“It’s surprising Japan has any problems considering how many omamori you can buy for every bad scenario!” I teased.

“Stop poking holes in the reasoning behind my gifts, Ashley. It makes me feel like my purchases are meaningless!”

Both of these statements were made in jest, but it was this conversation that came to mind when I encountered John 5 and the sick man who described the water “stirred by the angel.”

Let me back up. I recently had the pleasure of visiting Japan, where two religions dominate the cultural landscape: Shintoism and Buddhism. From my limited understanding, these religions have become heavily intertwined over the centuries, so at Shinto shrines AND Buddhist temples, you can find small silk amulets called omamori which you can buy fairly inexpensively to ward off challenging pregnancies, car accidents, or help you pass school exams, just to name a few; many of my fellow travelers were buying them up like their lives depended on them.

It was fascinating to see my fellow travelers (who are certainly not Shintoists or Buddhists) buying these amulets like they actually held some sort of power. I’m sure for most of them it was more about the gesture of thoughtfulness it would convey to a friend or loved one if gifted on their return, but the amount of superstition puzzled me.

However, I am not one to judge. Growing up, I started to unconsciously believe that if I didn’t stress out before a test (it took many years for me to realize I believed this), I wouldn’t do well on it. How toxic!

It’s so comforting to be reminded of the power on display in the story of the sick man being healed by Jesus and beside the pool of healing, no less; the contrast between the power of superstition and Jesus’ supernatural power is made clear: what superstition can hold a candle to the light emanating from our God? Why put our trust in the whims of chance when we could put our trust in the Creator and Designer of the universe? Even if we “lose” while trusting in him, we’ve won. For as Paul says, “To me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Does this mean the “death which is gain” or “living as Christ” will not be hard? Unfortunately, no. But when those who trust in amulets have wood, string and silk to hold on to when times get tough, we have a loving Savior who will hold us fast in his embrace when the darkness that surrounds us is too great to face.

Ashley Carr

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