Dear Christian, Don’t Be a Superstitious Saint

I have a piece over at The Gospel Coalition on the problem of the pious superstition.

Last week I was speaking with a man who drives for a ride-share company, and he told me about the rosary hanging from the rearview mirror in his car. It’s been there for his entire career, and during that time he hasn’t had an accident. An acquaintance of his had removed the rosary from his own rearview mirror, and soon after got in an accident. “How do you explain that?” he said.

The human tendency toward superstition is strong. We can all lean toward spiritualizing objects, behaviors, and beliefs without a concern for the person and will of God. We love our superstitions and the talismans that seem to protect us from the things we fear most.

Charmed Christian Life

As followers of Christ, we aren’t immune to superstitions and talismans. Too many Christians fall prey to the temptation to use the good things of the Lord to control our fates apart from him.

I remember the talisman-like power I placed on the amount of time I spent reading the Scriptures in college. If I missed a morning session of Bible reading, I felt like anything bad that happened that day was caused by missing my ritual. I was less concerned with the sincerity and reverence of my behavior toward God than with checking off that box to ensure a good day for myself.

We can turn anything into pious superstition, even church attendance and participation. If I just show up Sunday morning or join the right ministry team, God will bless my life. Others might even join the church’s leadership, hoping that being a professional Christian will better ensure the blessings of God.

None of these activities is bad. In fact, they’re quite excellent and beneficial—unless they’re approached as acts of pious superstition.

Allure of Illusion

There’s a reason why believers can have a tendency toward superstition. The Christian life is often difficult and complex. Superstition boils down that complexity to a simple input-output equation. If I do my devotions, I’ll have a good day. If I have a rosary on my rearview mirror, I won’t crash my car.

Superstitions also give us the illusion of control. The world can be a terrifying place, full of awful days and car accidents, and God hasn’t promised to spare us from those things. So instead we turn to behaviors or talismans we believe will give us protection. As long as we do the right things, we think we can maintain some control over our lives, regardless of God’s plans for us.

The Scriptures teach that any hope we find in talismans is a delusion. That goes even for the good things we use to supply us with false confidence (for some biblical examples, see the hypocritical fast in Isaiah 58, the Jerusalem temple in Jeremiah 7, and the practice of the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11).

Identify Your Superstitions

It can be hard to see our own superstitions. What objects, behaviors, and beliefs give us a false sense of control over our lives? What good-luck charms and theological talismans relieve us of the burden of true belief?

The difference between faithful behavior and superstition can be terribly hard to discern, as the difference lies in the subtleties of our inner intentions. But any object, behavior, or belief that you invest with the power to save you—or give you good things apart from the power of the living God—is a pious talisman and is driving you away from the gospel.

Instead of relying on superstitions, our minds need to be renewed so we can rely fully on our sufficient God. As Paul writes:

Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph 4:22–24)

The renewal of the mind has a way of destroying pious superstitions.

Read the rest here.