These last few weeks, there has been lots of banter in Chicago and Boston about curses. Both baseball teams are said to suffer from curses that prevent them from winning a World Series. Most of this is done in a light-hearted way, but once in a while, CT online has gotten the impression that some people really believe in human curses. Recognizing that, in fact, there are curses in the Bible, we decided we better talk with theologian J.I. Packer to give us some perspective. Maybe it will help console Cubs fans today, and for years to come.
We joke that the Cubs are cursed, but as Christians there are instances where we see curses. What does the Bible say about it?
When God curses, it's bad news because he's the sovereign Lord. He's declaring that trouble is coming, and when it comes, it's to be interpreted as retribution for whatever it was that prompted the curse. When man curses, it's ill will. It's the opposite of blessing people. It's expressing the wish that disaster will come. The motivation is something personal. Since we are not lords of providence, human curses don't have to be more than empty words, they don't actually change the dynamics of what will happen.
Superstitious religion in all its shapes and forms believes there are shamans, witch doctors, who can put a hex on people, and you're ruined. There's nothing you can do to stop it. It is important that whenever we meet ideas like that we negate them in the strongest possible way. They're not true, and human nature is attracted to superstition, the same as it is repelled by the gospel. The reason for the difference in attitude is that the heart of the fallen human is suffering from the wanna-be-God syndrome, which first appeared in the garden of Eden and became integral to the makeup of fallen human beings. Superstition and magic, which is the name for superstition's techniques, offers control.
Voodoo is a very good example of this. You've got witches and hexing, and you go to the shaman and you pay money for a curse to be put on someone. You are left feeling I have triggered supernatural powers. I did it. My will be done. That is the whole motivation of all superstitious codes. And you could extend the argument that it is the motivation of all non-Christian religion. It is the will that things be better for me at the moment. So what do I do? I embrace the techniques that religion provides in order to make things better. That's what the New Age follower is doing. It is also what people who worship their ancestors are doing. They are hoping to keep at bay the evil spirits. So if you act properly you are working the supernatural machine to make sure the evil spirits don't worry you.
For the Christian, does prayer play a factor?
I believe so, but you mustn't theologize prayer as if it triggered the supernatural in the way that cultists and superstitious people—and even superstitious Christians—think it is. What you have to say is that prayer has to be defensible before the throne of God as a spelling out of "thy will be done." We think we see that whatever we ask for is something that God wills to give under the circumstances of our asking. God withholds good things that he intends to give until we pray and ask for them. Then he gives them in answer to prayer. That is pretty clear all the way through the Bible.
What does it mean for the Cubs?
The original billy goat curse was a pathetic example of personal ill will, a mood which probably the man got over within the week. If you don't believe the superstitious reality of magic, you won't take it too seriously. And if you believe in the God of the Bible you are forbidden to take it seriously because he is in charge and you are not.
So we don't have to worry about the Cubs being cursed?
No, they just have to work harder and acquire some better players. From what I gather their pitcher, Kerry Wood, isn't quite good enough.
English cricket is my game, but I know what it's like to have a bowler that's not quite good enough.
It won't do any good for a Christian Cubs fan to pray for a World Series win?
If you can mount a biblical argument that this surely is the will of God, you're welcome to have a go. Of course you're really praying not for the glory of God, but for the glory of Chicago, which is not quite the capital of the baseball world.
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