What is Magic?
- Tuesday, January 10, 2012
For the sake of fairness, readers need to know who I am so they can judge my biases. Before becoming a baptized Christ-follower, my imagination was baptized into the world of Middle Earth through the 1977 animated Hobbit television movie (I even had a poster hanging over my bed when I was in the first grade). Later in elementary school and then in both junior high and high school I played various role playing games (including Star Wars, Star Frontiers, Champions, and the infamous Dungeons and Dragons, aka D&D). None of those games involved actual magical incantations, and demons never showed up for pizza and polyhedral dice. When confronted with the notion that D&D might somehow be Satanic, I set my cumbersome Thompson Chain Reference Bible on top of my D&D boxed set overnight, to see if anything happened. When my boxed set wasn't seared by righteous fire the next morning, my junior high logic assumed I was good to go. For those of you who might be wondering, when I went off to a Christian college, I did throw away all my D&D supplies. Yet I was motivated more out of a concern about the artwork in those books that seemed inappropriate for an adolescent male libido rather than a concern for the demonic possession of players.
I've kept my role-playing interests on the down-low because of the potential for controversy (which I will address in just a bit). However, when Crosswalk asked me to write this article, I felt like my concern for an active imagination, good Bible reading, and accurate Christian thinking demanded I write a few lines on the odd relationship between magic and Christian faith.
Do I think the demonic is real? Well, my African friends take nature magic and the presence of the demonic very seriously, so I don’t discount its reality. Yet I do challenge how some Christians instantly dismiss any imaginative work associated with “magic” as somehow demonic (please let me address that next). And sometimes I wonder if some well-intentioned Christians may be practicing their own kind of “magic” in the pews (and I will address that last).
MAGICAL CONFUSION IN THE BIBLE
Defining “magic” in the Bible is not like defining a triangle. In spite of numerous appearances in the Bible (including the infamous Exodus 22:18, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”), there doesn’t seem to be any singular and consistent definition – it’s like readers are supposed to know what magic is without being told precisely. While readers may not have a singular definition, there are multiple examples of supernatural activity which is either in opposition to God or condemned by God. Consider the following. In the Old Testament, the magicians of Egypt are in opposition to Moses in Exodus 7-9. Some form of witchcraft is evident in Ezekiel 13:17-23 (referencing the catching of souls). In the New Testament, the root idea appears associated with drugs or potions (Rev. 9:21; 18:23; 21:8; 22:15 and Galatians 5:20). Interestingly, the term magos used to describe the wise men in Matthew 2 could also be translated “magician.”
OK, so "magic" is expressly forbidden in the Bible in a variety of ways. But what exactly is it? The New Bible Dictionary suggests that practitioners of magic are those who use supernatural or psychic forces to accomplish their desires. Here the supernatural becomes a tool whereby the user can transform his or her psychological will into material fact. It is a counterfeit religion that offers self-guided dominion in place of God-guided service.
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