I’m giving a talk this evening to some of the young people of our Presbytery about the Occult, so I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone today… Eastern Presbytery CY members look away now!!
In his introduction to The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis wrote ‘There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.’ Lewis makes the point that the Devil is perfectly happy with either of those extremes – both suit his purpose very well. The apostle Paul says in 2 Cor 2.11 that we are not ignorant of the Devil’s tactics. The occult is one of his many tactics to ensnare human beings, and so we should be aware of it dangers.
- What is the Occult?
The word ‘occult’ means ‘secret’ or ‘hidden’. Occult practices have to do with gaining secret, hidden knowledge and using invisible powers to control things in the world. This knowledge and power comes from the unseen, supernatural world. All kinds of practices fall under label ‘occult’, such as fortune telling (in any of its many guises), any attempt to communicate with the dead, magic – not sleight of hand tricks or illusions and the like, but attempting to control people and things by means of mystical ceremonies.
A lot of people would see most of these things as harmless fun. Surely no-one takes horoscopes seriously?! Ouija Boards are sold by Hasbro as a board game. A 1994 survey of 17,000 young people between the ages of ten and fourteen showed that their best loved board game was Monopoly, with the second most popular being the Ouija board.
Christians believe in an unseen spiritual world populated by spiritual beings. This is why John Wesley wrote in his Journal in 1768, ‘The giving up of witchcraft is in effect giving up the Bible.’ God is a spirit; he created countless unseen spiritual beings. A great number of these turned to evil, led by the angel Lucifer. Paul makes clear in Eph 6.12 that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
The reality of occult practices is attested in many places of Scripture.
- 1 Sam 28 records the story of Saul trying to contact the spirit of Samuel through the medium of Endor. All kinds of difficult questions are raised by this episode, but whatever else it tells us, it shows us the reality of the spirit world. Whether it was actually the spirit of Samuel who came up out of the ground or an evil spirit pretending to be Samuel, there is no doubt that a spirit
- Magicians are referred to in Egypt and Babylon, and some of them at least were able to do genuine miracles. In Exodus 7, Aaron throws his staff down and it transforms into a serpent; we are then told that Pharaoh’s wise men, sorcerers and magicians were able to do the same by their secret (‘occult’) arts. By those same secret arts, they were able to imitate the first two plagues.
- In Acts 8.11 we read of Simon the magician: the people of Samaria ‘paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic.’
- In Acts 16 we meet a slave girl with a spirit of divination who was able to tell fortunes, until Paul drove out the evil spirit in the name of Jesus and she was unable to tell the future any longer.
In other words, the Bible never writes off these things as silly nonsense. Everywhere they are assumed to be very real.
- What does the Bible say about the Occult?
God’s Word clearly forbids human beings from having anything to do with the occult. Deuteronomy 18.9-12 crams more terms for the occult into one place than anywhere else in the Bible. Eight occult activities are mentioned: divination, fortune-telling, interpreting omens, sorcery, the use of charms, mediums, wizardry, or necromancy. They all involve the attempt to get hold of knowledge that is ordinarily hidden, and the way of getting it is through the spirit world and mysterious supernatural forces.
Here again we’re reminded that the knowledge sought in all these things is not motivated by idle curiosity but the desire to exert power over people and events. We have an illustration of this in Numbers 22, where the king of Moab paid Balaam for divination; the king didn’t just want to find out if Israel going to conquer his land – he wanted Balaam to pronounce a curse on Israel by means of magic arts.
What does God say about these activities in Deut 18.9-12?
- In v9 he calls them “abominations.” It’s a very strong word meaning detestable, abhorrent, and loathsome. Looking at a horoscope may seem innocent, but it’s an abomination in the eyes of God.
- v12 tells us that people who do these things are an abomination to the Lord. It doesn’t put them beyond the reach of God’s love, but we shouldn’t minimize the defilement that occult practices bring upon those who carry them out.
- In v10, occult activities are ranked alongside the burning of children as sacrifices to pagan gods. If we’re thinking biblically, we’ll think of charms, horoscopes, ouija boards, fortune telling, magic, etc. with the same kind of loathing.
- And so the Lord in v9 understandably commands Israel, You shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. Not just “Don’t do them,” but “Don’t even learn to do them. Don’t experiment with them. Don’t have anything to do with them in any way.” That’s a clear word to any who might be tempted to dabble in occult. One of the great dangers of the internet is that people can learn about these things out of a spirit of curiosity and get drawn in. We need to think of occult websites with the same revulsion we would feel for sites abusing children.
There are many other places, both in the OT and NT, that condemn and forbid the occult practices in the strongest possible terms (e.g. 2 Kings 17.16f; Isaiahh 2.6; Gal 5.20; Rev 21.8). The Bible is crystal clear that any kind of involvement in occult practices is evil.
- Why does God forbid involvement in the Occult?
(i) It is a denial of God’s wisdom. Deut 29.29: The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. God says there are things that secret – we are not meant to know them. They are for God to know. They might not be good for us to know, they might be none of our business, we might use the knowledge to harm other people, we just might not be able to understand them.
Think about it. Would it really be good for you to know the time of your or your loved ones’ death? Could you handle that knowledge? If knew you will die in three months’ time, would you be able to relax and have a normal life? If knew you will die in thirty years’ time, would you be responsible with that knowledge? God in his infinite wisdom has chosen to tell us what we need to know and any attempt to get that information some other way is a deliberate rejection of his wisdom and authority.
(ii) It is dangerous for our well-being. All genuine occultism is demonic. It is stage-managed by the Devil who masquerades as an angel of light. He promises knowledge and life and power, but what he delivers is bondage and misery and death. It’s the same lie he told to Eve in the Garden of Eden: ‘eat the forbidden fruit and you’ll be happy. God wants to keep you in ignorance and servility – I want you to set you free.’
Tragically we see this pattern repeated over and over when people get involved in the occult. Kurt Koch in his book The Lure of the Occult documents 193 case studies of people who were involved, to some degree, in occult practices. It’s heart-breaking to read of how people turned to the occult for help, and often received it in the short term, but paid a far higher price in the end. There is case after case of people who were ill and went to the occult for healing, who often were healed of that particular problem, but then discovered all kinds of psychological disturbances beginning to torment them as they inched closer to madness and even suicide or death in inexplicable circumstances.
What makes the occult dangerous is that when you engage in occult practice, whether realise it or not, whether you mean to or not, you are opening yourself up to demonic influence. The occult is like conductor for the lightning of satanic power. It’s an incredibly dangerous, foolish and wicked thing to do – to put yourself into the hands of beings that want to hurt and destroy you. They don’t want your good – they want your destruction.
They don’t want to give you comfort by putting you in touch with your loved ones who have died – but will tell you all kinds of things to bring you under their power more and more. They will tell you many true things if it will help to make you trust them more and keep you dependent on them like drug addict needs his fix. They may give you true information about the future, but it’s only another chain to bind you more tightly and make you their prisoner.
The Devil persuades people that by learning these practices they will gain power – that they will be in control of their destiny and of other people. In fact they are surrendering power and becoming more enslaved than ever.
- What is the Alternative to the Occult?
The occult promises knowledge and power, but it’s an empty promise that delivers only slavery and death. Really it’s a counterfeit gospel – an artificial version of the truth God offers in Jesus Christ. Because the gospel promises true knowledge – not bits of trivia about the future, but knowledge of God and yourself and all that is right and good. The gospel offers true power – not the power to manipulate and control others to accomplish our will, but the power to love God and love others and live in fellowship with God as we were created to do.
And the gospel offers the true way to obtain this knowledge and power: by humbling ourselves and confessing that we are ignorant and weak in ourselves; that we don’t understand as we ought to and that we need God to teach us; that we can’t do anything of any value by ourselves and need him to strengthen us. When we do this, he opens our eyes to understand and fills us with the strength of God who rules all things! I can do all things through him who strengthens me!
Armed with this true knowledge and strength, the Christian is able to stand against the Devil. Eph 6.10-12: Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. For the one who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world (1Jn 4.4).
We see this in the Scriptures over and over again, don’t we?
- Pharoah’s magicians were able to turn their staffs into serpents, like Aaron – but then Aaron’s serpent devoured theirs! They may have been able to imitate the first two plagues, but we’re told that they stalled at the third (Ex 8.18): The magicians tried by their secret arts to produce gnats, but they could not.
- Remember Balaam – that diviner hired by king of Moab to curse Israel? He tried four times to curse them, but every time he opened his mouth he pronounced a blessing! And the last time was one of the most glorious prophecies of Jesus Christ and a curse upon Moab!
- Of course it’s Jesus above all in the Gospel who shows us how much greater the power of God is than the power of the Devil and the occult. He drives out demons with a single word of command and they have no option but to obey. Legion was possessed by 6000 or so demons, pleading in terror not to be destroyed by Jesus! They hate him and yet utterly powerless to do anything. Over and over again he speaks to them like a whipped dog. Filled with his Spirit the apostles do the same!
- And in the end the Devil and all who trust in him will be cast into hell forever, including all who practise occult arts (Rv 21.8).
And perhaps you’ve experienced this for yourself, if you’re a Christian. For you have been delivered from the power of Satan. In Acts 26.18, God describes Paul’s mission like this: …to open [people’s] eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ If you’re not a Christian right now, then do you realise you’re still under the power of Satan? Even if you’ve never touched a Ouija board in your life. John says in 1 Jn 5.19: …the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. But the gospel of Jesus Christ releases people who are under the power of Devil. May he open your eyes so you may turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God.