The Christian and the Occult

Right around Halloween there always seems to be an increase in slasher-horror flicks, all involving a group of teens with poor judgement and short life expectancies, meandering about some haunted house for ninety minutes as they slowly start disappearing one by one. Ouija, a movie that centers around a group of teenagers interacting with a ouija board to contact their recently murdered friend, slides into that category comfortably. You could guess as much, but eventually they all start getting killed off by some evil spirit that is summoned from the dark little board game (the movie got a whopping 7% on rotten tomatoes, so I guess we shouldn’t be too worried about it influencing too many people). But, with our culture’s recent obsession with anything spiritual, it does raise some questions that are bound to be cropped up when garbage like this comes down media-pipe.

I’m a pretty serious skeptic when it comes to palm readers, fortune tellers, witch doctors and the whole lot of weird astrology/spirit/energy driven junk out there. They all seem to have about as much credibility as the Ghost-Busters from what I can tell – at best, trying to help people through through a placebo-effect of positive thought-ism, and at worst scamming people by playing up to their grief or fears to try and rob them of their hard-earned cash.

However, as skeptical as I am, the Bible does have scenarios where God’s people bump up against magicians, prophets, and fortune-tellers who are not just tricksters. Take Paul and Silas’ encounter with the slave girl who was a fortune-teller (Acts 16:16-19), or what about the Witch of Endor that summons Samuel from the grave (1 Samuel 28), or Pharaoh’s magicians who could replicate some of Moses’ miracles from God (Ex. 7:22)? And on top all of that, there is the large list of Scripture that explicitly forbids God’s people from taking part in witchcraft (Deut. 18:9-12, Lev. 20:27, Gal. 5:19-21, Rev. 21:8, 2 Chron. 33:6, Ex. 22:18, Lev. 20:6, etc.).

Despite the fact that a large percentage of “witchcraft” is nothing more than smoke and mirrors, the Bible does seem to be saying that there are legitimate, supernatural experiences that people experience through spiritual means. And the pursuit of those experiences are explicitly forbidden for Christians. Here a few thoughts from Pastor John Piper on the matter:

  1. Scripture Clearly Condemns the Occult: As examples I would mention séances, necromancy, and all forms of communicating with the dead, PSI, ESP, and all forms of supra-natural psychic phenomena, real magic (as opposed to simple sleight-of-hand tricks), fortune telling, the casting of spells, wearing of charms, the use of ouija boards, astrology, horoscopes, etc. What they have in common is that they all involve efforts to obtain knowledge which is ordinarily hidden, and the means of attaining it is through dealings with the spirit world or with mysterious supra-natural forces.
  2. Witchcraft Belittles God and Exalts Man: God forbids His people to participate in the occult because it is a continuation of the original satanic lie back in Gen. 3:5, “Go beyond what God has appointed, and you shall become like God.” All forms of the occult present us with a similar temptation: will we act like humble children of the heavenly Father and submit to God’s wisdom in limiting our knowledge and power, or will we, like Adam and Eve, hanker for the fruit that can make us “wise” and for the power that belongs to God? Will we belittle God and exalt ourselves, or will we humble ourselves and exalt God by being content with his revelation and his use of power on our behalf? No one who loves Jesus Christ and orients all of his life around the revelation of Jesus can turn to the occult for knowledge or power.
  3. Spiritual Prostitution: Leviticus 20:6 explains that consulting mediums is like committing adultery against God. Jesus Christ is the husband of the church. He is God’s fullest revelation. All that we need to know and all the power which it is good for us to have comes through him and his Word. When we go after other secret oracles and psychic powers, we say in effect that our husband is unsatisfactory and we must seek for lovers elsewhere. When a Christian peeks at his horoscope, he is treating Jesus the same way a husband treats a wife when he peeks at Playboy to provide the titillation he no longer gets from her.

Read or listen to the whole sermon from Piper on Deut. 18:9-12 here.

There are only two spiritual forces in the world: God or Satan. If there are spiritual energies, forces or experiences that are not coming from God, they can only come from one other place. Here are a few practical thoughts for you:

What this DOESN’T mean: This does not mean that you need to burn all of your Harry Potter books, or stop watching movies with magic in them. This doesn’t mean that you can’t dress up for Halloween or pass out candy to trick-or-treaters. This also doesn’t mean that you should start playing all your songs backwards to listen for satanic chanting, or be paranoid about buying something that has 666 hidden in Hebrew on the label somewhere. This doesn’t even necessarily mean that you have to stop watching scary movies. The Biblical admonition is about not willingly participating in the actual act of witchcraft. A Christian should employ some sanctified common sense, redeem what they can from culture for the glory of God, and follow the convictions that the Lord gives them to navigate decisions like this (or if you are still under your parent’s roof, you honor them and do what they say – sorry homie, no Hogwarts till you’re 18).

What this DOES mean: Christians should not participate (as in, take part in the actual act of)* in anything that is relying on a spiritual “force, energy, or person” that is something other than God as He is revealed in the Bible. 1 Cor. 10:20 says, “I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons.” Paul is explaining that when people from other religions offer a sacrifice to their god, they are actually offering it to a demon. When a friend says that they used a ouija board and had a spiritual experience, it is because they were having an encounter with a demon. People really do experience genuine spiritual encounters outside of Christ; I just believe they are either a figment of their imagination, or they are demonic. So, Christians should heed Paul’s warning here, we do not want to participate with demons, so why give them that opportunity?

So, let’s be discerning and wise about the smorgasbord of spiritual “experiences” that are offered in culture today, remember that not all demonic encounters look sinister, for “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” (2 Cor. 11:14)

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