Tonight, you will have opportunity to witness a rare sight: a full moon on Friday the 13th. The last time this happened was in October 2000 and it isn’t expected to happen again until August 2049. If you’re superstitious, you might consider it almost sinister: a full moon on the most ominous day of the month.
Friday the 13th is widely recognised as a day of bad luck and ill omens. Some trace the superstition back to the New Testament, noting that Jesus was crucified on a Friday and that there were thirteen people at the Last Supper on the eve of his crucifixion. Superstitious legend holds that the rains of Noah’s flood began to fall on Friday the 13th.
In 2013 The Belfast Telegraph published an article titled, “Flight 666 goes to HEL on Friday the 13th.” Finair flight AY666 was due to travel to Helsinki Airport on that fateful day. (The flight was nearly full and landed without incident.) Some estimates suggest that as much as $800 to $900 million is lost in business on Friday the 13th because of superstitious people who will not fly or do business as they normally would. It is not uncommon for high rise buildings to exclude a thirteenth floor or for hotels to skip over Room 13.
Fear of Friday the 13th is sufficiently widespread that it is recognised as an actual phobia: paraskevidekatriaphobia (or friggatriskaidekaphobia). Of course, this particular phobia is simply one in a long line of phobias and superstitions. A dictionary definition of superstition is “an irrational belief that an object, action, or circumstance not logically related to a course of events influences its outcome.” With specific reference to paraskevidekatriaphobia, it is that the random occurrence of the thirteenth day of a given month on a Friday might determine one’s fortune. Others hold similar irrational beliefs concerning walking under a ladder or crossing paths with a black cat. And woe to the person who accidentally shatters a mirror!
A character in a hit CBS sitcom describes astrology as “the mass cultural delusion that the sun’s apparent position relative to arbitrarily defined constellations at the time of your birth somehow affects your personality.” Many Christians have bought into this “mass cultural delusion.” Others have adopted the irrational belief that temperament might be determined by hair colour. (Side note: As a father of three, one of whom is distinctly redheaded, I can testify that, if hair colour has anything to do with temperament, blondes are far more temperamental than redheads!)
Your personality and temperament are no more determined by your star sign or your hair colour than your fortune or misfortune is determined by your proximity to wood when speaking. Nor is it guaranteed that pretending to be sick when you are not will actually make you sick, or suggesting that winter is over will guarantee a cold front the following weekend!
Christian superstition can take on less obvious forms. While we ought to live every moment cognisant of God’s will, some seem to believe that tacking the phrase “God willing” onto every sentence they utter is a magic formula to secure favourable circumstances. Others seem to believe that there is a direct causal link between their circumstances and Bible reading, faithful church attendance, or regular prayer. While these things are good and necessary for Christian growth, they are not designed as superstitious acts by which we secure God’s favour.
Richard Dawkins has mockingly defined Christianity as “superstitions drawn from ancient scriptures.” There are, however, at least two major things that distinguish biblical Christianity from superstition.
First, superstition is based on apparent and arbitrary circumstances and is therefore irrational and illogical. Christianity, on the other hand, is based on verifiable historical events that have been reliably recorded in the Bible.
Second, superstition is fear of personal ill caused by arbitrary events, while Christianity is primarily a set of truth claims, to believed and obeyed, that lead to relationship. Unlike superstition, Christianity is not about doing certain things to secure defined results. The absolute truth claims of Christianity lead to a relationship with God and with his people, not to a change of circumstances. Christians obey, and therefore do or avoid certain things, not out of fear of ill fortune but out of a desire to maintain a healthy relationship with God and with his people.
The God of the Bible cannot be manipulated. His hand is not forced by arbitrary circumstances. While he often chooses to reward obedience with favour and punish disobedience with disfavour, he is in control of, and not forced by, all circumstances. “Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?” (Lamentations 3:37–38).
Superstition flies in the face of biblical Christianity precisely because God is sovereign. “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). To attribute control of circumstances to anything other than God is to be guilty of idolatry. God controls our every fortune or misfortune. Walking under a ladder, breaking a mirror, crossing paths with a black cat, or getting out of bed on Friday the 13th (even when it coincides with a full moon!) have nothing to do with your circumstances. Misfortune, like fortune, arises by the kind providence of God. And those providences occur, not by our observance of rituals and practices, but by his sovereign determination.
The cure for superstition is a firm, biblical conviction about the sovereignty of God. Rational unbelievers can see the folly of superstition, and believers in Christ ought to see it even more clearly. Christians have good biblical reason to dismiss superstition outright—among other things, we have a loving God who is anything but arbitrary, a Bible that tells of a specific plan for history and for God’s church, and a blessed hope that is the exact opposite of superstition.