August 14, 2011

Christians and the Occult and Paranormal

Ever since we had a discussion about psychics on my page on Facebook, I've wanted to write a series of blog entries on this topic. It's been a while, but I finally have some time to get started, so here goes:

Our culture is extremely interested in the "paranormal." As an example, consider all the "reality"  television shows that are on the air now dealing with this topic. I recently came across an interesting study from Baylor University, entitled What Americans Really Believe. (Here's a Wall Street Journal article about the study.) Its from 2008, so it's a few years old. It shows that people with no religious faith and members of more liberal denominations are much more likely to believe in the paranormal and pseudoscience than evangelical Christians. 31% of people who never attended worship services believed in things like  ghosts, communication with the dead, dreams that foretell the future, and Bigfoot. However, only 8% of those who attend worship services weekly  believe in these sorts of things.

I think illustrates shows how the paranormal serves as a substitute for the genuine spiritual. I believe everyone has a need for a connection with something beyond the natural. While I'm not sure I can prove that biblically, it is suggested by passages like  Ecclesiastes 3:11 and Romans 2:15. Those who lack a real relationship with the living God are much more likely to accept a substitute.

Of course, we should be much more concerned with what the Bible says than what people believe. There are numerous references to occultic practices in the Old Testament legal code. This was "the law of the land" for ancient Israel. Obviously these laws don't directly apply to us today, which is why we don't worry about things like wearing "clothing woven of two kinds of material." (Leviticus 19:19) However, we can still learn from thes laws but exploring the unchanging principles behind them.

Here are a few examples:

Do not defile yourselves by turning to mediums or to those who consult the spirits of the dead. I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:31 (NLT)

I will also turn against those who commit spiritual prostitution by putting their trust in mediums or in those who consult the spirits of the dead. I will cut them off from the community. Leviticus 20:6 (NLT)

For example, never sacrifice your son or daughter as a burnt offering. And do not let your people practice fortune-telling, or use sorcery, or interpret omens, or engage in witchcraft, or cast spells, or function as mediums or psychics, or call forth the spirits of the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord. It is because the other nations have done these detestable things that the Lord your God will drive them out ahead of you. Deuteronomy 18:10-12 (NLT)

Clearly, God did not want the Israelites involved with mediums, fortune-tellers, psychics and so forth.

There are plenty of other verses on this topic throughout the Bible. For example, sorcery--or witchcraft, depending on your Bible translation--is listed among the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:20. Here is one passage that sums it up well:

Someone may say to you, “Let’s ask the mediums and those who consult the spirits of the dead. With their whisperings and mutterings, they will tell us what to do.” But shouldn't people ask God for guidance? Should the living seek guidance from the dead? Isaiah 8:19 (NLT)

As believers, we need to rely on God rather than turning to other supernatural sources. God often describes himself as being a jealous God (eg. Exodus 20:5, 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:24, 5:9; Joshua 24:19.) He will not tolerate anyone or anything taking his rightful place in our lives.

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