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Faith Matters

Rev Andrew Watson: Certain relationships are exclusive and sacred

Jesus was crucified on a wooden cross, but we don't need to 'touch wood' or other idols, says Rev Andrew Watson
Andrew Watson

THERE'S nothing quite like covering your options.

Take, for example, what a friend said while discussing the recent storms: "With the grace of God - and touch wood - we'll be OK."

I checked out 'touching wood' on Google and there's a couple of possible connotations.

Medieval Christianity in Europe featured relics, supposedly preserved from Biblical times, which were popular as charms.

If you could touch a fragment of Christ's cross carried in your pocket it was thought to ward off evil.

But another possibility is of pagan origin - the idea that 'wood nymphs' lived in trees and people might need to 'knock on wood' in passing to avoid them making mischief.

So my friend was actually invoking a dramatic variety of sources as insurance against harm.

To many readers this may seem acceptable. Pragmatic, even. We can't be too careful, after all.

It's always useful to have a back-up - you know, a plan B sort of thing. If one doesn't deliver, another will.

But while this may work with things it certainly won't with people.

Try telling your wife or husband that a night of adulterous debauchery was simply 'covering your options'...

Certain relationships are exclusive, sacred.

Are we today - in once-Christian Ireland - not inviting trouble with our multiple idols of sport and screen, our proud self-indulgence and breaking of His laws? 

And the one true Creator and Judge, Who graciously gave His only Son to provide the costliest salvation and eternal life for the world, does not take kindly to our plan Bs.

Ah, but surely the Almighty is not to be thought of as a petulant spouse venting wounded feelings, some might protest?

The Lord is certainly not short-tempered, envious or lacking in self-confidence. He doesn't need our affirmation.

But look again at the second Commandment, the one forbidding the worship of idolatrous images.

It clearly states: "I, the Lord Your God, am a jealous God..." (Exodus 20:5).

Or consider the words of the Old Testament prophet Hosea who describes ancient Israel as an unfaithful wife and God as an indignant, heartbroken husband: "There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgement of God in the land.

"There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed" (Hosea 4:1-2).

This was a very correct indignation.

He had created these people, given them life, been faithful to His covenant promises, rescuing their forefathers from Egyptian slavery to the land of promise.

Had He not every right to expect an exclusive loyalty, or be indignant when they turned and flirted with their neighbours' sensuous idols?

And if so, are we today - in once-Christian Ireland - not inviting trouble with our multiple idols of sport and screen, our proud self-indulgence and breaking of His laws?

We are familiar with the prevailing culture these days that encourages 'tolerance'. The most unpopular 'crime' seems to be to say or do anything perceived as offensive.

Applied to faith, this actually fits well with these Scriptures.

For this reminds us that sin is much more than technically breaking rules.

It is offending, insulting and encouraging contempt for the One to Whom we owe our lives, the One Who made the rules for our safety and prosperity.

We dare not offend Him. It appears God understood 'hate crime' long before we came up with the phrase.

In November we are asked to remember people from the past who made sacrifices on our behalf.

This is not to foster bitter enmity or grudge but simply to show respect and gratitude.

Perhaps we should think again, this time with reverence and thanks, of the One Who laid down His life on Calvary that our idolising of ourselves and our God-insulting behaviour might find pardon.

Especially when we remember this hero is alive, with a quality of power and love that reigns supreme, easily putting rivals in the shade.

No wood-touching is necessary. The grace of God in Jesus is more than enough.

  • Rev Andrew Watson is minister of the Presbyterian congregations in Dunfanaghy and Carrigart in Donegal.

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