Unlucky #4

“Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.” I Timothy 4:7

unlucky 4

When I occasionally ventured downtown with my parents as a child and entered an elevator in a skyscraper, I often noticed a curious thing: there was no 13th floor in many of the buildings. When I pointed out this anomaly to my parents, they explained that there was actually a 13th floor, but because many people considered the number to be unlucky, it was commonly omitted from the selection of buttons indicating floor levels. Despite this widely held belief, my grandfather, who was a bit of a contrarian, decided to name his ranch “Lucky 13.” We consequently used the brand L13 to identify all his cattle so this particular number was vividly branded in my memory.

Instead of the number thirteen, Japanese traditionally considered the number 4 to be very unlucky because it can be pronounced as “shi” (四), which is also used for the word “death” (死), even though the Chinese characters identifying them are quite different. Like America, where the number 13 was often omitted, many hospitals and hotels in Japan similarly skipped the number 4 when indicating floors in their buildings. “Tetraphobia” is an actual psychological term coined to describe the practice of avoiding instances of the digit 4 as this ancient superstition also exists in other parts of Asia. This unfounded fear can be applied in numerous ways, such as avoiding the mention of the number four around an ill family member, giving four of something as a gift or scheduling something important on April 4th, the fourth day of the fourth month.

Like other cultures, there are many other superstitions that linger in Japan. For example, whistling at night may invite snakes to come out. You should hide your thumbs if a funeral hearse passes nearby. Children are warned to cover their belly buttons in a thunder storm. Chopsticks should never be placed upright in a bowl of rice. A person’s name should not be written in red ink. It is not advisable to kill a spider in the morning, but it is expedient to do so at night. A person should avoid cutting fingernails or toenails in the evening. One should avoid sleeping with his head positioned towards the north. Food is not to be passed chopstick-to-chopstick. The list continues and each of these forbidden actions could possibly invite death or adverse circumstances due to their connections with other terms, mythological stories or current cultural practices. Go to the following link for a further explanation: https://www.cotoclub.com/16-common-japanese-superstitions/.

In mentoring his young disciple Timothy, Paul advised him to avoid dwelling on such myths and superstitions in the course of his ministry (I Timothy 4:7). Instead, he was encouraged to focus on godly character and truth in his own life and in shepherding others. As a mature believer, Paul understood that superstitions are essentially grounded in fear instead of faith and the proponents of such an approach to life cling to a faulty understanding of God that must be discarded. While God is certainly to be feared (Deuteronomy 10:12), He is not a whimsical, cosmic being who can be induced or manipulated to protect us from life’s calamities. This God is not limited by any temples we may erect to contain Him, idols we may form to worship Him or any silly practices we may promote to control Him. This was the message Paul preached to the superstitious Greeks on Mars Hill who needed to correctly understand the vastness, power and nature of God (Acts 17). This is the truth that needs to be branded on our hearts and heeded while living in a world full of misinformation and deceit.