Knock on Wood

Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, ‘Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious (superstitious – old KJV); for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you.’ – Acts 17:22-23.

Superstition can be a hazard to your health according to a study conducted by the University of California-La Jolla. Their study shows that on the fourth day of every month cardiac deaths increased seven percent in Japanese and Chinese Americans. This is because in their languages the “number four” sounds just like the word for “death.” In Japan and China avoidance of the “number four” is much like the American avoidance of the “number thirteen.”

Do you sometimes “knock on wood,” avoid the “number thirteen,” or have a horseshoe hanging over your doorway? Many people including Christians persist in these practices, which could be thought of as being superstitious. The word superstition is defined as “a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, or trust in magic or chance.”

The practice of “knocking on wood” or “touching wood” is done to hopefully ward off any evil consequences of boasting and is also used as a charm to bring good luck. The origin of the practice is unknown but it is thought that it came from pre-Christians rituals, which involved the spirits of trees considered sacred like the ash, oak, hawthorn or holly. Also there is an old Irish belief that knocking on wood will let the little people know that you are thanking them for your good luck.

The apostle Paul speaking to the people of Athens on Mars Hill noted that they had a monument to the “Unknown God.” Actually the people of Athens were superstitious in that they had monuments to every god they could think of and in their fear of leaving one out even had a monument to an “Unknown God.” Certainly the people of Athens had a great fear of the unknown, which came from their ignorance of the spiritual realities. Paul enlightened them by telling them of the One true God.

The spiritual reality is that there is no need to “knock on wood,” avoid the number thirteen, hang a horseshoe over your doorway or to do any other superstitious practice (or, to wear green on St Patrick’s Day). To do so is to indicate that we believe much as the people of Athens did that there are other gods than the One true God. To pray to God and then later “knock on wood” to bring good luck simply indicates a lack of belief in the true God. To believe in the One true God but believe we have to have a horseshoe over our doorway to bring good luck or to protect us is an affront to God. To believe as a Christian that God has less power to protect us when the number 13 is involved is an indication of a lack of faith.

Superstition not only can have an effect on your physical health but on your spiritual health as well. The apostle Paul said to the people of Athens and us as well, “…we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:31).”

(The spiritual reality is that there is no need to “knock on wood,” avoid the number thirteen, hang a horseshoe over your doorway or to do any other superstitious practice.)

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