Rev. Kortering is a Protestant Reformed minister-on-loan to Singapore.
A few words that have come to mean more to me while working in Singapore are these taken from the Form for the Lord’s Supper: “… all those who invoke deceased saints, angels, or other creatures, all those who worship images, all enchanters, diviners, charmers, and those who confide in such enchantments.” Such sinners are forbidden the use of the sacrament.
Amazing, isn’t it, that in one breath our Reformed forefathers put apostate Rome in the same category as the heathen. They both pray to the wrong sources for life and hope. It is noteworthy that, in the area of missions, Rome’s approach to the heathen was less “offensive.” (See Romans 9:33 -Jesus is the rock of offense.) By their “natural theology” Roman Catholic missionaries could approach the heathen idol worshiper as if he were one who was “reaching for the true God.” In contrast, the Holy Spirit describes him inRomans 1:21-25 as committing an act of rebellion against the true God. Rome’s converts could substitute “saints” for ancestors and thus avoid disruption in their religious activity. The same was true for the use of images in worship. Add to that the “accursed idolatry” of the mass, and we sorrow that in the Name of Jesus, Rome leads people from one form of idolatry into another. This explains why the Roman Catholic church represents “Christianity” in so many counties. Here in Singapore, the Christian “festivals,” Christmas, Good Friday, Easter are all presented to the public as Rome observes them. This is understandable considering their ecumenical spirit, their willingness to find a common bond of fellowship among all major religions, and even their close religious identity with the heathen.
This is an offense not only for the true believer, but most of all for the Lord whom we serve.
In this article we want to focus a bit more on divination. The words of the form for the Lord’s Supper now literally jump off the page as we read them six times a year: enchanters, diviners, charmers, and those who confide in such enchantments. The stem and biblical warning that such people are not in the kingdom of heaven arouses within us a burden for our neighbors. We have had opportunity to visit several Chinese temples where this divination takes place on a daily basis. How sad it is to see an aged Chinese woman with one foot in the grave shake the can of divination lots and thereby try to learn her future. Impressed on my mind is the sight of a young boy doing the same. He brings his stick to the “interpreter” to learn, in all likelihood, whether he will do well in his upcoming examinations. We have a small temple about a hundred feet from our apartment; it has a chair for the “medium” to commune with the spirits of ancestors. One cannot walk down Serangoon Avenue in “Little India” and not take note of the parrots with their fortune cards, and the palm readers. They all seem to be doing a brisk business.
My inquisitiveness prompted me to ask, What really takes place? What kind of people turn to divination. Do they really believe in it? Through visits to various temples, obtaining some literature that was on display in these temples, and reading a rather detailed article that appeared in the paper recently, we found some answers to these questions.
Divination lots are wooden sticks, much like chopsticks, which devotees believe can tell their fortunes. They are placed in a brass can. The number of lots can vary from 50 to 100 in each can. One obtains the lot by shaking the can containing the sticks (the sticks are about 12 inches in length and the can about 10 inches), and, while shaking the can, repeating silently the subject being questioned. If one seeks an answer about examinations in school, he says “exams.” If he is inquiring about selling the flat (house), he repeats that. If the question is a proposed marriage, then he repeats “marriage.” The person should also tell the god his name and place of residence.
When the lot falls from the can, it is verified by the throwing of two wooden shells. If one of the shells lands upright and the other upside down, then the lot is confirmed. If both shells land alike, the process must be repeated. After the lot is confirmed, the person acts to obtain the lot’s answer to his question. Each divination stick has a number. On the counter toward the side of the temple is a rack with holes. Each hole has a number, and inserted in the hole is a rolled up slip of paper. This paper explains the “lot,” whether the answer is good or bad. It is written in Chinese and in poetic form. Thus, the reading of the lot may leave the person in a bit of a quandary whether it is good or bad. But there are “interpreters” around the temple who can be consulted for a small fee. They will explain the meaning of the lot and give direct advice as to whether it is good or bad and how to improve their lot if it is bad.
Most recently some of the local temples have included English translations of the Chinese lots. This has caused quite a stir, since it allows those who are not proficient in their native language to read it in English. They have it black on white, so they can ponder it for themselves. As a result, more school children are becoming involved in this divination, and professional people are stopping by the temples, as well as the usual elderly Chinese men and women.
An example of such a translation follows. It is of lot number 68. “A good home where peace and happiness abound. By deeds of merits will they achieve peace. The time is right for marrying. The farm produces a good crop of silk and harvest. A remedy to cure all illness.” The interpretation of this lot is rated as “Good.”
Lying in the heart of every human being is the desire to know the future. It is especially desirable to know whether our present actions will be favorable for the future or not. The use of divination in this form is directly related to the degree of sincerity of the devotee. How much a person believes in the “gods” will affect how much he trusts the lot. As is true in most cultures, the elderly seem more in the grip of such divination than the youth. According to the newspaper article, one young woman interviewed had “decided to draw a lot out of curiosity, but said that she might do it again as the lot seems to reflect her state of mind and offers advice.” Another man said, “I come to the temple once a month to draw a lot. It only acts as a guide; I will not be too depressed if I draw a bad one.”
If the lot is bad, it is an indication that the gods are displeased with the person. Connected with the worship of the Chinese gods (and they abound in numbers) is the basic notion that the gods show themselves as avenging deities if a person does not live properly. Such religion is that of works. One must do right if he is to be accepted, and if he does not live right, his life will go bad, and his lot will indicate such disfavor of the gods. Hence, the interpreter will help a person who has drawn a bad lot. He will “counsel” him in areas of improvement. He will tell him that he can turn around bad luck by going to the temple to pray, doing charitable deeds, meeting the needs of departed ancestors, and such like.
What does this say to us?
We know that “enchanters, diviners, charmers, and those who confide in such enchantments” are not limited to Singapore. It may come to expression in a more open and dramatic way in the Chinese temple. But we must ask ourselves, How is this expressed where I live? Satan is certainly very active in this area of human life. We do well to become aware of the “familiar spirits” which abound around us. Some of this takes on the form of “psychic power.” Fortune tellers abound in many forms. Divination can even come in the form of fun and games, such as tarot cards and Ouija boards.
The saints here are delivered from this horrible superstition. In varying degrees they may have been involved in such temple worship in their youth. Some of them come from homes where temple worship was part of their youth. Others come from homes where such activity was laughed at as superstition. Generally these homes were more secular than religious.
Probably of a greater threat to the security of faith than the attraction of divination itself is the ingrained idea that if you live well the gods will reward you. Even for young Christians it is very difficult to throw this off. By believing in Jesus, they come to know the true God. It is the duty of every Christian to serve God in all areas of life. If this is done and a young Christian still has difficulty in life, hardships on the job, family conflicts, sicknesses, the question arises, How can God allow this to happen? What have I done wrong? It may even be asked, What good is it to me if I am a Christian and God treats me this way? The old ingrained idea is still present, namely, that if I live right God will reward me with outward good.
We thank God that the gospel is the answer for all of us. Faith is not simply a matter of choosing a personal god; it is to believe in the only true God. We have come to appreciate even more that the first commandment is the doorway to the entire law. Unless we have settled the question about the true God, the rest of the commandments will remain unsettled. Once that is settled, the rest follows. If we know and trust the one only true God, we can worship Him properly, we do not need dumb images. We have the lively preaching of the gospel. We have the privilege to use His Name aright and to keep His Day, the Lord’s Day, holy. He is not an avenging deity for us; He is our Father who is in heaven.
Our Lord Jesus Christ makes all the difference. In this season of the year in which we reflect upon His coming into our flesh, may the Holy Spirit make Him dear to our hearts. The manger led to the cross, which in turn led to the crown. At the Father’s right hand, He is now gathering His church from all nations under heaven. Soon we will be part of that great throng that no man can number (Rev. 7:9).
Faith or fate, that is the question we face.
May God strengthen each of us in the bond of true faith.