By Curtis Shelburne: CNJ Religion Columnist
Witch doctors and magic. The kind of things you’d expect to find among tribesmen in the African bush, right?
Yes, unless it’s the American variety.
You see, generally when we think of magic, we’re basically thinking of a recipe and manipulation. Magic calls for very little faith at all in “the gods” or God. Magic says that if you get the recipe right—eye of newt, tongue of frog, etc.—then you can manipulate the gods into doing whatever you want done. It matters little or not at all whether the gods love you, or you them. IF you get the recipe and the accompanying incantations right, presto!, your enemy becomes a slime-oozing slug. The gods did it. Sort of. But you or the witch doctor you hired pushed the buttons necessary to force them to act.
Hmm. Makes you wonder how those backward savages could ever believe such nonsense, doesn’t it? Except that we have our own variety of magic on this side of the pond.
American magic. That’s the telling term respected missionary and family friend Shawn Tyler says he’s heard mature African Christian leaders use regarding the magic folks like you and me prefer and often employ. American pragmatists, self-help, do-it-yourself, “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps”-type folks may not use potions or incantations for “pull” with the Almighty, but American magic says basically that if you put in all the right ingredients, you can create or accomplish anything you wish. You can manufacture “success,” and any number of success and self-help gurus, secular and religious, are waiting in line touting the latest fads. Their own success is pretty much assured if they can just hook you on the recipe they’re selling this month. Just cook the recipe right, step back, and wait for success. Use the right ingredients, pray the proper prayers, and God will have to bless your enterprise, right?
Wrong. African villagers know every bit as well as American businessmen—much better, actually—what happens when you’ve worked hard and smart and long but the rain doesn’t come and enemies do. Nature doesn’t care if you wear a power tie or a loin cloth. Life is just as hard if the warriors in the next camp over wipe out your crops or a terrorist a world away blows up a building and wipes out your stock portfolio.
Yes, Jesus talked about being careful to build our lives, our “houses,” on the right foundation, Christ himself, and that foundation matters immensely. And, yes, we can definitely hurt ourselves by unwise behavior.
But you and I will never get the recipe right and thus manipulate the Almighty into giving us trouble-free lives of unbroken success. Bad news? No! The good news is that God loves ordinary people, not just people who get the recipe right. No one does. He loves us anyway. Absolutely. Completely. No magic required.