Tuesday, May 10, 2011

God as superstition

And when the troops came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, "Why has the LORD defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies."
1 Samuel 4:3

This sets up one of the classic defeats in the history of Israel. Of course, God is working a much broader sovereign plan, but in the course of it, the spiritual condition of the leaders of Israel is revealed. The Israelite army is engaged in battle with the Philistine army at Aphek. The initial skirmish results in a thousand dead in the Israeli army. The elders of Israel respond to this news superstitiously. They knew God was in control of the outcome of the battle, yet they propose bringing the ark of the covenant from Shiloh into the camp so that "it" can "save us from the power of our enemies". It is very clear that they are putting their trust in an object, and not in the God of Israel.

The ark has become a kind of an idol at this point. That is the insidious outcome of superstition. We place more faith in a practice or a process than we do in the person of God. And it can be subtle form of idolatry. Sometimes the superstition can revolve around something associated with God, as it did in this passage. We need to be very careful to not fall into this trap.

I wonder if we don't occasionally do the same thing with disciplines and practices. If we do, we are in danger of both superstitious spirituality and thinking in terms of works righteousness (that the things that I do will save me in the end). It is often said that "prayer changes things". That looks great on a bumper sticker, but it is close to superstitious. The reality is that God changes things... prayer is just the means of communicating our heart to Him. It is not the prayer that is active to change. It is the person of God. The same line of thinking might accompany other Christian commitments. Do we worship the Bible, rather than the God of scripture? If we make it all about our knowledge alone, or in the practice of reading the "good book" daily, we may become dangerously superstitious.

What about our practice of constantly "listening" to a favorite preacher or Christian recording artist? We may exalt the person above the God that they are calling us to worship. And we may be disillusioned if we find a problem in that person. We neglect to realize that it is God they should draw us to and not man.

The way that God broke Israel of this spiritual laziness was to take away the object of their superstition. He allowed the ark of the covenant to be captured for a while so that Israel might focus on Him. And it worked. He will not give His glory to another, even if we falsely and inadvertently do so. He will do what it takes to get us focused on Him.

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

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