This past week, a friend of mine, told me her sister had visited a spiritist to enquire about her own life. The medium’s words were recorded and my friend listened to the recording, which she said was creepy, but in some respects, accurate. How should anyone, but especially a follower of Jesus, respond to the occult?
To begin, let’s define what we’re talking about. The word “occult” comes from the Latin “occultus” and means “knowledge of the hidden.” It refers to paranormal beliefs and activities related to the supernatural, including magic, mysticism, witchcraft, sorcery, necromancy, astrology or spiritism. It is the counterfeit of the true spirituality found in the Bible. Well what does the Bible have to say about the occult?
First, the Bible forbids any association with the occult. In Deuteronomy 18:9-14, God clearly warned Israel when the nation was about to enter Canaan and take the land, that they were to have nothing to do with spiritism. Here’s what is written: “9 “When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not imitate the detestable customs of those nations. 10 No one among you is to make his son or daughter pass through the fire, practice divination, tell fortunes, interpret omens, practice sorcery, 11 cast spells, consult a medium or a familiar spirit, or inquire of the dead. 12 Everyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord, and the Lord your God is driving out the nations before you because of these detestable things. 13 You must be blameless before the Lord your God. 14 Though these nations you are about to drive out listen to fortune-tellers and diviners, the Lord your God has not permitted you to do this.” This is not just for Israel in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, sorcery is listed among the deeds of the flesh (Gal 5:20) and sorcerers are numbered among those excluded from the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:8). So the first bit of advice I’d give anyone is not to have anything to do with the occult. even a small glance at the astrology column in the newspaper should be rejected. John Piper once said that looking at an astrology column is as unfaithful to the Lord as a man, glancing through a Playboy magazine, is unfaithful to his wife.
Second, recognize that there very well may be some reality to the paranormal and the occult. That’s why Paul says that “our battle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens” (Eph 6:12). Many years ago, Eva and I had a friend who was not a follower of Jesus, who told us she wanted to go see a fortune teller and wanted to know what we thought. Eva told her not to waste her money for two reasons. First, many times these so-called “spiritists” are scam artists and don’t know anything about your life—it’s all made up. So why throw money away on falsehood? On the other hand, the second reason Eva gave for this woman not to go, was that the fortune teller may very well may know certain aspects of her life. But even so, since the God of Israel flatly prohibited this, we know that if the medium knows anything it is, by virtue of familiar spirits and demons. Who wants to hear from them? It will only end up hurting us. So, happily, our friend listened to Eva’s advice and did not go to the fortune teller. The reason it is good she didn’t go is that when spiritists are accurate their words are from the evil world. They give accurate facts to draw people in and then use that to destroy them. They hook us with initial accuracy but the goal is to hurt us in the end.
Third, if we’ve had anything to do with the occult, just reject it and renounce it. Get rid of anything associated with it. That’s what was done when the gospel came to Ephesus, described in Acts 19:18-19, “18 And many who had become believers came confessing and disclosing their practices, 19 while many of those who had practiced magic collected their books and burned them in front of everyone. So they calculated their value, and found it to be 50,000 pieces of silver.” This is what Paul meant by demolishing strongholds and taking every thought captive to the Messiah Jesus (2 Cor 10:5). We don’t need a bonfire but we do need to confess and toss any tarot cards, Ouija Boards, astrology books, or anything to do with the occult into the trash.
Finally, we need not fear or focus on the occult. This is what the Lord Jesus taught 70 of His disciples when they returned from a successful ministry trip. They said, 17 . . .“Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name.” 18 He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a lightning flash. 19 Look, I have given you the authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy; nothing will ever harm you. 20 However, don’t rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” We don’t need to fear the evil spirit world because the one in us is greater than He who is in the world (1 John 4:4). In fact, the Holy Spirit who indwells followers of the Lord Jesus, is the power that raised Him from the dead (Rom 8:11)—so we don’t need any greater power nor should we fear any occult power. Nevertheless, we don’t need to be absorbed with spiritual warfare. The Messiah Jesus teaches us to focus on the Lord and our salvation, that our “names are written in heaven.”
C.S. Lewis, in the introduction to the masterful Screwtape Letters gives the right balance: “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. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”