With Halloween coming up in less than two months, I thought this would be an appropriate time to begin a study of the occult. What is the occult? The word simply means "hidden" and is typically used to refer to allegedly hidden knowledge. It seems that from the time our human parents ate of the forbidden fruit, mankind has been fascinated with the idea of possessing knowledge to which we have no right.
This supposedly hidden knowledge is exceedingly broad and covers a wide range of topics. We are not going to study or even consider most of these topics, but I will list many of them just so you have an idea of what I mean when I refer to the occult or occultism.
The occult includes all of the following: Satanism, witchcraft, demonology, black magic, modern-day prophecies, fortune telling (via the use of crystal balls, palmistry, tarot cards, phrenology [i.e., reading the bumps on someone's head], etc.), interpretation of dreams, graphology (i.e., reading someone's character via their handwriting), spiritualism (i.e., attempts to communicate with the dead), Ouija boards, clairvoyance, premonitions, telepathy, psychokinesis, voodoo, some aspects of yoga, etc.
Admittedly, I don't know a lot about any of those subjects, and I hope that most of you don't either. Why? Well, because the Bible, from beginning to end, forbids the practice of the occult arts. Not only is the practice forbidden in the Old and New Testaments, but the motives underlying this search for occult knowledge are condemned as well.
In the garden of Eden, God provided Adam and Eve with everything necessary for human happiness. They were blessed with a close relationship with God Almighty and knew from Him all that He wanted them to know concerning right and wrong, good and evil. But, they were not satisfied with that knowledge. The woman believed Satan's lie in Genesis 3:4-6 - "You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate."
From that time when pride and curiosity combined to ruin man, the human race has too often desired to know the unknowable, and to search out this knowledge in forbidden ways. The wise will learn the meaning of Deuteronomy 29:29 - "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the works of this law." There are certain things that God does not want us to know, and there are things that we do not need to know!
Let us take some time to illustrate the fact that the Bible condemns occultism from cover to cover.
1. THE OLD TESTAMENT CONDEMNS OCCULTISM.
Consider Exodus 22:18 - "You shall not permit a sorceress to live." Leviticus 19:26,31 - "You shall not eat anything with the blood, nor shall you practice divination or soothsaying...Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God." Leviticus 20:6 - "And the person who turns to mediums and familiar spirits, to prostitute himself with them, I will set My face against that person and cut him off from his people."
Moses explicitly condemns many aspects of the occult in Deuteronomy 18:9-14 - "When you come into the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the LORD, and because of these abominations the LORD your God drives them out from before you. You shall be blameless before the LORD your God. For these nations which you will dispossess listened to soothsayers and diviners; but as for you, the LORD your God has not appointed such for you."
God severely condemned the use of enchanters and fortune tellers, not only because of the ungodliness associated with their rites and ceremonies, but because the use of them indicated a lack of faith in Him and His word. Note Isaiah 8:19,20 on this point - "And when they say to you, 'Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,' should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." True guidance was to be found in God and in His word--not through the occult (cf. Jer. 27:9,10)!
2. THE NEW TESTAMENT CONDEMNS OCCULTISM.
The New Testament is as consistent as the Old in forbidding the practices of occultism. Galatians 5:19-21 reads - "Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like, of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." Revelation 21:8 states - "But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." Also, consider Revelation 22:14,15 - "Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie."
The city of Ephesus was known for its mystery religions, which claimed special and occult knowledge. When some of the Ephesians were converted to Christianity, they realized that their former practices were incompatible with it. "And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver" (Acts 19:18-20). Later, when Paul wrote his epistle to the church at Ephesus, he emphasized the fact that they now possessed knowledge of a far greater secret than any occult society ever possessed--that is, the mystery of the gospel which had been hidden, but was revealed in the first century through the apostles and prophets (cf. Eph. 3:8ff).
Jeremiah made a fundamentally correct statement when he wrote - "O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps" (Jer. 10:23). Paul states the same thing in I Corinthians 2, when he says the natural man cannot know the things of God. The natural man is not the unregenerate (or unsaved) man as is often claimed, but the man who is unaided by God's revelation. Man cannot come to know God, His will, or man's origin, purpose, or destiny, through philosophy, science, mysticism, or any of the occult arts. Such knowledge is only found in God's Word, the Bible. Let us shun the very first temptation--to be as God--to possess the powers, knowledge, and privileges that belong only to Him. Such was disastrous for Adam and Eve and such will still lead to disaster today!
In upcoming feature lessons, we will consider whether the occult is genuine or fake. We will also examine some specific aspects of occultism such as demon possession and mentalism.
Before we conclude this lesson, however, let's consider a few thoughts pertaining to Halloween itself.
I believe with all my heart that God intends for the Bible to direct the daily behavior of human beings. His divine word contains the principles from which we can learn how to please Him, as II Timothy 3:16,17 certainly teaches - "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." Consequently, before participating in a given activity, Christians should be careful to evaluate the activity against the standard of God's word.
So, what about Halloween? May a Christian participate in such? In the past, Christians have typically understood that God permits participation in national festive holidays as long as unauthorized religious activity does not enter into the observance. There are some who labor at length to delve into the ancient roots of Halloween. They find that various aspects of the holiday are associated with certain pagan, superstitious ideas. They then conclude that Christians ought to refrain from having anything to do with Halloween because of these ancient connections.
However, I believe this line of reasoning to be Biblically unsound and inconsistent. Christians are not responsible for connotations associated with the long-forgotten origins of a given practice. Rather, what God holds us accountable for are the current cultural connotations.
An example of this principle in Scripture is seen in Exodus 23:19 - "You shall not boil a young goat in its mother's milk." This law that forbid boiling a baby goat in its mother's milk puzzled students of the Bible for centuries. Why would God make such a rule? Recent archaeological discoveries contain the answer! Evidently, there was an ancient pagan cultic rite of boiling a young goat in its mother's milk as an acceptable way to approach a god! If God's people had engaged in this practice, they would have identified themselves with superstitious heathen practices, thus giving credence to pagan gods while associating the God of heaven with the false gods of men.
Now, if a Christian today were to boil a baby goat in its mother's milk, would he be in violation of God's will? Of course not. Admittedly, I don't know why anyone would want to do it, but if they did, it would not be sinful because (1) the Law of Moses is no longer binding and (2) the practice is not associated in our culture with the worship of false gods. Today, we could buy a bottle of cologne in the shape of a calf, and such would not be sinful for the same reasons. However, for an Israelite living 3500 years ago it would have been disastrous.
Another example of this principle is seen in Leviticus 19:27 - "You shall not shave around the sides of your head, nor shall you disfigure the edges of your beard." The Gentiles were known for cutting their hair as a religious rite in honor of an idol. Consequently, God's people in that day needed to be conscious of their practice and avoid that action. However, there is certainly nothing sinful about a man choosing to shave around the sides of his head today if that style suits him. No one would conclude that he was honoring an idol by doing such.
The principle for us to learn is simple: We must be aware of current cultural connotations and avoid practices that carry sinful connotations. It makes no difference what we might uncover when we trace a given practice back through the ages if that practice no longer carries those connotations. There are many daily activities that, if traced back to their origins through centuries of cultural changes and societal fluctuations, would be found to have strange, even shocking connections. For instance, June weddings date back to Roman women who chose to marry in June because the goddess Juno was guardian of the female sex. To marry in June guaranteed the blessings of the patron goddess (or so they believed). Another example is the word "Thursday," which is rooted in paganism. This day each week was dedicated to the god "Thor" (i.e., Thor's day). This fact is not likely to cause me to cease using the term or observing that day of the week! It is not wrong for me to use the term Thursday because no one today believes I am honoring a pagan deity by uttering such. Likewise, knowing the origin of June weddings is not going to cause me to oppose them. Couples who marry in June today do so because of schedules and convenience. They are not pursuing a blessing from a make-believe goddess! God does not hold us responsible for such ancient links. The question with which He is concerned is: What does this activity, practice, or observance mean to society now?
So, what does Halloween mean to our culture today? Halloween, to the average American, is a time when children wear costumes, go to haunted houses, drink hot apple cider, and carve pumpkins. Is there a Biblical principle that would forbid these activities or show them to be unauthorized for Christians? Not that I am aware of.
Halloween is the one day of the year when a child can knock on the door of a total stranger and expect to receive candy! Some have traced the practice of "trick or treat" to Ireland at harvest time. The poor would go to the rich and ask for food. If they did not receive what they requested, they would offer a threat: trick or treat. They would hollow out potatoes, place a candle in them, and use them to light their way. But, all such origins are actually irrelevant for us today. The meaning attached in our culture to any given observance becomes the key for ascertaining whether the practice is authorized by the principles of Scripture. Even the modern increase of witchcraft and Satanism is not directly linked to Halloween. However, let me also hasten to say that if a Christian feels uncomfortable with any aspect of Halloween, then he or she ought not to participate in such (cf. Rom. 14:23).
We will continue our study of the occult in our next feature lesson. Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.