Biblical faith vs. “patent-medicine religion”

Eugene Peterson, reflecting on Psalm 121:

The great danger of Christian discipleship is that we should have two religions: a glorious, biblical Sunday gospel that sets us free from the world, that in the cross and resurrection of Christ makes eternity alive in us, a magnificent gospel of Genesis and Romans and Revelation; and, then, an everyday religion that we make do with during the week between the time of leaving the world and arriving arriving in heaven. We save the Sunday gospel for the big crises of existence. For the mundane trivialities–the times when our foot slips on a loose stone, or the heat of the sun get too much for us, or the influence of the moon gets us down–we use the everyday religion from Reader’s Digest reprint, advice from a friend, an Ann Landers column, the huckstered wisdom of a talk-show celebrity. We practice patent-medicine religion. We know that God created the universe and has accomplished our eternal salvation. But we can’t believe that he condescends to watch the soap opera of our daily trials and tribulations; so we purchase our own remedies for that. To ask him to deal with what troubles us each day is like asking a famous surgeon to put iodine on our scratch.

But Psalm 121 says that the same faith that works in the big things works in the little things. The God of Genesis 1 who brought light out of the darkness is also the God of this day who guards you from every evil….

Psalm 121, learned early and sung repeatedly in the walk with Christ, clearly defines the conditions under which we live out our discipleship–which, in a word, is God. Once we get this psalm in our hearts it will be impossible for us to gloomily suppose that being a Christian is an unending battle against ominous forces that at any moment may break through and overpower us. Faith is not a precarious affair of chance escape from satanic assaults. It is the solid, massive, secure experience of God, who keeps all evil from getting inside us, who guards our life, who guards us when we leave and when we return, who guards us now, who guards us always.

From A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, pp. 44, 45-46

When he refers to “leaving the world” in the first sentence, he means becoming a Christian, turning away from the world and toward God. This is the subject of the previous chapter on Psalm 120.


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