What Is the Occult and Is it Harmless Fun?

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APOSTOLIC FATHERS Lightfoot

The English word “occult” comes from the Latin “occultus,” which means things that are hidden, esoteric, concealed, or mysterious. For occult practitioners, the occult represents interference with physical nature by using hidden knowledge (gnosis), such as non-conventional practices including reciting formulas, making gestures, mixing incompatible elements, performing healing spells, or performing secret ceremonies attempting to alter physical nature. What is the hidden knowledge? According to occultists, it is the force at the base of the universe, and it is obtained only through secret communication with that force. Is this hidden force God? Or the devil? Or the soul of the universe? That depends a good deal on what particular source their gnosis has tapped into, but one thing the force is not: It is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

For those dabbling in the occult, such activities are considered harmless and fascinating—a real source of spiritual knowledge. For Christians, however, the wide range of practices making up the occult is destructive and spirit-threatening. Christians view as deeply evil things like alchemy, astrology, casting runes, crystals and crystal balls, divination, dowsing, ESP, fortune-telling, horoscopes, the I Ching, levitation, Ouija boards, paganism, palm reading, the paranormal, pendulum divination, psychic phenomena, reading Tarot Cards, ritual abuse, satanism, seances, secret societies, sorcery, spiritualism, talking to dead spirits, Wicca (so-called White Witchcraft) and Witchcraft (Black Magic). The extent of occult involvement is universal. Spiritual warfare is all around us, and if Satan cannot keep us from knowing Christ he will try containing us by drawing us into deception. The Enemy is a deceiver, liar, tempter, and devourer of human souls.

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Why the interest in the occult? First, many churches have “watered down” the gospel of Christ, rejecting the church’s central teaching of Christ’s divinity and other essential truths. When this happens, a spiritual vacuum invites people to go to the occult to be satisfied, swinging the door to occultist practices wide open. Second, there is a certain mystery about the occult which appeals to our curiosity. Many, thinking the occult is harmless, go deeper and deeper until they can’t get out without any bad effects. Third, we all want ultimate answers to life’s basic questions, and the occult offers a sort of “reality” by providing these answers. Actually, occultist practices are a counterfeit of God’s power, and as such they do reveal some amazing things—but these things are not the ultimate truth. Fourth, an increase in demonic activity is to be expected as a sign of the end times (see Mk 13:22; 1 Tm 4:1).

Often, there is deliberate faking in the lucrative field of the occult. There is money to be made. There is also inaccurate reporting. When some people find a theory fascinating, they often care less about the facts. In addition, there is self manipulation. When it suits their wishes, some believe anything they want. There is, however, true demonic deception. The Bible teaches that there is a deceptive, dangerous spirit world which distorts reality and ruins human lives. Despite outright fraud, all Christians need to know that the occult or paranormal is real. The Bible is clear it is real, as Saul discovered upon meeting the medium of Endor (1 Sm 28), and we must not dismiss it. If God is real, his chief adversary is also real.

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First John 3:8 says, “The one who commits sin is of the Devil, for the Devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose: to destroy the Devil’s works.” Involvement in the occult is involvement in the devil’s works, and as it can lead to very serious outcomes spiritually and psychologically, we must remember that the Bible denounces all occultic practices (see Dt 18:9–14; Acts 13:6–12). The road to the occult is broad and always destructive. The way of Christ is narrow but always leads to eternal life.

Young Christians

1 Samuel 28:19 Does this passage suggest that all people go to the same place at death, whereas Lk 16:23 and Acts 1:25 indicate that they go to different places? Along with other passages (see Ec 3:20–21; Dn 12:2, 13), this verse refers to an intermediate state between physical death and one’s final destiny (Samuel had died only recently, 25:1). Samuel’s words to Saul here merely indicate that within a day’s time Saul and three of his sons would be dead.

1 Samuel 29:6–9 On whether Achish’s relationship with David in this passage contradicts the earlier description of their relationship in 1 Sm, see note on 21:12–15.

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1 Samuel 31:3–5 The Bible provides three complementary accounts of Saul’s receiving mortal wounds leading to his death. According to verse 3, Saul was severely wounded by a Philistine arrow. Then, to avoid being sadistically executed by the vengeance-seeking Philistines (17:51; 18:27), Saul fell on his own sword (v. 4), receiving a second grave wound that in time would have killed him (2 Sm 1:9). His armor-bearer, seeing that the king was now dead, then fell upon his sword and perished, as well (1 Sm 31:5). Later, an Amalekite—probably on the battlefield to steal personal possessions from the corpses—tried to take credit for dealing Saul’s final death blow (2 Sam 1:6–10); whether or not he was telling the truth, it was a foolish move on his part. Though this sequence of events as the Bible relates it is complicated, it is certainly plausible.

1 Samuel 31:4–5 Suicide involves the unauthorized taking of a human life, and as such violates the sixth commandment (Ex 20:13); God does not sanction it. The Apostle Paul prevented the Philippian jailer from taking his own life (Acts 16:27–28). But, as with all other sins (with the exception of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, Mt 12:31), suicide is not a sin that automatically excludes a person from heaven.

The biblical narrative records examples of several individuals who took their own lives. In each case the circumstances of the suicide were inglorious and regrettable. Samson, tortured and humiliated by the Philistines, took his own life with theirs after a ruinous career of disregard for the Lord (Jdg 16:30). Ahithophel committed suicide after being publicly humiliated by having his advice rejected, and in order to avoid being executed for treason (2 Sm 17:23). Zimri, after murdering an Israelite king, ended his life to avoid being killed by his pursuers (1 Kg 16:18). Judas committed suicide after his betrayal of Jesus (Mt 27:5). Saul’s attempted suicide was carried out to avoid the humiliation and torture the approaching Philistines would certainly have inflicted on him. There are no biblical examples of honorable suicide. An examination of the Bible’s accounts of these lives and deaths suggest two primary scriptural observations about suicide: first, it is an option that some deeply troubled people will choose when facing desperate circumstances; and second, it is a pathetic and tragic end to a human life.

By Leonard G. Goss

The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith, ed. Ted Cabal et al. (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007).

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