Once upon a time, I had a rabbit’s foot keychain. I can’t remember where I got it – some middle school junk sale or something. But I had heard one time they were lucky, and even though I didn’t have any keys to think of, I snapped the thing onto the zipper of my backpack so, you know, I would be lucky.
It didn’t work very well. Plus the “fur” fell out of it after after a couple of weeks.
Several years later, I started seriously pursuing the spiritual discipline of having a daily quiet time – reading, praying, journaling, every morning. It occurs to me, though, that I have at many times in my life treated that discipline very similarly to the rabbit’s foot. I made sure when I had a tough day coming to put in some extra Bible time. And when I had a bad day, I could look back and see that surely it was because I had not read my Bible that morning.
My Bible had become more like a rabbit’s foot, something I clipped onto the backpack of life to try and make sure things were going well. We have the tendency to do this, I think – for faith to drift into the realm of superstition, which is really no faith at all.
Here we find the Israelites at the edge of a particularly dark past of history. God gave the ark of the covenant to His people as a symbol of His presence and His desire to dwell in the midst of His people. It was a reminder that God was with them, that He would fight for them, and that the battle belonged to Him. But by the latter days of Eli the priest, the faith of the Israelites had drifted into the realm of superstition.
Having been routed by the Philistine army, the people turned to their rabbit’s foot:
“Why did the Lord let us be defeated today by the Philistines? Let’s bring the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Shiloh. Then it will go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.” So the people sent men to Shiloh to bring back the ark of the covenant of the Lord of Hosts, who dwells between the cherubim. Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. When the ark of the covenant of the Lord entered the camp, all the Israelites raised such a loud shout that the ground shook… (1 Samuel 4:3-5).
The Philistines, initially terrified by the prospect of an army with an ark, mustered their courage and came out to fight. The result, for Israel, was far from what they expected:
So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and each man fled to his tent. The slaughter was severe—30,000 of the Israelite foot soldiers fell. The ark of God was captured, and Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, died (1 Samuel 4:10-11).
How can we know, then, if we are drifting from faith into superstition? Here are 3 warning signs:
1. You think in formulaic ways.
For the Israelites, the formula was simple: army + ark = victory. It’s a warning sign if we come to believe that God will operate according to a formula we have made out in our minds, that we can somehow manipulate His activity based on our supposed good works. God will not subject Himself to the formulas devised by man.
2. You are focused primarily on results.
When we find ourselves with little joy, love, or adoration purely from God Himself and instead are focused on whatever other benefit we believe might come from that relationship, then we have ceased to operate in faith and moved toward superstition. In that case, God is not enough; indeed, is really only the means to another end, and we are content to use Him rather than love Him.
3. You are constantly disappointed.
We are more superstitious than we’d like to admit if we find that God just can’t seem to live up to our expectations. Time and time again, we convince ourselves that God should do something, but He insists upon doing something else. Though we might not like to admit it, some of that disappointment comes from the fact that we are more worthy of whatever God has chosen to deal to us. After all, we clipped on the rabbit’s foot.
Check yourself, as I check myself. The gospel, which we believe, is not superstition. It’s truth. Far from being a rabbit’s foot, the gospel is the bedrock of the true reality of the cosmos. Let’s not cheapen that.