Thursday, October 22, 2015

Do Witches Exist?

We’ve come to the fourth post in the monster miniseries, as we near the end of October. Today, I want to take a look at the idea of witchcraft. This is actually a pretty broad topic in my understanding of it, but I will not be going into too much detail. The main point is to understand what witchcraft is generally, and what Christians should make of it.

Witches and the Bible

My definition for a witch is anyone who attempts to tap into the spirit world through talismans, spells, and potions. The Wicca religion is known for this, but so are voodoo and other animistic religions, New Age, Satanism, and those claiming to be psychic.

As I have said before, I believe there are personal, evil spiritual forces, and playing with them is a dangerous game. All forms of magic are an appeal to the demonic, whether the practitioners intend for it to be so or not. I also believe these forces can and have given unnatural abilities to those with whom they interact (see Acts 16:16-19). In that sense, and in the sense that people are trying to do it, witches are real. However, most are undoubtedly phonies, claiming powers far beyond their ability, and none really expect to get what they are after.

The Bible has a fair bit to say about witchcraft. I have already linked to one story, and I described another one here. There is also the story of Balaam, who is mostly spoken of in Numbers 22-24, but who recurs frequently in the Bible, as well as Simon Magus from Acts 8:4-25.

Beyond narrative accounts, the Bible condemns witchcraft in numerous commandments from God, from Leviticus to Revelation, promising that those who practice it will be destroyed. The clearest explanation for why God so detests witchcraft can be found in 1 Samuel 15:23, though it is not the context of the verse. The prophet Samuel castigated the evil King Saul for his rebellion in refusing to obey God. He then compares this rebellion to witchcraft, showing us why we ought to avoid it.

Understanding Magic

Another way to think about this is by turning to the thoughts of J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien made a distinction between an understanding of nature on the one hand, and magic on the other. The “magic” of hobbits, elves, and dwarves was, in his creative universe, no more than a close knowledge of the way things are in the world.

Sorcery, such as that practiced by Sauron and the other evil creatures in Middle Earth, was something different. It too sought understanding, but not an understanding of natural things for their own sake. Rather, it was understanding for the sake of control. This magic sought to torture nature in order to make things the way the magician wanted them to be.

Tolkien envisioned this dark magic as a sort of metaphor for industrialization and technology, with its destruction of the natural world for the sake of power and wealth. However, it also applies to the type of spiritual magic people in the real world attempt to practice. Magic is evil because it tries to break God’s order for the world.

All magic is a search for control. In that way, it is no different than any other sin, and no different than the original sin. The first fault of Adam and Eve was wanting to be like God, and trying to break His commandment so they could order their own lives, their own world, for themselves (Genesis 3:1-6).

Some people, especially Wiccans, will argue that they are in fact closer to nature than anyone else. However, the truth is in their motivation. They do not practice magic for the sake of nature. They do so in an attempt to benefit. Their magic is all about the effects, what they can make happen so their lives are better. And while there is nothing intrinsically wrong with self-improvement, witchcraft goes beyond that. As Samuel told Saul, it is rebellion. It is refusing to obey the Creator, instead worshipping the creature. In reality, it is torturing the creation and allying with God’s enemies in order to worship the self. Anyone practicing witchcraft is far from the truth, and far from God.

Christian Witchcraft

It is important to note that this error is not exclusive to the “magical” religions. All too often, Christians engage in this same effort to draw out desired results through incantation. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with praying for the things you feel you need. But Christian supplication is about reaching out to God with our anxieties, and then resting in Him for the proper result. That rest includes believing the proper result will come even if it does not come the way we want.

Incantational prayer is different. It is what happens whenever someone prays to God for what he wants, and then assumes God must give it to him as long as he said the prayer with the right words in the right order, or the right number of times, or holding the right icon, or while living the right life. This is nothing other than Christian witchcraft, and is even worse than the normal kind. At least witches are only trying to manipulate nature. When we do this, we are trying to manipulate God.

Freedom from Superstition

But that is not the final word, whatever form of witchcraft is under consideration. No one who does evil has to remain as he is. That is as true for the liar as for the witch. Revelation 22:15 says that both are stuck on the outside of the kingdom of God, but only if they chose to stay there. If in life they repented and turned to God for forgiveness, then they came inside. Anyone who seeks God’s grace through Jesus Christ is no longer what they once were. Instead, they are remade. Change is possible, thanks to the loving Savior who took the punishment for our rebellion upon Himself. It only takes faith in Him, and you can come into the light.

Witchcraft is unmistakably evil, regardless of its actual potency. God is unsurpassably loving, regardless of what we have done. Witches declare themselves His enemies in their attempts to control their world. But glory be to God through Jesus Christ, He makes His enemies His friends when they come to Him. That is what we all must do to be rescued, whatever our forms of rebellion might be. 

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