Cause and Effect


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 108; 150; Jeremiah 44:15-30; Acts 18:24-19:7; Luke 10:25-37

Baseball is notorious for its superstitions. Players (and fans) will eat specific foods, wear specific clothes (often without washing them), and refrain from haircuts, shaving, or even bathing once they believe a certain behavior has brought them luck. Performance may improve when someone feels confident or empowered, but the activities themselves have nothing to do with winning or losing (cue disapproving comments from dedicated baseball fans). Human beings are wired to draw conclusions from perceived patterns, but when these patterns are coincidental or casual we are noticing a correlation, not a cause.

The Jewish people who sought refuge in Egypt dedicated themselves to idolatry because of a correlation. When the prophet Jeremiah warned them to stop making sacrifices to the goddess Asherah, also known as the queen of heaven, they outright refused, saying:

We used to have plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no misfortune. But from the time we stopped making offerings to the queen of heaven and pouring out libations to her, we have lacked everything and have perished by the sword and by famine.

Jeremiah had a different take. He claimed the desolation and disaster which befell them happened because the Lord was no longer willing to tolerate their abominable behavior. We can also be a little too ready to draw conclusions, with a solid amount of certainty, which turn out to undermine our faith.

One example is the sense among many Christians (and frankly many non-believers as well) that poverty is a result of moral failing. Another closely related example is that good health is a result of strong faith. These types of assumptions contain at least two dangers. The first is that they teach us to think of people who suffer from misfortune as lacking faith and therefore undeserving of mercy. The second is that they leave us unprepared for our own times of trial; many people experience a crisis or loss of faith when the good luck they attributed to faith finally runs out.

Because thinking critically is difficult and time-consuming, we are prone to substituting correlation – superstition – for faith, even doubling down after a superstition has been pointed out to us. Yet under duress, one is easily unraveled and disproved while the other is not. Faith can stand up to scrutiny, so let’s be brave enough to challenge the idol of our own thinking.

Additional Reading: For thoughts on today’s passage from Luke, see Good Samaritan and One of the good ones…

Comfort: Faith withstands both criticism and superstition.

Challenge: Think critically about what you believe.

Prayer: Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip. (Psalm 66:8-9)

Discussion: Do you have any superstitions?

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2 thoughts on “Cause and Effect

  1. One example is the sense among many Christians (and frankly many non-believers as well) that poverty is a result of moral failing

    I hate to say it, but that is all too common, and it ties in with those who tend to be quite conservative in their economics. Don’t misunderstand me, I am also quite conservative in my own. We are even taught clearly that a man who won’t work should not eat, and that one who won’t support his family is as bad as a heathen. Having said that, we still have an obligation to help those who need it, especially the brethren. James had much to say about this mindset in his Epistle, and i think some of us ought to spend some time reading that.

    Liked by 1 person

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