Risk, Superstition, and Trusting God in the Time of Corona

mona lisa with face mask

When you believe in things that you don’t understand, then you suffer; Superstition ain’t the way.”—Stevie Wonder, “Superstition”

The earth-shaking shift caused by the Corona virus has us all questioning anew how we manage risk as individuals, businesses and social groups. For many of us, risk management is not usually at the forefront of our decisions and thought processes. Maybe we generally feel that we are safe enough, and we take a certain amount of risk for granted.

For instance, we all know that driving a car is one of the most dangerous things we can do, statistically speaking. But we put on our seat belts, say a prayer, and dodge the ever-present hazards on the road because we have places to go and things to do. We push the risks out of our conscious minds.

But the virus, and the decisions made externally to respond to it, have made personal risk management a very complex and conscious preoccupation. There are many variables to consider, but we lack a proven formula to evaluate them. Many of us don’t know on what basis to balance risks to our physical health against risks to our financial, spiritual, psychological, and relational health. And then there is the whole issue of surrendering our rights and freedoms in the cause of supposedly staying safe.

In this troubling predicament there is a danger of turning to superstition as a misguided way of dealing with the unknown. There are many ways of falling into this trap. Even putting full trust in the guidance of the “experts” can verge on the superstitious.

We are supposedly looking to science for answers. But as I heard a commentator observe recently, science doesn’t speak. Scientists speak, and they can only deliver tentative conclusions resulting from their scientific inquiries. Unfortunately, these have been proven far from reliable. There is no science, action, or avoidance, or magic charm that can guarantee our safety.

One dictionary definition of superstition is this: “A widely held but unjustified belief in supernatural causation leading to certain consequences of an action or event, or a practice based on such a belief.” Superstition is a conditioning process in which people make irrational and inaccurate assumptions about the causes of events as a way of coping with life’s difficulties.

This is characteristic of many religions. People who look upon the Christian faith with skepticism or contempt might believe that Christianity fits the definition of a superstition also. But they would be wrong.

Christianity is a very justified belief in a benevolent, personal, and sovereign God. It holds that God is the author of life, and he still interacts with his creation in ways that are partiality understandable and partially clothed in mystery. The understandable parts rest upon the historically verifiable realities that Jesus Christ lived, died on a cross as an atoning sacrifice, and was raised to life again. The mysterious parts relate to how our faith joins us to his plan of salvation, and how his grace confers eternal life.

Believing in these things does not increase suffering; rather, it relieves us from the fear of sin, sickness, and death. It anchors our trust in a holy and good Father whose faithfulness has been documented in every generation. As another beloved song states, “Many things about tomorrow I don’t seem to understand…but I know who holds tomorrow and I know who holds my hand.” This is a faith confirmed by our experience.

In our present dilemma, as in all others, there is solace in knowing that Scripture comes to life. The psalmist sings, “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (Psalm. 4:8, NIV). He alone makes us dwell in safety. Our lives are daily at risk, and yet we live.

We should respect the recommendations and requirements of our leaders, because that is the biblically right thing to do as citizens. In our own risk management, we should use common sense and take reasonable preventative measures based on the data we know.  But we should never make a superstitious belief system out of them.  These measures alone will not keep death from the door.

God has numbered our days and asks us to trust him through each one, one at a time. This is not superstition. This is the gospel truth.

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