Divination and Omen
“They practiced divination and sought omens and sold themselves to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, arousing his anger.” 2 Kings 17:17
It was natural for people to want to know what would happen to them in the future and to seek illumination and guidance from the divine so that they could better control or plan their future affairs. Dealing with the unknown was a frightening thing for them then; and it’s still the case for us now. We do sometimes find ourselves seeking to know our future by consulting with fortune-tellers or other sources of information. During the severe drought in Lubbock, I have often found myself looking at the weather report, forecasting what would happen in the next days and weeks, searching for a hint of rain in the air. Of course it was often wrong.
Even though I have no control over the weather, I still want to know what it is going to be like, so that I can better prepare for the future, be it sunny or rainy; I hate to be caught unprepared. By the same token, we desire to know our future not because we are capable of changing or controlling it; we merely want to be prepared.
As far as our health is concerned, we want to know the condition of our health so that we can catch something before it becomes serious. That’s the whole point of privative medicine, I suppose. The crux of the matter is: doctors are not omniscient and we are in many ways the subjects of their practice; their knowledge of the state our future health is still a hit and miss proposition and to put our trust entirely in them is a dangerous thing. This Chinese saying, I believe, is quite sound advice concerning God’s sovereignty and human responsibility- “doing what humanly can be done and be obedient to what God has commanded (盡人事, 聽天命.)
There is nothing wrong with being curious about what will transpire in our future; what’s displeasing to God is to whom or what we turn for the secret information. Divination and omen-seeking are mostly connected with idolatry, which is something we must avoid. In fact, turning to the Lord for fortune-telling or information about our future is offensive to God, since he has told us clearly not to be so concerned about tomorrow. Besides, knowing our affairs of tomorrow only increases our anxiety and robs us of our peace today. The Lord gave King Hezekiah an extra fifteen years on earth, but it wasn’t necessarily a blessing, for from then on he was probably counting down the days before his passing, which wasn’t a good way to live, was it? Not knowing about our future is better than knowing in so many ways.
“I don’t know about tomorrow, but I know who holds my hand.” We may long to lead our life by sight, but the Christian life is still a life of faith, in which we exercise our trust in the Lord daily. The Israelites of old sought to take control over their own destiny by listening to pagan gods and demons to reveal to them their future, and thus provoking God’s anger, for it was a clear sign of distrust and disbelief in the Lord.