Can Christians Curse?

Can Christians Curse? July 13, 2022

Well, if this is not the best question to come across my desk, I don’t know what is.

But first, a story (or two, or three):

Today was a cuss-worthy kind of day. I got news I didn’t want to get, news that didn’t make me feel like a superstar, news that made me feel sad and frustrated and defeated, all in the same breath. 

And, oh, I cussed. I cussed something fierce.

Photo cred: Pixabay

I went into the backyard, and I didn’t scream at the top of my lungs, mind you, but I gave my tomatoes a talking to. I let it out. I mumbled my “Gods” and my “Holys” alongside a couple of choice expletives that I’ve been asked not to repeat on Patheos, even though I really, really want to sometimes (and really, really did earlier today).

Did I love God any less in that moment when “most unwholesome talk” came from my lips? Not in the least, in fact, I think it could be argued that God and I were on pretty good terms in the moment – for I was my most real and authentic self.

And in that moment, my most real and authentic self, the same one, like you, who is irrevocably loved by God, no questions asked, needed to let a song of lament string from my lips. 

Lament, of course, is holy. In the Psalms, there are two types of these songs, made up of 42 individual and 16 corporate laments (which then makes up more than a third of the total psalms).

“Individual laments address various isolated troubles – problems faced by one member of the people of God.” One of my favorite books on individual lament is Abby Norman’s You Can Talk to God Like That, in which she gives the reader to talk to God like that, while throwing a plate across the room at the same time.

Psalm 86 is chock-full of examples of David addressing God in this way, individual needs on full display:

O God, the insolent rise up against me;
    a band of ruffians seeks my life,
    and they do not set you before them.

Sure, we can look at this verse metaphorically; we can imagine a bigger army rising up against us and see the verse in new light. But we can also understand that David was literally up against an enemy, an enemy that sought to see him far from living and breathing and issuing forth further laments in his spare time.

This cry, this song, this lament, truly was an example of crying out to God on his behalf – just like I did to the tomatoes in the backyard today (and you’d better believe they heard a mouthful).

On the other hand, “community psalms of lament deal with situations of national crisis – they describe problems faced by all the people of God.” By far, Soong Chan Rah’s Prophetic Lament is my favorite book on corporate (or community lament), for lament is intended to be experienced together.

Lament invites us to mourn with this who mourn, to gather those who surround us.

For we are not meant to grieve and suffer alone.

Which brings us back to the question at hand: “Can Christians curse?”

My beloved, Christians can curse. Let that word slip from your mouth. Feel its power. Breathe in its syllabic potency. Let loose that grief and anger and sadness. 

Please.

Now, with this comes a word: when I was in college, I clung to a verse made popular by my friend, Mark.

Mark had a tendency to walk around our college campus, and later, the Christian camp we both worked at during the summers, and inquire of the time.

The man wore a watch. He didn’t need to know the time, for he could have just glanced at his wrist (and this, before the age of ubiquitous cell phone use, made the question work even better).

“What time is it?” He’d ask people, mostly his friends, mostly folks who already knew why he was asking what he was asking.

Mark, of course, cared less about the actual time; he just wanted to remind people that it was 4:29. All the time it was 4:29, for all the time it was Ephesians 4:29 time:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

All the time we were to not let any unwholesome talk come out of our mouths. All the time we were to build one another up, so that it might benefit those who were listening.

But all the time we also had a tendency to believe that the Christian life was all joy, all happiness, all sunshine and rainbows and lollipops too.

All the time we pushed aside lament, because lament didn’t have a place in the clocks we believed in.

But now? I’m just following Biblical doctrine when I say that lament should take up more than a third of our time, that we should let our grief and our sorrow be made evident even through the most unwholesome of talk.

So, please, curse away.

Grab hold of grace and just sit tight.

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