Today is Friday the 13th. On average, there are roughly 2 Fridays the 13th each year – the exact number is 1.7218 per year. There have been 3477 Friday the 13ths since the year 1 AD. The fear of Friday the 13th has been given a name and it is Paraskevidekatriaphobia. You’ve likely heard of Triskaidekaphobia which is the fear of the number 13. Paraskevidekatriaphobia is an extension of Triskaidekaphobia.
So, what about superstitions – are they real or are they fabricated? Do we need to be especially careful on this day; Friday the 13th? Is there something to a rosary hung over a car mirror, a four-leaf clover, or a rabbit’s foot? Or is it more likely that so many people buy into the superstition mindset, that their own careless, or more guarded, actions cause many of the events or circumstances, that they tie to superstition or magical objects?
Years ago, I managed a business which had on average 150-200 customers a night. We had our share of nights where we had the occasion person have a health issue, or there was a theft, or someone had an accident in the parking lot. But for the most part things were generally very peaceful and uneventful.
One particular night, all of those occasional occurrences happened, within just a few hours. There was an accident in the parking lot, a man had a heart attack in the building, and we caught three separate people trying to use stolen credit cards. In each case we had to call the police and also for an ambulance, but the 911 dispatcher informed us that there were an incredible amount of emergency runs going on at this very time and that we should expect a delayed response.
Well, it didn’t take long for someone to point out that this very day was Friday the 13th…AND…there was also a full moon to top it off.
The events of that evening were very real and very serious and stressful for sooooo many people, but were they caused by superstition, or just plain random acts?
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. Many love their superstitions and the charms or magical objects that seem to protect them from the things they fear most.
As followers of Christ, we aren’t immune to superstitions and magical objects. Too many Christians fall prey to the temptation to use the good things of the Lord to control their fates apart from him.
Many people consider this true when they relate the amount of time, they spend reading the Scriptures. If they miss a morning session of Bible reading, they feel like anything bad that happened that day was caused by missing their ritual. They are less concerned with the sincerity and reverence of their behavior toward God than with checking off that box to ensure a good day for themselves.
We can turn anything into pious superstition, even church attendance and participation. Many people think - 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.
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 magical objects 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 magical objects is a delusion. That goes even for the good things we use to supply us with false confidence.
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 magical objects relieve us of the burden of true belief?
The difference between faithful behavior and superstition can be terribly hard to discern. 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 magical object 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 the Apostle Paul wrote:
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.
The rosary on the mirror protects you from car accidents without the hassle of active trust in Christ or the difficult work of learning what he’s teaching you in suffering. A rabbit’s foot promises luck without having to rely daily on the Lord. Even your deep and precise theological knowledge can be a magical object, giving you false assurance while you avoid grappling with the living and personal God who requires real repentance and faith.
In the gospel of Jesus Christ, we aren’t presented with magical objects or pious superstition; we’re presented with the person and work of God’s Son, who saves us from our sin-soaked lives.
We have faith in Christ not to make us lucky or to avoid all harm; we have faith in Christ because he is worthy. He is with us in our suffering, and he promises eternal life.
Superstitions may make us feel safe, but only Jesus can provide true, everlasting security.