“Oh, I feel so sorry for those American churches who keep Halloween and encourage their people to celebrate such a demonic custom. They don’t know what they are doing!” So said a Bulgarian Protestant minister in a phone conversation with me a few months ago. The gentleman was calling to discuss the beliefs of the United Church of God. When I explained that we observed the biblical Holy Days rather than traditional holidays of the world, he mentioned how sad it was to watch his fellow Protestant churches observe what to him were obvious pagan practices.
We are seeing today a rise in fascination with the occult, in a far more focused way. This winter, movie audiences are being served a double dose of occult entertainment with the release of movies based on the highly successful Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings novels. People, and in the case of the Potter movie, young children, are flocking to the cineplexes to watch the film incarnations of these fictional characters from the world of witchcraft and sorcery.
What does this say about the modern culture of America and Britain? These books and movies are the products of their artistic communities. More importantly, what does God say about such practices and how might that affect the future course of both nations?
A boy named Harry
The Harry Potter phenomenon has grown out of four novels written since 1994 by the British author, J.K. Rowling. In the first book and the movie Harry Potter is an orphaned 11-year-old boy who lives with his uncle and aunt in London. Harry is treated poorly by his family and lives in a small cramped space in a closet under the stairs of their home. When letters start arriving addressed to Harry, the secret of his past and the promise of his future come to light. Harry’s parents were witches who were killed by an evil wizard, Valdemoort. The letters are summoning Harry to “Hogwarts,” a school for witches. Harry’s entrance into this school sets the stage for his adventures in witchcraft and sorcery in the first of the books, titled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone .
The books contain a great deal about the black arts. Author Rowling did her homework in researching the subject to fill the books with authenticity while coating the subject with a veneer of enchantment and fun. This makes the stories wildly interesting for young readers. Harry and his friends, Roy and Hermione, are typical kids dealing with the usual matters of peers, homework and overbearing adults. Readers have no difficulty relating. Values like friendship, loyalty and courage are wrapped around the symbols and imagery of the occult. This makes the books popular with children and with adults who are thrilled to see a child reading rather than playing a video game.
There is no question the books have introduced thousands of children to the pleasures of reading. But at what cost? As children process the stories of witches, magic and sorcery, what will the long-term impact be upon their perception of good and evil? More importantly, what place will remain in their minds for the source of all spiritual truth, the Bible? There is already enough deception in today’s world. When black magic is used to convey positive spiritual values, how will the mind be able to discern truth from error?
One movie to bring them all
J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy , The Lord of the Rings , has been called by many the “novel of the century.” First published in 1954, the series (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King ), has sold more than 45 million copies in over 25 languages. These books arguably set the standard for fantasy books and movies during the past half-century. All three books have now been filmed and will be released one at a time over the next three Decembers. Predictions are that it will become the most successful movie series in history. Tolkien was a professor of language at England’s Oxford University when he created his fantasy world of characters, geography and language. Originally, he thought that no one outside his family would be interested in the story. How wrong he was. The stories, which deal with large human issues such as personal loss and the battle between good and evil, are written in a compelling style and have captured a loyal audience of devotees. The work has spawned a whole industry of commentary that speaks to the transcendent nature of the work. Tolkien captured eternal themes and cloaked them in a world of fantasy.
The cinematic versions of both the Rowling and Tolkien books will no doubt vie with one another for top honors of gross receipts and viewers. New audiences will be introduced to the stories and book sales will continue to increase. But what does this say about the state of our nation? More importantly, what does God say about this fascination with witchcraft and sorcery in the midst of a people?
What would God do?
Witchcraft and sorcery were specifically condemned in ancient Israel, a people chosen to be a model of a godly nation. God laid out laws which addressed how to deal with this problem. God’s laws stated that no sorceress was to live among the people and no one was to consult or listen to those who practiced the black arts (Exodus 22:18 Exodus 22:18You shall not suffer a witch to live.
American King James Version×; Leviticus 19:31 Leviticus 19:31Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God.
American King James Version×). Dabbling in magic cut one off from God and invited termination from the community.
“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…. A man or a woman who is a medium, or who has familiar spirits, shall surely be put to death; they shall stone them with stones. Their blood shall be upon them” (Leviticus 20:6 Leviticus 20:6And the soul that turns after such as have familiar spirits, and after wizards, to go a whoring after them, I will even set my face against that soul, and will cut him off from among his people.
American King James Version×, 27). Divination with the spirit world was a common feature of the nations around them and something God knew would be a snare for His people.
During the reign of Saul, Israel’s first king, the land was purged of witchcraft. Yet Saul is found consulting a witch during a time of crisis when God had departed from him and was no longer working with him as king (1 Samuel 28:7 1 Samuel 28:7Then said Saul to his servants, Seek me a woman that has a familiar spirit, that I may go to her, and inquire of her. And his servants said to him, Behold, there is a woman that has a familiar spirit at Endor.
American King James Version×). In the depth of depression, Saul asks the medium to summon the spirit of the dead Samuel to advise him what to do in a time of crisis. The story shows the deceptive nature of the spirit world, as a demon appears in the form of the prophet of God and communicates with Saul, a man who once had the spiritual stature to be chosen the leader of Israel. Poor Saul had drifted far from God and this encounter with the black arts symbolizes the distance between truth and deception. God wanted none of it where the work of His Kingdom was being done.
In Saul’s rebellion and God’s rejection of him as king, we see the connection between witchcraft and idolatry, the breaking of the First Commandment. Samuel had told Saul “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.” (1 Samuel 15:23 1 Samuel 15:23For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king.
American King James Version×). Sorcery and witchcraft are toxic elements that poison this vital first connection between the Creator and the creation.
Israel historically was seduced by the mixture of false prophets and diviners whose work destroyed the nation’s covenant relationship with God. Those teachers and sorcerers who claimed a higher or purer spiritual knowledge continually worked against the nation and were a prime part of why Israel and Judah went into captivity.
Ezekiel shows the murky mixture of false prophets and divination. “ ‘Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who prophesy, and say to those who prophesy out of their own heart, “Hear the word of the LORD!”’ Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Woe to the foolish prophets, who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing!… They have envisioned futility and false divination, saying, “Thus says the LORD!” But the LORD has not sent them; yet they hope that the word may be confirmed. Have you not seen a futile vision, and have you not spoken false divination? You say, “The LORD says,” but I have not spoken.’ Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Because you have spoken nonsense and envisioned lies, therefore I am indeed against you,’ says the Lord GOD. ‘My hand will be against the prophets who envision futility and who divine lies; they shall not be in the assembly of My people, nor be written in the record of the house of Israel, nor shall they enter into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord GOD’” (Ezekiel 13:2-9 Ezekiel 13:2-9 2 Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel that prophesy, and say you to them that prophesy out of their own hearts, Hear you the word of the LORD;
3 Thus said the Lord GOD; Woe to the foolish prophets, that follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!
4 O Israel, your prophets are like the foxes in the deserts.
5 You have not gone up into the gaps, neither made up the hedge for the house of Israel to stand in the battle in the day of the LORD.
6 They have seen vanity and lying divination, saying, The LORD said: and the LORD has not sent them: and they have made others to hope that they would confirm the word.
7 Have you not seen a vain vision, and have you not spoken a lying divination, whereas you say, The LORD said it; albeit I have not spoken?
8 Therefore thus said the Lord GOD; Because you have spoken vanity, and seen lies, therefore, behold, I am against you, said the Lord GOD.
9 And my hand shall be on the prophets that see vanity, and that divine lies: they shall not be in the assembly of my people, neither shall they be written in the writing of the house of Israel, neither shall they enter into the land of Israel; and you shall know that I am the Lord GOD.
American King James Version×).
When Judah faced imminent destruction at the hand of Babylon, Jeremiah included sorcerers in his denunciation of the spiritual deception which hindered the people and their leaders from listening to the warning from God. “Therefore do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your soothsayers, or your sorcerers, who speak to you, saying, ‘You shall not serve the king of Babylon’ ” (Jeremiah 27:9 Jeremiah 27:9Therefore listen not you to your prophets, nor to your diviners, nor to your dreamers, nor to your enchanters, nor to your sorcerers, which speak to you, saying, You shall not serve the king of Babylon:
American King James Version×). “For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are in your midst deceive you, nor listen to your dreams which you cause to be dreamed. For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them, says the LORD” (Jeremiah 29:8-9 Jeremiah 29:8-9 8 For thus said the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Let not your prophets and your diviners, that be in the middle of you, deceive you, neither listen to your dreams which you cause to be dreamed. 9 For they prophesy falsely to you in my name: I have not sent them, said the LORD.
American King James Version×).
Opposing the work of the gospel
The Bible clearly shows how the truth of the gospel of the Kingdom of God is unalterably opposed to witchcraft and sorcery. Wherever the gospel is preached and practiced, Satan and his agents appear to hinder its work of redemption and salvation. Jesus Christ repeatedly encountered the spirit world (Matthew 4:1-11 Matthew 4:1-11 1 Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.
2 And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered.
3 And when the tempter came to him, he said, If you be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.
4 But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.
5 Then the devil takes him up into the holy city, and sets him on a pinnacle of the temple,
6 And said to him, If you be the Son of God, cast yourself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning you: and in their hands they shall bear you up, lest at any time you dash your foot against a stone.
7 Jesus said to him, It is written again, You shall not tempt the Lord your God.
8 Again, the devil takes him up into an exceeding high mountain, and shows him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;
9 And said to him, All these things will I give you, if you will fall down and worship me.
10 Then said Jesus to him, Get you hence, Satan: for it is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.
11 Then the devil leaves him, and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.
American King James Version×; Luke 8:26-39 Luke 8:26-39 26 And they arrived at the country of the Gadarenes, which is over against Galilee. 27 And when he went forth to land, there met him out of the city a certain man, which had devils long time, and ware no clothes, neither stayed in any house, but in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out, and fell down before him, and with a loud voice said, What have I to do with you, Jesus, you Son of God most high? I beseech you, torment me not. 29 (For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For oftentimes it had caught him: and he was kept bound with chains and in fetters; and he broke the bands, and was driven of the devil into the wilderness.) 30 And Jesus asked him, saying, What is your name? And he said, Legion: because many devils were entered into him. 31 And they sought him that he would not command them to go out into the deep. 32 And there was there an herd of many swine feeding on the mountain: and they sought him that he would suffer them to enter into them. And he suffered them. 33 Then went the devils out of the man, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the lake, and were choked. 34 When they that fed them saw what was done, they fled, and went and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid. 36 They also which saw it told them by what means he that was possessed of the devils was healed. 37 Then the whole multitude of the country of the Gadarenes round about sought him to depart from them; for they were taken with great fear: and he went up into the ship, and returned back again. 38 Now the man out of whom the devils were departed sought him that he might be with him: but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 Return to your own house, and show how great things God has done to you. And he went his way, and published throughout the whole city how great things Jesus had done to him.
American King James Version×).
The book of Acts lists four separate encounters with sorcerers and those who practiced divining as the Church of God spread the gospel through the Roman world of the first century (Acts 8:9-11 Acts 8:9-11 9 But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one:
10 To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God.
11 And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries.
American King James Version×; 13:8; 16:16; 19:13-15).
In Ephesus, where Paul saw significant success, the impact of the Church caused many who practiced black magic to reject sorcery by burning their books in a public display. “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 19:19 Acts 19:19Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.
American King James Version×).
Satan has deceived the whole world, hiding the plan of God from human comprehension (Revelation 12:9 Revelation 12:9And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceives the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
American King James Version×). He has cleverly counterfeited the details of God’s purpose through the ages. Whether it is false religion, science fiction, fantasy creations or outright witchcraft, the objective of each is to hide the true purpose of human life and the means that will bring His spiritual creation to completion.
When we read human works such as the Lord of the Ring s or view the hugely popular Star Wars series, we see the significant themes that God first set down in Scripture. When we read of the cosmic struggle between forces of good and evil, light and dark and the movement toward a final titanic struggle where good triumphs over evil, we are reading, or viewing, as the case may be, human recreations and retelling of the biblical epic. The Bible shows the true source of both good and evil. It reveals how and why physical suffering and loss on the human level came about. It also shows that God in His divine wisdom provided a Redeemer, Jesus Christ, long before the foundation of this present age (1 Peter 1:20 1 Peter 1:20Who truly was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you,
American King James Version×). The Bible contains the original and true story lines of all time.
Everything else is second-rate literature.
We need to understand this when we see these movies or read this literature. The danger lies in misunderstanding that the source of spiritual deception is Satan. The devil uses many tools to cloak his presence and influence. The apostle Paul wrote, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:6-11 Ephesians 5:6-11 6 Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things comes the wrath of God on the children of disobedience.
7 Be not you therefore partakers with them.
8 For you were sometimes darkness, but now are you light in the Lord: walk as children of light:
9 (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;)
10 Proving what is acceptable to the Lord.
11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.
American King James Version×).
Can God bless America?
Today America, with its chief ally Great Britain, wages war against terrorism. The wake-up call of Sept. 11 has galvanized the nation to defend its freedom and way of life. Young men and women bravely march off to war in a valiant effort to prolong and extend our way of life. The plea that God will “bless America” has resounded from millions who are both outraged and troubled at what happened on that dark and fearful day.
Since Americans have asked God’s blessing on the nation’s efforts, they should also ask what God truly thinks about its culture and what it exports to the world through movies, music and literature. In the end, His opinion is all that matters. Let’s ask what can happen to a people called by God to a high and noble purpose, who then turn from the way and follow after wickedness.
Return again to the scene of ancient Israel. In Deuteronomy 28 God laid before them their potential and their destiny. “Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the LORD your God will set you high above all nations of the earth…. The LORD will establish you as a holy people to Himself, just as He has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the LORD your God and walk in His ways. Then all peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they shall be afraid of you” (Deuteronomy 28:1 Deuteronomy 28:1And it shall come to pass, if you shall listen diligently to the voice of the LORD your God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command you this day, that the LORD your God will set you on high above all nations of the earth:
American King James Version×, 9-10). Incredible national blessings would come to Israel if they obeyed God’s way and modeled that way before all the nations.
In verse 15 God shows what would happen if they failed in their mission and turned away from the commandments. “But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.” He goes on through the rest of the chapter to show the fruit of a long national decline that could end in either of two ways-captivity or repentance and ultimate restoration. Sadly, the story of Israel ended in captivity after many years of warning by God through His prophets. Israel would not turn from its many sins, among them idolatry and witchcraft, as we have seen.
America and Britain are a modern parallel to ancient Israel. They have been blessed among all the nations of the earth, yet have not kept faith spiritually with the Creator. The words of Isaiah describe much that our nations need to understand. “Israel does not know, My people do not consider. Alas, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a brood of evildoers, children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the LORD.they have turned away backward..The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faints. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it” (Isaiah 1:3-6 Isaiah 1:3-6 3 The ox knows his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel does not know, my people does not consider.
4 Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel to anger, they are gone away backward.
5 Why should you be stricken any more? you will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.
6 From the sole of the foot even to the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.
American King James Version×).
For more than two hundred years America and Britain have been a deep well of blessing poured upon the world. In today’s globalized world America leads the way in exporting a popular culture that has an aura of freedom, but contains corrupt seeds. Movies which popularize witchcraft and sorcery do not do us credit. I can only repeat the words of my Bulgarian friend, “how sad.” One day our nations will be held accountable for purveying such a culture of deception.
In the coming Kingdom of God there will be no room for those who practice sorcery. “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” (Revelation 22:14-15 Revelation 22:14-15 14 Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.
15 For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and fornicators, and murderers, and idolaters, and whoever loves and makes a lie.
American King James Version×). WNP