A long time ago one of my senior pastors at Myers Park UMC, Gil Adams, preached a memorable sermon on what some have called Christo-paganism, but Gil Adams called it, rabbit’s foot religion. It stuck with me, and the longer I have lived, and the less Biblically literate the church has become, the more rabbit’s foot religion I have seen.
You know about the old rabbit’s foot. You keep one in your pocket, and maybe you rub it, and it brings you good luck, and maybe even something you’ve really longed for. There are a lot of people in this world, and sadly, a lot of people in the church that treat God this way. They attempt to manipulate God in various ways to get what they want in life. But alas for all this, God will not be manipulated.
We cannot say to God, as the Godfather once said to one of his Mafia lackies “I will make you an offer you can’t refuse.” God, is in charge, and his arm cannot be twisted. Remember the parable of the rich fool and its context in Luke 12? There is a debate going on between two humans over money or property, and one of them wants Jesus to intervene on his side of the dispute. Jesus’ response is unequivocal— “who set me to be arbiter/judge over you and your dispute?” Jesus refuses to be used, especially for petty purposes.
The basic definition of magic is the use of objects, rituals, rites, in an attempt to force some kind of divine action. Sadly, even prayer has been used this way. Yet no matter how pious our prayer, no matter how sincere our prayer, no matter how correct the form of our prayer, praying with all faith and in the name of Jesus, if we are asking for something that is not God’s will for us, we can pray until we are blue in the face, and what we want to happen will not transpire. God will not be manipulated. Prayer is not about our getting God to do our will, it is about God getting us to do his!
It is true that there are some examples of rabbit’s foot religion in the Old Testament— for instance laying out a fleece to try and figure out what God’s will is in a certain circumstance. What the New Testament suggests about such practices is that this was seeing through a glass darkly, and Christians should be beyond such immature practices which are indeed manipulative. Remember the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 18-19? God’s will could not be discerned in the earthquake, wind or fire. No natural phenomena, not even natural disaster provided a clear glimpse of God’s will. It was only by listening intently to God’s voice, his Word, that God’s will could be discerned.
But the practitioner of rabbit’s foot religion is impatient. He wants an answer, indeed he wants an outcome right now! God however is not our cosmic bellhop and he does not exist to fulfill all the wishes of our materialistic little hearts. The health and wealth Gospel is a travesty of the real Gospel, precisely because it not only denies the value of suffering and the call of Christ to take up one’s cross and follow him, it also tries to manipulate God to give us ‘the desires of our hearts’, whether they are good for us or not. To these sorts of requests, God has an answer—-NO! A loving God, like a loving parent will not give us things that will spoil and destroy our Christian character. And by the way— NO is definitely an answer to prayer. The wrong sort of prayer.
Have you seen rabbit’s foot religion hopping around in your church or parish? Why not share some of your experiences here.