Faith is not magic. The magician wishes to turn the supernatural to his or her advantage; the faithful person wishes to turn the supernatural back to the glory of God. The largely forgotten pop band Pilot, in 1974, cautioned us: “Oh, ho, ho/ It’s magic you know/Never believe, it’s not so” (from From the Album of the Same Name).
Writing in the time of the Babylonian exile, the prophet Ezekiel pronounces a fearsome judgment upon Israel, whose prophets and leaders have turned away from God; given themselves over to the popular, secular culture; and have become go-along-to-get-along syncretists. As Marion Barry, the former mayor of Washington, D.C., said when confronted about a change in his political stance: “I’m a situationist.” With its false prophets and idolatrous elders, Israel confronted Ezekiel with platoons of situationists, led by false prophets who “make veils” and “hunt for souls.”
What a vivid metaphor, the “hunt for souls.” The false prophets use a wristband as a magic–amplifier. Oddly enough, we do the same. We love magic as much as the next exiled Israelite. Remember the yellow wristbands that now-disgraced Olympic cyclist Lance Armstrong used as part of his charity? The money raised surely went to good works, but the wristbands were ultimately extensions of Armstrong’s “magic-ness” about himself.
When I was in junior high school, American prisoners of war were held in Vietnam. Metallic POW wristbands were popular, and I had one. The bands were inscribed with a POW’s name. (Tellingly, I cannot now recall the name of my prisoner.) I was not involved in any POW relief efforts; my wearing of the wristband was an incantation, a sartorial spell that I hoped would free a man.
Among professing Christians, we see “What would Jesus do?” wristbands. Perhaps this is a bit of “soul hunting” as well, inasmuch as it asks the wrong question. Jesus was the only perfect man in history. Whatever it was that he did or would do in a particular circumstance, we will always fall short of that performance because we can never satisfy God’s commands without grace.
Rather, hear the pertinent question: “What did Jesus do?” In other words, what was transacted on the Cross? There on the Cross, Jesus’ death put an end forever to the “hunt for souls,” and showed how dark is the heart – including yours and mine – that continues such a hunt.
No need for wristbands or rabbits’ feet. The Lord has said of those false prophets: “Your veils also I will tear off and deliver my people out of your hand, and they shall be no more in your hand as prey, and you shall know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 13:21). The good work is done; the true hunt is over; and our lives, however tentative, weird or broken, are by grace redeemed.