Superstitions and the Word of God

by Matthew C. Harrison 

It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Thus the eternal Word (Christ) spoke the written Word (Deut. 8:3) in the face of the devil’s lie.

Mankind was created to hear and live by the Word of God. Where the Word of God is absent or rejected, its poor imitations and substitutes are created. As one famous Lutheran scholar put it, “Where the truth is rejected, one cannot live without the lie.”

So it was in first-century Rome, as St. Paul so famously described his era (and ours): “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen” (Rom. 1:24–25).

Superstitions abound where the Word of God is absent. I immediately thought of the great work of the famous ancient Roman historian Suetonius (died ca. A.D. 122) and his classic Lives of the Caesars. No people have been more superstitious than the ancient Romans. Suetonius’ two volumes were my wake up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-faithlessly-worrying-about-this-or-that-problem reading last fall. Once, I randomly flipped to the section about Domitian, who ruled A.D. 81–96. Domitian was quite decadent and hated by the Senate (like most Caesars during the first two centuries). Before he died, there was an “omen.” Mind you, the Romans saw omens in every bird and blade of grass. “A raven perched on the Capitolium (the Capitoline Hill) and cried, ‘All will be well,’” which they interpreted to mean that things will improve after Domitian’s death. “Domitian himself,” writes Suetonius, “dreamed that a golden hump grew out on his back, and he regarded this as an infallible sign that the condition of the empire would be happier and more prosperous after his time; and this was shortly shown to be true through the uprightness and moderate rule of the succeeding emperors.”[1]

What a curse to be without the Word of God. What a curse not to know the Word made flesh. What a curse to live in uncertainty about “the gods.” What a curse to look to superstition, weird dreams, strange events, psychics, spirits or elsewhere for some clue about our present or future. Luther summed up the Bible on this topic under the Second Commandment, “We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.” Most superstition is hollow nonsense. But it’s the realm of the devil, nonetheless. And it’s the rim of the black hole of hell and the devil’s kingdom. I don’t doubt for a minute the seemingly predictive and deceptive power of the devil. He masquerades as “an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). But he is, as Jesus called him, “the father of lies” (John 8:44).

Our lives are in God’s hands. “All things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Stay clear of the devil’s nonsense. Stick to the Word of God.

It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).

[1] Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, book V-VIII (Harvard University Press, 2001), 365.

–Pastor Harrison

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