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RELIGION COLUMN: Superstitious solutions

Published 5:17pm Wednesday, May 7, 2014

By Jake McCall

When I played high school baseball, I would always wear my baseball pants in such a way that the bottom of my pants leg would stop just below my knee and my orange socks would show from my knee down. At one particular away game, I realized that I forgot my socks and all I had was a pair of ankle-high socks. And so I came to the conclusion that it was in the best interest of everyone that I wear my baseball pants all the way down to my cleats during that game. I then played one of the best games I had played that year. Therefore I was certain it was because of the way I wore my pants and so I continued the trend (most likely until I had a bad game). I never had a rabbit’s foot or a lucky charm, but when looking back, I recall a number of similar superstitious methods that I would employ when I would play sports.

I now see the ridiculousness in superstition. Or do I? Superstitious methods can actually be very prevalent in the Christian community but we choose not to label these methods that way. We can have a habit of taking very good things, even biblically prescribed things and turn them into superstitious solutions. When things seem to fall apart, we can conclude that maybe more Bible study is needed or more consistent church attendance is needed. Maybe things just aren’t going quite as smoothly as we want them to, so we decide that perhaps more prayer will get things stable or profitable or provide more blessing.

As a church leader, I fall into this trap, looking for the secret biblical potion for how to have a healthy church. In the Old Testament we often see Israel turning to superstitious, albeit religious, means to try to win back God’s favor. They looked to icons and practices and temple rituals during times of judgment, believing that their methods would provide the way out of their dire problems. In the book of Hosea, during one of these times of God’s judgment, the Lord said, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6). Why would the Lord, who prescribed sacrifices and burnt offerings in the Old Testament, not desire them? It is because they were being practiced in a superstitious way. There was no mercy and no acknowledgment of God in their religious worship, and God rebuked it.

There are things that God has given us in his Word to do as part of our calling as followers of Christ—valuable, necessary things such as prayer, worship, corporate assembly, giving, Bible study, evangelism and caring for widows and orphans. These are things that are designed to strengthen us, build up the Church and proclaim the strong name of Christ, and they should be pursued. However, if we look to implement these biblically prescribed things so that God will respond to us when we whistle, then they will be void of power and purpose. And we all share in this type of travesty when we turn the beautiful things of God into superstitious solutions. Thankfully the Gospel tells us that there is a way to meet the heart of God, and that is through faith and repentance. There is nothing superstitious or self-centered about true faith and repentance.

Superstitious solutions simply leave us where we are and let us keep doing what we are doing, only adding some holy stuff to it when needed: let me add some prayer life to my life of dishonesty; let me add some Bible reading to my life of sexual immorality; let me add some giving to my life of greed. But true faith and repentance announce that we are leaving the old life behind and trusting in Christ, believing that he can take better care of you than you can care for yourself. When we pursue the beautiful things of God with a heart of selfish concern, it means that we are pursuing God’s solution to our problem. But when we pursue the beautiful things of God with a heart of faith and repentance, it means we are pursing the heart of God. Do you see the difference?

—Jake McCall is a religion columnist for The Clanton Advertiser. He is the pastor at Grace Fellowship Presbyterian Church. His column appears each Thursday.

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