Editor’s note – this column originally ran on May 5, 2017
For thousands of years, humanity has been trying to find the answers to our questions about what we are supposed to do. For as long as anyone can remember, we’ve been asking the gods, or God, or the stars or the universe in general some pretty specific questions about choices that we face in life.
When should I plant my crops? Should this kingdom go to war against some other kingdom? Whom should I marry? Should I move someplace else? What kind of job am I supposed to have?
If you’ve asked those sorts of questions, you’re not alone. We’ve been looking for answers for a long time. And when we ask those questions, we’re usually looking for very specific answers.
Cultures all across times and places have come up with different ways to practice this art of divination. In ancient China, there was a practice of engraving a question into a (thankfully emptied) turtle shell and then using fire to cause the shell to crack. The answer to the question could be surmised by interpreting how the shell cracked.
For almost a thousand years, the people of the Mediterranean basin would go see the Oracle at Delphi in an attempt to discern what the pantheon of Greek gods held for the future. For an even longer period of time, we’ve been trying to discern the future through the movements and locations of the stars through the practice of astrology.
These sorts of practices can also be found in monotheistic religions. In the Hebrew Bible (what most Christians would call the Old Testament) there are accounts of a mysterious pair of objects called the Urim and Thummim. We don’t know too much about what these objects looked like or how they were used, but they functioned like a Magic 8 Ball for God.
If a priest or a king would want to ask God a question, the Urim and Thummim were shaken or rolled or something, and the answer was in the result.
Most of us at some point or another have practiced our own sort of divination. We’ve prayed to God or we’ve asked the universe for signs about our circumstances. Should I marry this person I’ve been dating for a while? Should I move to this city for this job? Should I blow off work on Friday? Should I buy this thing that I really want?
Usually most of these questions we seek answers for are about logistics. Our questions are about who, what, where and when. And usually, I think we are left without any specific answers or guidance to our questions.
I think the reason we usually don’t get specific answers or signs from God is because God is more concerned about our lifestyle than the logistics of our lives. God is more concerned about how we live than the specifics that make up our life.
In a famous verse from the Bible, Micah 6:8, a prophet asks a general question that a lot of us have asked in our specific circumstances: What does God require of you? The answer the prophet gives isn’t about logistics but is about lifestyle. The prophet says God wants us to do justice, love mercy and to walk humbly with God.
We spend so much energy trying to divine the logistics of our lives, looking for specific guidance in the cracks of the turtle shells. But what we really should be concerned about is how we live. Do we love our neighbor? Are we giving? Are we humble? Do we care for the environment God made?
If we focus our energy on getting our lifestyle right, the logistics we get so concerned about won’t matter so much. And no one will have to carve anything into a turtle shell.
The Rev. Calob Rundell is pastor of Salida United Methodist Church.