdoing is not that you have cursed people, but rather that you have cursed God. Fredrich Neitzsche (1844-1900), the atheistic philosopher, cursed God. He died an insane man before reaching the age of fifty-seven. The father of Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), the Danish theologian, lived the rest of his days in torment, after he cursed God. My non-Christian friend, I invite you to turn from your wicked ways, and your foul mouth, and come to the Saviour; and by His grace He will turn your cursing into blessing in order that you might receive a blessing. Won't you do that today?