Growing up in my grandmother’s house was anything but dull. She is extremely superstitious, and we had to comply with her many interesting but puzzling ways around the house. For example, no one is allowed to give a compliment directly. Instead, to pay a compliment one must utter the opposite of what one means.
I later found out that a similar means of complimenting someone exists within the Turkish culture. If you come across an adorable baby in Turkey, you are to say that the baby looks like a donkey! This may sound ludicrous, but you are actually paying the baby and its mother a major compliment. This custom is rooted in the belief that there are evil spirits all around, which may grow jealous and cause bad things to happen to the little one. Hence to avoid bad luck, you deceive the evil spirits by uttering the opposite of what you mean.
Another custom in Turkish culture intended for protection is the use of the nazar or “the evil eye.” Any visitor would not miss it. It is a round piece of blue glass with a center that looks like an eye. The nazar is believed to have protective powers that guard the bearer from whatever evil that may be cast upon him. The eye, therefore, serves as a protection from evil as it watches over the bearer.
This, in principle, rings true for the Christian as well. That is, we believe there is one watching over us. Yet God calls us not to fear the unknown or to live by unnecessary worry. In various psalms the writer talks about how the eyes of the heavenly Father are always upon us: The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD is on his heavenly throne. He observes the sons of men; his eyes examine them. But not only does the Lord watch over us, we have the assurance that God protects and saves those who fear him. “But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine” (Psalm 33:18-19).
Of course, most of us who profess such a worldview don’t live as if this is reality. We don’t go through our days conscious that God is really present. It is more likely that we are burdened by unnecessary fear and insecurity about all aspects of life from health to finance. This is the posture, in fact, of much of the culture around us. Whatever our religion or worldview, we live bound to what might happen like those who live according to superstitions. There is no denial that life offers its daily challenges—some more severe than others—but we can perpetually remind ourselves that God is not indifferent to our concerns. The Father is watching over us constantly in love, and God can, and will, provide help.
Aware of our tendency to live with one eye on the possibilities that might befall us, Jesus similarly reminded his followers to not be anxious. Just as God cares for the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, God will give us what we need. Some of us seem to know this truth abstractly, but we struggle to live it out in the daily grind of life. While we want to believe that we are not alone in our struggles, we find it difficult to internalize this promise with certainty. Sometimes it even seems like life continues to get tougher by the day, and you may even find yourself questioning if God really sees or cares.
Of course, this experience of doubt is not alien to anyone who professes a God who never sleeps or slumbers. The writer of Psalm 33 seems to handle this uncertainty by going back to the very beginning. Celebrating the goodness of God, the writer looks to the creation of the heavens. Remembering how God has directed human history from the very beginning to the present serves as a powerful reminder that God is still in sovereign control over all. Even when it appears God has left us alone with our anxiety and God’s hand is far from our trying circumstance, our trust in God can be grounded in God’s goodness and faithfulness, and not on our limited sight of reality. Over time and eternity, who is more worthy of our confidence and hope?
And yet, living in the awareness that God is watching over us calls for a daily response on our part. During times of uncertainty or moments of routine we can choose to remember God as the faithful one who helps and delivers. Then we, too, can echo the faith of the psalmist instead of the qualms of the superstitious: I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.(2)
I’Ching Thomas is associate director of training at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Singapore.
(1) Bruce Demarest, Soul Guide (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2003), 59.
(2) Psalm 34:4-5.