Conversations about Other Beliefs

I was born in 1960 and grew up in a monolithic belief system. My father was a pastor in a small town (~600 people) where many people attended church, as did farmers who lived nearby. Even among people who didn’t, it seemed that most of them had an underlying, unspoken respect for the Bible, even if they didn’t read it themselves or know what it said. Having known people from many other places throughout the U.S., as well as having lived in some of them, I think that was probably true throughout large swaths of the country. In addition to my being raised in a Christian family and church, I attended Christian schools, including college. When I was 20, I finally understood that the Lord was a deeply personal God Who cared for me, and I became a Christian. Right about that time, I also began to encounter people who did not share my beliefs but who I became friends with.

One of my earliest conversations with someone who had a very different background than me was when I spent the summer working at an azalea nursery, where there were several workers from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Eth was a young guy that I worked with and enjoyed talking with. I don’t remember how we got onto the topic of religion, but I told him that I attended church and was a Christian; he said that he was a Buddhist and that in Cambodia, he had gone to a temple. We would “trash-talk” in a friendly guy way about various things. Eth, who smoked and drank some, said things like, “You don’t smoke, don’t drink; good boy.” Eventually, I tried to persuade him about some fundamental Christian beliefs, but he just said that all religions helped people to be “good.” I don’t know whatever happened to Eth, but I pray for him whenever I think of him, like now.

As a graduate student, I attended a secular university and met many people from all kinds of backgrounds, including religiously. I didn’t have a lot of comparative-religion conversations in terms of beliefs, but primarily in terms of practices and food. (Speaking of: one of my fondest memories of my time back then is eating delicious gyros with guys from Yemen in a dorm room!) One person who I got to know especially well was Keiko, from Japan; we had some conversations about Christianity, Shintoism, and Buddhism, although she herself did not identify as a follower of any particular religion. Keiko is another person I pray for when she comes to mind.

At the beginning of my teaching career, I taught in a communist Third World country where most of my students were atheists. Throughout my–and later our (with my wife)–five years there, students would frequently drop in to visit in the evening, some of them with religious questions. Some were sincere, while others were somewhat mocking, but over the years, we saw several come to faith in Christ, including some of the previous mockers! Some of them, we didn’t find out about until years later.

Since coming back to the U.S. thirty years ago, now and then I have had opportunities to talk about the Lord to people who have other beliefs. One person who stands out is a colleague from Vietnam named Trang. I was a mentor of sorts to her, but in addition to conversations about teaching, we had other conversations as well, including about Christianity and Buddhism. We never argued, but rather enjoyed the conversations. Trang is yet another person I pray for when she comes to mind. Another person who stands out is a student from an atheist background who had written about her purpose in life and came to my office; she wanted to pray to accept Jesus, so I prayed with her. When I told a colleague who was at least ostensibly a Christian about this, I’m sorry to say that she cautioned me; she didn’t think it was “appropriate.” I pray for both of them when I think of them.

Last year, following my COVID vaccination, I had “frozen shoulder,” so my doctor recommended physical therapy. Although I was initially somewhat skeptical, I noticed as the weeks went by that my shoulder was showing definite improvement. (It is almost completely back to normal now.) There were five different therapists who worked with me, and I quickly discovered that one of them was a Christian. One day, she asked me, “Do you think that Jesus is the only way to heaven?” I quoted Jesus’ words in John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” We talked a bit further about this, and we agreed that followers of other religions would not go to heaven. I noticed that one of my other therapists was listening very intently; in fact, I think that my sister in Christ asked that question at least partly because she wanted the other therapist to (over)hear our conversation! As with the other people I have mentioned, I pray for her when she comes to mind.

I have been reading a book recommended to our small group by one of my brothers in Christ; it gives a brief summary of the beliefs of other religions, sects, and worldviews. While I think this knowledge is certainly helpful, as I have reflected on the conversations I have had throughout the decades with adherents of other beliefs, I realize that while sometimes I have offered “rebuttals” to other people, many times I have not. For the most part, they and I have enjoyed such conversations. And in some cases, they have eventually come to faith in Christ. However you and I may communicate with people of varying belief systems, my prayer is that we would always do so with grace and truth; we can trust the Lord for the results, whatever they may be.

Watch Your Language!

It has been my impression over the years that foul language of various kinds has been increasing, especially among younger generations. A couple of recent incidents–one I overheard that was profoundly wonderful and another that I heard about on the news that was profoundly disturbing–prompted me to research the use of profanity and people’s attitudes toward it.

First of all, I should mention that not everyone considers the same words taboo, vulgar, foul, obscene, or profane (these words are roughly synonyms, and throughout this post, I use them interchangeably). My intention is not to attempt to parse which words virtually everyone is likely to consider taboo, but to first of all look at some age and gender differences in regard to the usage of them. In my research, I found a couple of good articles from 2006 about some gender and age differences in the U.S. As you might guess, younger Americans (ages 18-34) were significantly more prone to swearing in conversation than Americans 35 and older, 62% to 39%. Additionally, men were more likely to swear than women, 54% to 39%. I also found an article from 2016 which said that American women and men use the F-word almost equally. Beyond that, I’ve had difficulty finding other articles about swearing written for the general public since 2006. My guess is that this is due at least in part to the heavy use of social media for people’s communication, making the gathering of data more complicated. On the one hand, there is a lot of written text that could be analyzed; on the other hand, previous research focused on speaking. I did find in an article from last year that the average American says 80-90 curse words every day.

I was able to find some much-more-recent articles about swearing in the U.K., including one from last year. One statistic that I found especially interesting was that 46% of Generation Zs said they frequently use strong language. That compares with 12% for people aged 55-64. As for gender: Women now use the F-word more than men! I also found an article from 2015 that says the British are more “proficient” at swearing than Americans, with more creativity. My strong guess is that the significant U.K. generational divide in regard to swearing is also present in the U.S., based on what I overhear. I don’t have a good guess regarding gender differences in the U.S., especially among youth.

While generational and gender differences in swearing are interesting, more important than these differences is the question of how we respond to swearing. First of all, most parents still agree, thankfully (including in the U.K.), that they don’t want their kids to use foul language. Of course, that means that parents have to watch their own language! Beyond parenting, however, how do or should we respond? When I was a grad student many years ago, I had a great linguistics professor. There was only one problem; he peppered his lectures with vulgar language. A couple of my female classmates from Asia came to me after class one day and said that they were bothered by some of the words that the professor used; I agreed and said that we should go talk to him. They looked uncomfortably at each other and then explained that they would like just me to do it! I agreed and paid our professor an office visit. He explained to me that when he used certain words, that he didn’t really mean them. In other words, when he said “s–t,” for example, he didn’t mean that “stuff.” I explained that that word (and some others) were offensive to me and some of my classmates. While he didn’t agree to limit his use of vulgarity, we noticed an immediate change the next day! He didn’t completely eliminate the use of such words, but the frequency was considerably less. In addition, the following year I took another class with him, and he used virtually no vulgarity.

I’m a retired ESL teacher, and my students never used obscene language during class; during breaks, they usually talked in their first language. However, I sometimes heard obscene language elsewhere on campus; there was one time I remember where I told a couple of guys to watch their language. In my neighborhood, sometimes when people walk by, I hear swearing, usually the F-word, and usually by young guys, sometimes even kids. I tolerate it because they are passersby.

In that regard: at the outset of this post, I mentioned something I had recently overheard that was profoundly wonderful. There were three boys riding their bikes by my house, and here’s what I heard:

  • 1st boy: “Hey, what the [F-word]!”
  • 2nd boy: “Don’t cuss. That’s bad.”
  • 3rd boy: “It’s a sin. I should tell your mom.”

I almost called out something like, “You don’t need to tell his mom; you guys told him! He needed to hear it from you!” However, thankfully, I kept my mouth shut and praised the Lord in my heart. This is the best kind of “policing” of language, friend(s)-to-friend.

Contrast this with a video clip I saw on the news in July. The incident, which happened in St. Paul, MN, shows a very young boy wearing only underwear who screams, “Shut up, b—h!” at a police officer. He then walks up to the officer, hits him, and repeats his obscenity. Following that, he screams “Shut the f–k up!” at the other officer and adds that his work boots are “those ugly-ass church shoes.” The boy goes on to hit one of them at least three more times, even as the officers, who remain calm throughout, start walking away. As if things couldn’t have been worse, there is another even younger boy in a diaper with the boy who’s swearing and hitting; a bit later, he joins the older boy in even throwing rocks at the officers as they’re walking away. Adding insult to injury, a bystander can be heard encouraging the boys and calling out that one of the officers is an “Oreo head,” a slur suggesting a black person is acting white.

I’m so thankful to the Lord for allowing me to hear the wonderful exchange between the three bike-riding boys in front of my house, which happened very recently; after the profoundly disturbing video footage the previous month of the young boy swearing at the cop and hitting him, I needed that.

Speaking of the Lord: what does the Bible have to say about swearing? First of all, we have the fourth commandment in Exodus 20:7, which says, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name.” This commandment, which is repeated verbatim in Deuteronomy 5:11, refers specifically to misusing God’s Name; I certainly hear that at times in various forms, I’m sorry to say. Beyond that kind of swearing, Ephesians 4:29 says this: “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.” The phrase “unwholesome talk” certainly goes beyond taboo words, but it includes them. A few verses later, in Ephesians 5:4, we read this: “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.” For good measure, here’s Colossians 3:8: “But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.”

As Christians, let’s watch our language! The Lord is not pleased with obscenity in any form, and neither, thankfully, are many people, whether they tell us (verbally or non-verbally) or not.

Changing Language, Changing Perceptions

Euphemisms are a common, indirect way to refer to something that many people would consider unpleasant or embarrassing. For example, unemployed people might say that they are “between jobs.” Another euphemism that I recently came across for unemployment that made me laugh is “embarking on a journey of self-discovery.” A common euphemism for a past-due bill is an “outstanding payment,” which also makes me laugh. “Outstanding,” really?!

Some euphemisms, on the other hand, are not so amusing but are deliberately designed to throw a positive spin on something controversial, to say the least. One euphemism that has come into vogue fairly recently is “gender-affirming care.” This does not refer to providing care to someone based on their biological sex, but to whatever gender they identify with on a given day. More specifically, it encompasses helping someone, including (especially?) children, transition from their biological sex to the opposite sex. I’ve written about this in a previous post, but there are four stages in transitioning: social, puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and sex reassignment surgery. The fourth stage could be referred to in other not-so-euphemistic ways, such as “genital mutilation.” However, the various powers that be are of course not going to use such a pejorative phrase.

Another example, which has been in common usage for so long that people no longer think of it as a euphemism, is “pro-choice.” This is much more palatable than “pro-abortion,” for example. Admittedly, those on the other side commonly use the phrase “pro-life” rather than “anti-abortion.” In the wake of the Supreme Court decision this summer to turn this issue over to the states, perhaps you’ve seen the sign “Abortion Saves Lives” at protests. Just stop and think about that for a moment!

Another issue having to do with life and death is euthanasia. I remember in the 1980s when I was in college, euthanasia was referred to as “mercy killing.” However, that didn’t last, of course, and now it is commonly referred to as the much-more-pleasant-sounding “Death with Dignity.” I have written about end-of-life issues in a previous post; click here if you’re interested: https://keithpetersenblog.com/2020/10/22/when-is-it-right-to-die/

In the economic sphere, an example of trying to throw a positive spin on something is the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act. After its passage (but not before), even CNN and MSNBC admitted that this act would have a negligible effect on lowering inflation, echoing what the Congressional Budget Office had said. If you do the math, you will discover that 84.4% of the so-called Inflation Reduction Act is for “energy security and climate change.” What that means is basically “let’s go green.” This is not the place for me to go into detail about energy sources, but it’s obvious that the current administration is not in favor of either fossil fuels or nuclear energy. Is it wise to put essentially all of your eggs in one energy basket? But I digress. Back to the main point, which is that the “Inflation Reduction Act” will not lower the rate of inflation!

Another recent example in the economic sphere of trying to obfuscate facts is the term “recession,” which has been commonly understood for several decades as two consecutive quarters of negative GDP (Gross Domestic Product). However, the current administration has refused to concede that the U.S. is in a recession. How much better would it be just to admit it and then to state something like, “We are working to re-energize the U.S. economy?”

Another area where those in power try to put a positive spin on a phenomenon is violence. During the riots two years ago in the wake of George Floyd’s death, there were two what I regard as particularly seminal moments. The first one was on May 29, 2020, when an MSNBC reporter, standing in front of a burning building in Minneapolis, said, “This is mostly a protest. It is not generally speaking unruly.” Three months later, following the shooting death of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a CNN reporter, standing in front of a raging fire, was reporting on what was happening. At the bottom of the screen was the caption “Fiery But Mostly Peaceful Protests After Police Shooting.” Both MSNBC and CNN were widely mocked, and rightly so, for referring to these riots as “protests,” while adding fuel to the mockery fire with the words “not…unruly” and “mostly peaceful.”

Compare those 2020 riots with the peaceful, albeit sometimes vociferous, protests at school-board meetings by parents in 2021. The NSBA (National School Boards Association) wrote a letter to the Biden administration including the following: “As these acts of malice, violence, and threats against public school officials have increased, the classification of these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.” The fact is, there have been some threats (mostly not at the school-board meetings but in letters), but no violence. The NSBA later apologized for the letter, but the damage was done. This characterization of words as “violence” is in keeping with the growing tendency on university campuses to refer to ideas that you disagree with as “violence.” Just to reiterate, during the summer of 2020 riots, there were plenty of acts of violence, including the aforementioned fires, but also violent looting and murders.

I’m sorry to say that even among pastors, I’ve noticed a word change that I think is significant. Have you heard the word “sin” lately? Thankfully, in the church that my wife and I are now a part of, our pastor is not afraid to use this word. However, at a previous church, it had been a long time since I’d heard it; the same is true with some, but thankfully not all, other pastors that I’ve heard and read. A common substitute is “mistake” or “wrong choice.” Let’s be clear: our sin is abhorrent to our holy God; that’s why Jesus died for us!

Thankfully, even as the powers that be, including some pastors, sometimes use euphemistic and obfuscating language, this is what the Lord tells us in Isaiah 40:6: “All men are like grass.” Two verses later, we are told, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God stands forever.” The apostle Peter also quotes these words in 1 Peter 1:24-25. Yes, even as the world around us continues to change at lightning speed, including language, the Word of God stands forever, unchanging. We can always trust the Lord and His Word.

Greed and Its Antidote

A person from Illinois recently won the Mega Millions $1.227 billion jackpot. Normally I don’t pay attention to such news, but an article about various kinds of problems that some big lottery winners have faced caught my eye. Here are some examples of big winners and the problems they have faced:

  • Jack Whittaker won more than $300 million in 2002. Following that big win, his wife left him; in addition, his granddaughter, who had struggled with drug addiction but would have inherited his fortune, died at 17. “My granddaughter is dead because of the money,” he said. He added, “I don’t have any friends.” Thieves robbed Whittaker of hundreds of thousands of dollars, he became mired in various legal battles, and he fell into drinking and gambling. Here’s a telling statement that sums it all up: “Since I won the lottery, I think there is no control for greed. I think if you have something, there’s always someone else that wants it. I wish I’d torn that ticket up.”
  • Marie Holmes won a $188-million jackpot in 2015. However, she soon had to deal with lawsuits from her ex-fiance.
  • William Post III won $16.2 million in 1988. He dealt with various misfortunes, including a lawsuit from a landlord who obtained a third of his jackpot, an assault conviction, and bankruptcy (!). His brother, Jeffrey, was convicted of trying to hire a hitman to kill William and his wife for “monetary gain,” according to police.
  • Abraham Shakespeare won $31 million in 2006. A woman named Dorice Moore was convicted of killing Shakespeare six years later. She owned a medical staffing company which Shakespeare had transferred some real estate holdings to. Shakespeare had previously told his brother, “I’d have been better off broke.”

On the bright side of lottery winners, I recently saw a movie, based on a true story, called Jerry & Marge Go Large. Jerry, Marge, and others in their community manage to game the system, winning millions in the process; they use the money to revive their small town.

In spite of that movie, I still don’t buy lottery tickets, but lest you think I’m picking on those who do, greed can and does manifest itself in many other ways as well. For example, how about the stock market? Do you, like me, have investments that you track? While tracking is wise, it can easily become obsessive, speaking from experience. One way that I have dealt with this is to invest in ETFs, rather than individual stocks. The reason is that even on a bad day in the market, an ETF is, on average, going to lose less than an individual stock; the same, of course, goes for good market days and gains.

In connection with the stock market: When my wife and I were engaged, a couple of college students in a group we were helping lead at our church wondered if it was OK to have an IRA. That got us thinking the same thing. At the time, we had very little, and we were preparing to go overseas for a few years, so this question wasn’t going to affect us immediately. However, we decided at least for ourselves that it was OK, the reason being that we didn’t want to become a financial burden to anyone as we got older. Also at that time, we knew an older couple who had a rather lavish, large home. Initially, I almost felt uncomfortable being in it, but my fiancee explained that they regularly hosted large groups of international students for meals and Bible study. I thought (and still think!) that was fantastic, especially because hospitality was one of our desires as a couple and eventually as a family. At the same time, we discovered, both here and abroad, that we did not need a large apartment or home in order to be hospitable.

Greed shows its ugly face in many contexts; I’ve only mentioned two: lottery tickets and the stock market. One thing I should add is that I’ve noticed, in myself as well as others, that greed manifests itself regardless of age, socioeconomic status, or anything else! I think a good definition of greed is never being satisfied, but always wanting more. So, what is the antidote to greed? As always, the Bible points us in the right direction. Here’s what the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:12: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” In 1 Timothy 6:6, Paul writes, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” Then in verses 9-10, he writes, “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” In connection with this, I should add that “the greedy” are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 6:10 as people who will not “inherit the kingdom of God.”

In both Bible passages above, Paul mentions contentment; he tells us that it doesn’t depend on how much we have, and he conjoins contentment with godliness, telling us that that combination is truly great gain. How can we become more godly and content and thereby combat greed? I have no doubt there is more than one answer to this question, but here’s mine. I mentioned earlier that when my wife and I were engaged, we were preparing to go overseas for a few years. We were with an organization that sent Christian teachers to various Third World countries, and we were dependent on the generous financial and prayer support of brothers and sisters in Christ back in the U.S. It was positively thrilling to watch the financial support pour in, and we were never lacking. Maybe you can guess what else was thrilling when we came back to the U.S. to live and raise our kids: giving financially! There are many ways we have done this, but one way we have especially enjoyed over the years, I suppose even moreso when our kids were young, is sponsoring Third World children. All four of us enjoyed seeing their photos and getting updates on them, as well as sending them cards and occasionally also a special small gift, depending on their age. Giving financially is still one of our favorite things to do. The Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 9:7, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Then in verse 11 Paul writes, “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” People have misused this verse to say that God will make everyone rich monetarily, but that is not what it means; regardless of your financial status, you can be generous.

Jesus Himself tells us in Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” Let’s be joyfully generous, not serving money but using it as one way to serve God and others, combating greed in the process.

And Justice for All

I grew up watching Gunsmoke, which was a Western set in Dodge City, Kansas, in the 1890s. The “good guys” and the “bad guys” were clearly delineated, and every week justice was meted out by Marshall Matt Dillon and his deputies. As a boy, certainly to some degree because of this show, I grew up with a strong sense of justice–and frankly, a strong desire for it as well.

In my early teens, I spent a good portion of my summers detasseling corn in Iowa; many others and I would gather at the town square/park in Pella, Iowa, and wait for the bus to pick us up and take us out to the fields. Two guys that I got to know were Don and Jerry, who were brothers. Jerry stuttered and got made fun of because of it, especially by a bully who was much bigger than he was. Jerry’s brother Don would always defend him, basically telling him to knock it off. One day, things reached a boiling point, and Don challenged the bully to a fight after work at the town square. Don was strong; however, he was no match for the bully, who was bigger and clearly getting the best of the fight. Like Superman coming to the rescue, our foreman, Steve, saw what was happening and quickly stepped in; he grabbed the bully by the collar and literally shook him from head to toe while saying things like, “Why don’t you pick on somebody your own size!” And then, to top it off, Steve gave one last shake and said to the bully, “You’re fired, and I’d better not see you here again!” Some in the crowd cheered; I did, too, but not loudly because I didn’t want to become the bully’s next target. This incident also instilled in me a strong sense of justice.

I suppose if such an incident happened now, the bully would sue Steve, but thankfully, things were simpler back then. As I read about various events in the news, I do so to a significant degree through the lens of justice. Here are a few stories, some of them ongoing, that have caught my attention.

  • Jose Alba, a New York City bodega employee, is attacked by Austin Simon because his girlfriend’s EBT card was rejected. Alba manages to grab a knife and kill Simon, whose girlfriend then attacks Alba with a knife as well. Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg does not charge the girlfriend with anything, but he charges Alba with second-degree murder; Alba is sent to the notorious Rikers Island jail. Eighteen days after Simon’s death, the murder charge against Alba is dropped after a huge public outcry; it seemed like an obvious case of self-defense to everyone except the DA.
  • Unspeakable things continue to happen to women and children at our open southern border; Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas continues to claim that the border is secure even as Border Patrol agents have continued to deal with more than 200,000 migrant encounters a month since March. In connection with this, you may have seen video of the “whipgate” incident last fall, in which a Border Patrol agent supposedly whipped a migrant; an investigation revealed, however, that the supposed “whip” was a rein and that it did not hit the migrant, who had fallen backward into the river. In spite of this, the Biden administration is still threatening action against the agent.
  • Two turnstile jumpers in New York City are told to leave the subway station by police officers. A verbal argument ensues, and then the “jumpers” attack the officers; the male jumper is the one most clearly seen in the video. The jumpers are arrested but are quickly freed under New York’s bail reform law; the male jumper had previously been arrested two other times but also been released.
  • Riley Gaines, University of Kentucky swimmer, has had the courage to speak out against the NCAA, which has allowed Lia Thomas, a trans woman, to compete as a woman. Thomas has “broken records” and eventually tied with Gaines for a national title. Thomas has also been nominated for a “woman of the year” award. Gaines has also spoken out against Thomas’s being allowed to use the women’s locker room: “That’s not something we were forewarned about, which I don’t think is right in any means, changing in a locker room with someone who has different parts.”

Thankfully, in the case of Jose Alba, justice was served, even though it was delayed for a couple weeks. It appeared that in the infamous “whipgate” case, justice had been served, but not so, or at best, only partially. And of course there has been no justice for the ravaged women and children at the border. In the five-day-old case of the turnstile jumpers, a foolish bail reform law has made crime more attractive; if you are so inclined, why not commit the crime, since you’ll be released anyway? Finally, one would hope that sports would be a venue where justice could be done, and for the most part, it still is. However, the NCAA doesn’t have enough courage to prohibit biological men from competing as women if that is how they identify, including sharing a locker room with them; notice the part of the quote above where Gaines refers to Thomas’s “different parts.” That tells you all you need to know about Thomas’s true gender.

In Habakkuk 1:3-4, the prophet cries out to the Lord: “Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.” The context is the wicked people in Israel; the Lord’s answer to Habakkuk is that the wicked Israelites will be punished by the Babylonians. Then Habakkuk cries out to the Lord again, this time asking about the Babylonians and their wickedness; the Lord assures him that the wicked Babylonians will be punished as well.

There are various Psalms, as well, where the Psalmist calls on the Lord to punish the wicked. Psalm 73 is an example; verse 3 says, “For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” However, later in the Psalm, the Psalmist enters the sanctuary of God and realizes what will eventually happen to the wicked in verses 18-19: “Surely, you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors!”

How are we to apply these Scriptures to our own lives? Should we, for example, pray against those who are evil? Or should we pray for them? I have sometimes done both, praying that a person will turn from their evil and to faith in Christ, but that in the meantime they will have no peace in their heart; in other words, the lack of inner peace may very well be what turns them to the Lord. Sometimes I have just prayed that they will turn from evil, knowing that if they don’t, the Lord will deal with them. Ultimately, I know that the Lord’s justice will prevail in eternity, regardless of what may happen in this life; those who have trusted and obeyed the Lord will spend eternity with Him in heaven, while those who have not will be apart from Him forever in hell. My prayer for anyone reading this who does not yet know Jesus as your Savior and Lord, is that you will turn to Him in saving faith today.