The snow was falling heavy, covering the road. A young man in my church was driving in the middle of the storm, lost control of his car, and it spun into a snowbank along the roadside. The car stopped with a thud. Breathing heavy, heart pounding, his hands tightly gripped the steering wheel. He looked around the interior of his car, and nothing seemed wrong…yet. No air bags deployed. He opened the door, and walked into the blinding storm. Walking around the sides of the car that were not up against snow, it seemed like the car was fine. No damage. He got back inside, and found to his surprise that by turning the wheel, driving slowly back and forth, he was able to extract his vehicle and continue on his way. Would you be surprised to read that he was very happy? Know what he credited his safety to? An angel figurine he placed on his dashboard. A piece of plastic.
This week in our study of Ezekiel 13, we’ve been learning how false prophets were deceived themselves, and then deceived others, by practicing folk theology. What is folk theology?
The young man whose car drifted off the road and attributed his safety to an angel figurine was practicing folk theology. The Bible says nothing about creating angel figurines that we should display in various places for protection. What do you think about that? Is it just silly, maybe an over-reaction on my part, as if angel figurines are no big deal? Perhaps. But I don’t think so. It seems to me we would do well to remove those kinds of charms or talismans from our lives, whether physical or ideas, so that we can focus on trust in God. Remember how God removed the charms from the false prophets in Ezekiel 13? Read about it in the previous post here.
There are plenty of other examples of folk theology I’ve encountered over the years. Another person once told me that they place an open Bible in their home because they heard it would ward off evil spirits. Is it wrong to display an open Bible in your house? No. I sure hope not, because we have one in the church sanctuary! But does the Bible say anything about placing open Bibles out for protection? No. Not a word. Then why do we have an open Bible in our sanctuary? We place it on our platform as a symbol, declaring that we hold in high regard the word of God.
Then there was the time my Amish neighbors hired a “water guy.” This man held a wrench, walked around their property, and when the wrench shook, he said that’s where they should dig for a new well. That’s called divination. A few days later, I was over at their house buying eggs, and they asked me what I thought. I said I believed it was divination, and God forbids us to participate in that practice.
Finally, I was once asked about mediums who claim to be able to contact the deceased. A person in our church family had a relative that paid a medium who, in a seance, had allegedly helped them contact a dead family. The person from my church family very much missed a relative of their own who had passed away, and felt a desire to consult a medium as well. I urged them to have nothing to do with a medium. At best a medium is simply lying, and at worst, they could be connecting a person to the demonic realm. It is quite painful and difficult to mourn the loss of a loved one, but we are to trust in God as our sustenance and avoid any occult practices.
All of these are examples of folk theology, sometimes blended with the occult. There appears to be truth in them, but it is a biblically unexamined truth, and turns out to be no truth at all. The net result of these kinds of beliefs is that they end up deceiving us and turning us away from the truth. These false beliefs don’t help us to get to know God; they turn us away from God.
What we should do is submit our ideas and beliefs to the truth of the word of God. Often, though, people hold tightly to folk theology: “Don’t try to tell me that the angel figurine on my car dashboard didn’t protect me!”
What is going on there? What is this hardness of heart?
There can be within us a pride that equates “My mind is made up,” with faith in God. As if we are only faithful to God if hold so tightly to something that we refuse to allow any examination of it. That is perhaps the root sin of folk theology. Pride. That is precisely why people can think they certainly know God but end up not knowing him at all.
The people in Ezekiel’s day, the false prophets, were Jews, children of God, and yet look at them making up false prophecies and practicing the dark arts. They couldn’t have been further from God!
So I encourage you to do the tough work of paying attention to your heart and mind. Do not assume that you know God and his ways and that you are believing and living like he wants you to. Our starting place should one of humility and teachability, with an eagerness to place our beliefs under examination. Has folk theology crept into your heart and mind?