Superstition or Faith?

The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:1-9)

Sometimes we Christians end up being superstitious and calling it faith. What I mean is (and I have done it too) we try to read the “tea leaves” of circumstances and thereby sort out what God is doing. “Ok, now I see what God’s purpose is here.” But that confidence vaporizes the next day when things take an entirely different, and usually discouraging, direction. “All of these trials I have been through – God has been using them to teach me this specific lesson. Now I see it.” But then the next custody hearing comes up and your abuser prevails. You resolve to follow and obey Christ. But you are the one in poverty while your abuser prospers.

Superstition can sneak up on us and parade as faith. It isn’t. “I am just patiently waiting for the Lord to show me…and then I will…”. That’s the thinking. Usually by “show me” we mean some sign, some happening or observable event, some word spoken by someone that we take to be God directing us. Let me suggest once more that this can easily be superstition, and not faith. Faith, remember, is defined in Scripture this way:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Heb 11:1)

The object of faith is the Lord and His revealed Word, not circumstances or events. Superstition, even with the Lord’s name attached to it, is not faith. It is the notion that the creation around us and the creatures in that creation emanate “signs” to us that we can read and make some sense of, communicating to us what God’s plan is. The thing will inevitably leave you disappointed. Remember Job’s friends?  They claimed to be able to interpret Job’s circumstances and from their observations discern what God was doing in Job’s life. They were wrong.

I am thinking these days more about the purpose of Ecclesiastes being in the Bible. Basically it says this:

Nothing in this life makes sense and we will go nuts if we try to discern God’s plan from events and circumstance. In the end we walk by faith not by sight. Sight is what will make us stumble.

Sometimes I have seen abuse victims, in the midst of great suffering, refuse to take action that really appeared to be very obviously wise. They were free to do it. God’s Word gave them that freedom. Godly people affirmed that taking such a step would be wise. Civil officials agreed, as did the civil law. But they didn’t take that step. They remained in the place they were in. Why? They said they were waiting for the Lord to direct them specifically and definitely. In some cases perhaps they were caught up in superstition and confusing it with faith. What they were waiting for was some course of events, some happening, some word or statement that they would see as a divine direction specifically for them. In their thinking, they dare not take any action or they would lose God’s blessing and perhaps even incur His wrath. But that is superstition, not biblical faith.

The church that I have pastored for many years has undergone much suffering. As we have endured various trials, we have often said to one another: “Ok, the Lord has tried and tested us. He has shown us sin and brought us to repent of it. Now that He has done this, He is going to start bringing new people here to join us. Genuine Christians who love Christ. It’s gonna be a bright, sunshiny day.” But then it doesn’t happen. The reality is, it may never happen. Sometimes in the history of the church, Christ’s people have done the right thing according to God’s Word and their church eventually came to naught. It isn’t always sin that closes down a church, you see. Sometimes following Christ faithfully in a world that hates Christ ends with an empty building dilapidating over the years. No, that doesn’t make sense does it? And that is the very message of Ecclesiastes.

Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work. I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts. For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him? (Ecc 3:16-22)

Superstition will try and try to make sense out of the events of this life. It will claim to tell us what God’s plan and purpose is in the specifics of our lives. But it will fail. It is a dead end. Superstition disappoints. Superstition paralyzes. Rather, it is faith we must embrace, and the object of genuine faith is unseen. Faith is trust in God’s Word simply because God has spoken it.

Jesus lives, and so shall I.
Death! thy sting is gone forever!
He who deigned for me to die,
Lives, the bands of death to sever.
He shall raise me from the dust:
Jesus is my Hope and Trust.

Trust Christ. Believe His Word as revealed to us in Scripture. Use wisdom, do what you believe is right application of that Word, and be assured you have God’s blessing even when your circumstances make it look like you do not. In the end, the outcome is in the Lord’s hands. In the end, whenever that day comes, the Christian’s life will turn out to be good, very, very good. How do I know? Because God has indeed given us a sign – the sign of Jonah:

But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Mat 12:39-40)

Our story has a happy ending. The storyline gets really, really confusing quite often. But the Lord has told us how it is all going to turn out, and He has given us assurance by means of the empty tomb. Christ is risen. And because He is risen, so shall we rise. This is faith, not superstition.

3 thoughts on “Superstition or Faith?

  1. HI — Thank you so much for this post! I think about this all the time…. it is so hard to parse out sometimes. It is also hard to explain this to a child….my daughter is nearly 15 now, so she can start to understand this idea better, but I know she struggles.

    This post also reminded me of the story of Gideon in the book of Judges. Three times Gideon asked God for sign to give him surety in following God’s direction… Gideon’s requests were both superstitious and silly…and arbitrary.

    Gideon’s requests for a sign also demonstrated his lack of faith in obeying God.

    Furthermore, even though God honored Gideon’s requests for a sign, Gideon was still not convinced — indicating it is not the signs we seek that give us surety and strengthen our faith.

    In the end, God provided a for more convincing “sign” far greater than what Gideon could ask for or imagine.

    God’s provision was also unexpected, illustrating it was not only foolish for Gideon to ask for the signs in the first place, but to wait for a sign to happen.

    I also like to remember Job: He did not look for or ask for signs, although he felt like giving up, he still remained faithful in the midst of the suffering. Same with Naomi in the book of Ruth.

    I also like to remember Psalm 73:22 when the Psalmist is questioning how senseless the prosperity of the wicked seemed and acknowledged dwelling on this only served to embitter himself and make himself : “brutish and ignorant” and “like a beast.”

    A few months ago my daughter witnesses how a very secular friend and her family were abundantly helped by secular people after a fire burned their home and the had to be temporarily were housed in a hotel. People who openly live lifestyles that are against God graciously flooded this family with delicious homemade meals and invites to dinner — and even homemade fancy and expensive desserts like organic cherry clafoutis. Meanwhile, not once has anyone from our church (kind of now a former church now as we search of another) has never once provided us with a homemade meal or invited my daughter and I to dinner, even for holidays as we struggled living in the trauma of divorce. And requesting aid from benevolent fund at a dire time of need felt like an arduous “process” that required evidence.

    I was so ashamed of “God’s church” for my daughter when she shared this observation with me and struggled to make sense of it. I could only explain that the lack of support was not a reflection of God, but of the people who claim to represent His church.

    1. “the lack of support was not a reflection of God, but of the people who claim to represent His church.”

      Exactly! Well said.

  2. Your thoughtful post made me look at Psalm 73 again. I pray that your daughter’s faith will continue to grow despite the poor witness of the church people. I like the next verses in the Psalm: “Nevertheless I am continually with You; you hold me by my right hand. You will guide me with Your counsel, and afterwards receive me to glory.” I’ve experienced a certain amount of callousness by Christians too. It’s disappointing but causes me rely on God more I suppose…And I’m not perfect either.
    But it is so tempting to look for a sign, which means walking by sight instead of faith. By God’s grace sometimes we get a nudge or help to move on or make a decision. It takes huge courage.
    Your courage and wisdom are very evident, lg. Thank you for sharing. God bless you.

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