I, and a number of others, were invited to participate in the JCB (Jesus-Centered Bible) Project by writing short introductions to various books of the Bible. The intent is to find Jesus in every book of the Bible and highlight scriptures that point to and reveal him. Based on the New Living Translation, JCB is a wonderful and accessible invitation to ‘see’ the Center of the cosmos, Jesus, revealed throughout Scriptures. I might become your own walk to Emmaus with the best company. As an example, here is my introduction to the Book of Ezra.
The attraction of magic is that it gives you a sense of control without the risk of relationship. If you know the right formula (eye of a newt, wing of a bat… whatever) and the correct verbiage, (abracadabra), you can get love potion #9, and thereby make other people fall in love with you. So much easier than actually getting to know someone, right?
In a world of uncertainty we are desperate for control, and so are inclined to look for magic, even in our relationship with God.
In those times that we feel powerless we are particularly susceptible to the seduction of magic. There are many forms of magic through which we will try and get God’s behavior to be certain, our attempt to control God. After all, isn’t God the one with the “power?”
One way is through performance. If I do all the right things and enough of them, then God is obligated to do what I am asking. I remember the day someone close to me, with tears stated, “How could we have lost everything? We have tithed faithfully our whole lives.”
Another way is to treat “faith” as a commodity. If I have enough of it, then I can use it to get God to behave according to my wishes. If I have enough faith then this bad thing won’t happen, my loved one won’t die of cancer, my business will be profitable etc.
The devastating impact is when magic doesn’t work it must be your fault. You didn’t do something right, say something right, repeat it enough or believe properly. Magic has no ability to comfort or be present in loss. It is not a Person.
Israel is in a world of hurt, barely holding on to any sense of identity and place. The tyranny of Babylon has all but obliterated their nation and a rag tag group of Jews, the people of faith, go back to Israel to find a reason for existence. But the magic isn’t working. In fact it hasn’t worked for over a century and the future looks bleak if not hopeless. And then Ezra shows up.
God, it seems, is not a big fan of magic. God is about relationship and character, and Ezra draws the people toward two pillars of identity: the Word and Worship.
You and I live in a world that is damaged and broken. The community of faith has always been assaulted, either by power or by seduction and we live in the mess by faith, drawn repeatedly back to the Word, who is Jesus, and to Worship, the giving of ourselves to trust the character and nature of God as revealed in Jesus. We are not defined by our circumstance nor by our lack of power to control it, our identity is in our relationship with Jesus and the character of the God who loves us.