Feeling Lucky in Japan.
Japan is a land filled with spiritual mystery. One example is how almost every shrine or temple in Japan has a booth selling “omamori”. They are amulets believed to be endowed with divine power. Each talisman has a different effect and there are MANY of them. They come in all kinds of forms and sizes which people attach to keys, cellphones, school bags, hand bags or anywhere else. They are most popular during new years and during school exams. Omamori started when Buddhist and Shinto priests thought it would be a good idea to put the power of the gods into small pocket sized blessings. Initially it was to ward off evil spirits but later it grew to include a variety of different effects.
Here is a list of a few omamori you are likely to find.
These are but a tiny sliver of all the available options, there are literally thousands of different ones. Some of the stranger ones include: flight safety (For those with a fear of flying), sexual health, beauty (specific ones for beautiful legs, eyes, skins and also anti-aging) and even a technology talisman offering divine help for your IT problems.
Every charm has a expiry date, normally a year. At that point the charm needs to be taken to the shrine for the priest to burn in the fire. They do this because it is believed that the charm absorbs evil and needs to be purified in the temple by the priest. A new charm must then be purchased. It is also said that the charm must NEVER be opened. This will bring very bad luck and is considered disrespectful to the deity the charm represents.
I’ve been thinking about the theological implications of this practice. Where does a missionary even begin to apply the gospel in this area? Firstly, is there any direct Biblical guideline? Well, listen to this verse in Ezekiel 13:20.
“Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I am against your magic bands with which you hunt the souls like birds, and I will tear them from your arms, and I will let the souls whom you hunt go free, the souls like birds”.
Firstly notice that God says he is against magic bands. God is against it because it is an attack on His sovereign rule. Trusting in amulets and charms is basically saying “I need more than what God can provide”. If we believe the Bible to be true and hold to the fact that there is but one God who rules with justice and love then of course it would be dishonoring to seek power or help elsewhere. Secondly God says that those participating in the use of magic bands are ensnared and need to be set free. How does magic bands ensnare? By trapping you into hoping and trusting in something that never truly delivers. It makes you live in a cage of superstitious fear, taking your chances without ever knowing if you are truly at peace. It feeds on mystery, luck and the possibility of a better life.
Jesus gives us a far better promise, the promise of true salvation and living water that will eternally satisfy. He sets the captive free and causes them to live in His forgiveness, with a knowledge of God and his will. They are given purpose, strength, help, blessing and security. Not through a mysterious object, but by God Himself.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1
We long to share this good news with the Japanese people who Jesus loves and died for.