Magic v. Faith

by Mike McKinniss

Lately, I’ve been repeatedly confronted with a rather scary conviction that I all too often treat my Christian faith more like magic than actual faith.  I wonder if this happens to anyone else.

See, magic is essentially a system of belief in which the people have control over the deity or spirit or force or whatever.  Magic, I think, is best likened to math.  If x + y = z, then every time I do x and y, I’ll get z.  And z is what I want.

I want to see, for example, a particular friend come to know Jesus (z), so I show him the four spiritual laws (x) and pray for him in my bedroom at night (y).  And as long as I do both x and yz should just be a matter of time.

Faith, on the other hand, is relational.  It may be that I want z, but to get it, I’ll enter a relational dialog with God.  It may then be that God will ask x and y of me, but it may be that He’ll ask of me just a or b.  Either way, there is no formula.  I would say that with faith God is in control, but that’s only half the truth.  With faith, both parties exhibit some level of influence on the relationship.  It’s a collaboration.

What does this say about the nature of Scripture?

It means that we cannot presume a situation in which the Lord downloaded words to the various biblical writers.  Such a scenario degrades the human writers and violates their respective wills.  This is akin to any number of ancient gods who essentially had total disregard for human affairs.  It is not the character of Yahweh.

Neither can we posit a scenario in which the biblical writers somehow coerced their works from God’s mouth.  That is divination and the essence of ancient idolatry.

(The two sides of this coin are a major theme of The Satanic Verses, which is a fascinating novel.  It should not be confused with the Satanic Bible, which is not.)

So when we conjure in our minds the process in which the Lord worked with human writers to communicate His message with His people in various times and various places, we ought to imagine something more like a chat between friends, in which both parties have say in the message and the medium.  We should not, I do not believe, imagine a dictator dictating to a lowly scribe.