Come Saturday it’s time again for me to mow my grass. I’ll pick up the two lithium-ion battery packs from their shelf and slot them into my mower, then I’ll push the mower to my side yard. I’ll insert the keyfob, push the button, and pull back on the lever. The machine will come to life with a loud whir. I’ll proceed to push it back and forth across my front lawn until the grass is uniformly shorter than it was before I started. In the back yard I’ll repeat the pushing until it is all done. The next step will be for me to take the electric edger and trim around the sidewalk and bushes so that everything is neat and tidy.
I have control of how my lawn looks: I have a sprinkler system that daily squirts water onto it so that it stays green despite the fact that I live in a desert. And I use tools running on electricity to keep the green from going wild. My savannah is tamed.
For many of us, we treat God like I treat my lawn, and imagine we can keep him trim and tidy and tamed. Like our lawns, we want neat and pleasant lives. Isn’t that mostly why so many of us put money in the offering plate, attend church weekly, and offer prayers that always end with the magic words “in Jesus Name, Amen”?
I’ve heard that there are tribes that dance and bang drums in order to scare away the monster that attempts to consume the sun during an eclipse. The ancient Canaanites sacrificed to their gods in order to make the rain come in spring and bountiful harvests in the autumn.
When we get what we want, then we are convinced we did the right thing that got God to give us what we wanted and like a lucky shirt, we’ll try it again the next time we have a need. And when our prayers seem to fail, then we assume that there was something wrong with us: maybe we didn’t wear the shirt quite right—or maybe we shouldn’t have washed it.
If that’s the case, then we don’t have a relationship with God. We have a superstition. When bad things come into our lives, we double down on our superstition. We convince ourselves that we didn’t have enough faith, that we didn’t go to church enough, that maybe folding money would be better than jingling money. Or maybe we’re being punished because we snuck an extra helping of chocolate cake, or because we thought too long and hard about Brad Pitt’s abs, or Jennifer Aniston’s legs, or because we used bad language when that moron insisted on driving 35 in a 50 mile an hour zone.
God is not moved if we let black cats cross our path. He doesn’t abandon us if we don’t walk under ladders. He doesn’t turn our children into drug addicts if we don’t break mirrors. Tossing some salt over our shoulder will not keep our loved ones from dying in a car accident. A lucky shirt is not going to get us out of cancer treatment.
God doesn’t grant prizes because you perform the right rituals in the right way, he doesn’t give you a cookie when you drop a buck in the plate. He doesn’t tell you what a good girl or boy you are when you avoid screwing your neighbor. Neither is he going to curse you because you forgot to read your Bible today, or got too busy, or wanted to watch the Dodgers instead. The blessings of heaven are not being held back until you discover some secret. Jesus already died for your sins. They don’t count against you anymore. In Christ, we are already righteous. In Christ, we have everlasting life. In Christ, we have eternity in our hearts.
What we forget, thanks to our superstitions, is a simple truth. We have someone who loves us more than words can say. You can’t make him love you any more, or any less. His love is stuck on maximum.