Magic, Miracles, and ChristianityBy Nathan Mates (with changes thanks to Ruddock/Blacker study of 5/2/96)
I think it's time to talk about a subject that can cause quite a bit of strong reactions here at a technical school like Caltech. From a heck of a lot of physics classes and the like, we know that magic and miracles can never happen, right? WRONG.
First off, a definition of what I'm talking about. My initial definition summarized Miracles as "when God throws the rules of the universe out the window to make a point." God created the universe, and set up the rules (see Phys 1 & 2 for a not so gentle introduction to them :) and can ignore them when he sees fit. Problem is, what about when folks other than God do miracles, usually called simply magic? Expanding the definition to not be caused by God works fine here then.
Anyhow, back to the topic at hand. If you are a Christian, you believe, by definition, in miracles. How's that again? As Christians, we believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins, and was raised to life three days later. Raising someone from the dead, that's gotta be something that happens all the time, and not a miracle? Nope again. Very nice miracle; it's only the linchpin of our faith. As the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15: 17 "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins."
So now some of you are saying "Yeah, that was a miracle. But that's all historical and it's never happened around me." That's not ever happened around me, so that's the only miracle that's ever gonna affect me. Well, given that it's God's grace that keeps us from being like Job or worse, that's a pretty nice and handy miracle. Pray that you never lose it, or if you do (see Psalm 88), that you can handle it. Or, you may not think of that as much, and think that only major Old Testament prophets and Jesus did magic/miracles. Well, I'll get into why that's wrong more in a minute, but first, an appeal to an authority on the subject, Jesus. Speaking of the end times of the world, he says this in Mark 13 (more on this later)
21 And then if any one says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or 'Look, there he is!' do not believe it. 22 False Christs and false prophets will arise and show signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But take heed; I have told you all things beforehand.
When Jesus speaks, we should pay attention and apply it to our lives.
I shouldn't need to go into Jesus's miracles; he's God, and Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are a nice introduction to stuff Jesus did. Jesus was God; he could do miracles as easily as following the rules of the universe. But, in the Old Testament, many prophets did miracles too. Elijah, Elisha, Ezekiel all did a lot; read them up. But, some of the most spectacular were done by Moses, one of the biggest prophets of the Old Testament. If you want to know some of what Moses did, read the first half of Exodus.
Are Christians the only ones that can do miracles? Well, as Jesus said above, it's pretty clear that "the bad guys" will do miracles in the end times. But, if we look in the Old Testament, we'll see that right from the start, the "bad guys" could do some level of miracles. This occurs in Exodus 7 & 8. Moses has just been called by God to go tell the Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt, but haven't spoken to the Pharaoh yet. The ten plagues on Egypt will start happening in a paragraph or two...
Exodus 7:7 Now Moses was eighty years old, and Aaron eighty-three years old, when they spoke to Pharaoh. 8 And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, 9 "When Pharaoh says to you, 'Prove yourselves by working a miracle,' then you shall say to Aaron, 'Take your rod and cast it down before Pharaoh, that it may become a serpent.'" 10 So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did as the LORD commanded; Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent. 11 Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers; and they also, the magicians of Egypt, did the same by their secret arts. 12 For every man cast down his rod, and they became serpents. But Aaron's rod swallowed up their rods. 13 Still Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them; as the LORD had said.
"Secret arts" in verse 11 is from the Hebrew meaning enchantments. Nothing too spectacular by both sides, but it's time to pull out the heavy miracles with the first plague on Egypt:
Exodus 7:19 And the LORD said to Moses, "Say to Aaron, 'Take your rod and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt, over their rivers, their canals, and their ponds, and all their pools of water, that they may become blood; and there shall be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone.'" 20 Moses and Aaron did as the LORD commanded; in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants, he lifted up the rod and struck the water that was in the Nile, and all the water that was in the Nile turned to blood. 21 And the fish in the Nile died; and the Nile became foul, so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile; and there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt. 22 But the magicians of Egypt did the same by their secret arts; so Pharaoh's heart remained hardened, and he would not listen to them; as the LORD had said. 23 Pharaoh turned and went into his house, and he did not lay even this to heart. 24 And all the Egyptians dug round about the Nile for water to drink, for they could not drink the water of the Nile.
Matt Tiscareno had an interesting comment about the Egyptian magicians here: instead of doing something useful or helpful when their country is suffering a bit, what do they do? The exact same miracle, no matter how much it hurts their fellow countrymen. [Well, since their power didn't come from God, but from someone less nice, I don't think they could have done anything nice.] They do the same thing in the second plague:
Exodus 8:5 And the LORD said to Moses, "Say to Aaron, 'Stretch out your hand with your rod over the rivers, over the canals, and over the pools, and cause frogs to come upon the land of Egypt!'" 6 So Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt; and the frogs came up and covered the land of Egypt. 7 But the magicians did the same by their secret arts, and brought frogs upon the land of Egypt. 8 Then Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron, and said, "Entreat the LORD to take away the frogs from me and from my people; and I will let the people go to sacrifice to the LORD." 9 Moses said to Pharaoh, "Be pleased to command me when I am to entreat, for you and for your servants and for your people, that the frogs be destroyed from you and your houses and be left only in the Nile." 10 And he said, "Tomorrow." Moses said, "Be it as you say, that you may know that there is no one like the LORD our God. 11 The frogs shall depart from you and your houses and your servants and your people; they shall be left only in the Nile." 12 So Moses and Aaron went out from Pharaoh; and Moses cried to the LORD concerning the frogs, as he had agreed with Pharaoh. 13 And the LORD did according to the word of Moses; the frogs died out of the houses and courtyards and out of the fields. 14 And they gathered them together in heaps, and the land stank.
At least the Magicians could have made them go away and summoned something useful like horses, cows, or other farm animals. But, they were set on precisely duplicating the miracle.
Exodus 8:16 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Say to Aaron, 'Stretch out your rod and strike the dust of the earth, that it may become gnats throughout all the land of Egypt.'" 17 And they did so; Aaron stretched out his hand with his rod, and struck the dust of the earth, and there came gnats on man and beast; all the dust of the earth became gnats throughout all the land of Egypt. 18 The magicians tried by their secret arts to bring forth gnats, but they could not. So there were gnats on man and beast. 19 And the magicians said to Pharaoh, "This is the finger of God." But Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them; as the LORD had said.
These were the Magicians, dealing with stuff that they should have been able to do. Recall that only a few days ago, all the frogs that had been summoned over the countryside had been killed off, and heaped into piles. Making insects show up should have been trivial-- there was no shortage of things to attract them. But, God prevented their tricks from working. They tried and failed. They realized that they were dealing with the real thing, God. It had been dramatically shown to them that they were second-rate folks dealing with lesser powers, and God was really in control of the situation. However, the Pharaoh didn't listen and it took 8 more miracles, ending with the killing of every firstborn child in Egypt, save those that were literally passed over.
The Egyptians weren't alone in these arts. God gave the Israelites plenty of warnings not to pick up the same habits from the Canaanites.
Deuteronomy 18:9 "When you come into the land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. 10 There shall not be found among you any one who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, any one who practices divination, a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, 11 or a charmer, or a medium, or a wizard, or a necromancer. 12 For whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD; and because of these abominable practices the LORD your God is driving them out before you. 13 You shall be blameless before the LORD your God. 14 For these nations, which you are about to dispossess, give heed to soothsayers and to diviners; but as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you so to do.
Israel had God to speak to them, through the prophets. That was how things were supposed to go. However, these other Canaanites were dealing with spiritual stuff, and they were not following God. Therefore, the source of their miracles had to come from the only other source of miracles, the one who is not God, but Satan.
Israel sorta followed the above commandment, but only while it was convenient. They turned to other Gods, and similar garbage time and time again, but usually coming back to God in desperate times. An exception to this is King Saul, the day before he died, decided to consult a medium to call back the dead prophet Samuel, as related in 1 Samuel 27. Saul had kicked out most of them, but his advisors certainly knew where to find one in a hurry. Saul, despite being told by the medium that Saul considered the practice abominable (Saul was in disguise), still went ahead, and was told that he had less than 24 hours to live. Saul refused to repent, but went ahead to his death.
This wasn't limited to only the Old Testament. In spreading the gospel, the apostles ran into quite a number of magicians and the like. In both Acts 8 and 13, when the Gospel is spread to some of the first places outside Jerusalem, they ran into these "bad guys." The first was Simon, who seemed to start well, but there were some serious faults with his faith.
Acts 8:5 Philip went down to a city of Sama'ria, and proclaimed to them the Christ. 6 And the multitudes with one accord gave heed to what was said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs which he did. 7 For unclean spirits came out of many who were possessed, crying with a loud voice; and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was much joy in that city. 9 But there was a man named Simon who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the nation of Sama'ria, saying that he himself was somebody great. 10 They all gave heed to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, "This man is that power of God which is called Great." 11 And they gave heed to him, because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. 12 But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.
Despite the great things that they heard, they turned away from the miracles that Simon did. He, however, had some very serious faults in his faith: he saw what the disciples were doing, and joined them not just to believe, but he also wanted to add the tricks of the disciples to his "bag of tricks."
Acts 8:14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Sama'ria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, 15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; 16 for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. 18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, 19 saying, "Give me also this power, that any one on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit." 20 But Peter said to him, "Your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity." 24 And Simon answered, "Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me."
This is not the correct attitude towards spiritual abilities. They are granted to people as gifts, not wholesale. [Multiple meanings very much intended :]
There were others who practiced magic and the like. However, theirs is the inferior and submissive power, and it cannot compete with God's. Once again, in Acts, we see those trying to use magic involved in fighting the Gospel:
Acts 13:5 When they arrived at Sal'amis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them. 6 When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet, named Bar-Jesus. 7 He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. 8 But El'ymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) withstood them, seeking to turn away the proconsul from the faith. 9 But Saul, who is also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10 and said, "You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? 11 And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind and unable to see the sun for a time." Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. 12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.
Finally, merely trying to invoke God in miracles doesn't quite work if your heart isn't in the right place...
Acts 19:13 Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, "In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out." 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 One day the evil spirit answered them, "Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?" 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding. 17 When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor. 18 Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds. 19 A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. 20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.
(Yeah, this has a bit of a side topic, demon casting out. I'll duck out from the issue with this quote from the Matthew Henry Bible Commentary: "It was common, especially among the Jews, for persons to profess or to try to cast out evil spirits. If we resist the devil by faith in Christ, he will flee from us; but if we think to resist him by the using of Christ's name, or his works, as a spell or charm, Satan will prevail against us. If we desire to be in earnest in the great work of salvation, every pursuit and enjoyment must be given up which hinders the effect of the gospel upon the mind, or loosens its hold upon the heart.")
So, there's plenty of Biblical evidence that Magic & Miracles do exist. Finally, back to Jesus's words as I quoted above. In talking about signs of the end of the age, he predicts that many will try and spoof believers into going astray:
Mark 13: 5 And Jesus began to say to them, "Take heed that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name, saying, 'I am he!' and they will lead many astray. 7 And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is not yet.
And more.. Mark 13: 21 And then if any one says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or 'Look, there he is!' do not believe it. 22 False Christs and false prophets will arise and show signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But take heed; I have told you all things beforehand. 24 "But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 28 "From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 "But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come.
As said above, there will be lots of fakes to make people follow them. Given that we now live in a very skeptical age where any "evidence" of magic is highly scrutinized, dissected, and otherwise dismissed as sleight-of-hand, anyone who could lead folks astray would have to have some fairly big guns backing them. Then again, Satan's got a fair amount of powers for as long as it's allowed.
What would you do if someone started doing some miracles tomorrow? Would you be like Simon above who would do anything to acquire the powers, even if it meant selling out your soul? Would you mindlessly believe them? Would you say "Cool! The X-Files were right; there are aliens out to get us, so I must do XYZ to ward them off?" Would you pray to God for guidance? Will you check to make sure the message accompanying the miracles is Biblically accurate, and not some hogwash? Do people benefit spiritually from the message, or are they led astray? Will you judge things by the fruit they produce, not just how they appear at first?
There are punishments enough for those that do the fake miracles, such as this from Revelation 19:20: "And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had worked the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur." Those led astray from God may not get as bad a punishment as these, but they're separated from God forever, which is pretty darn bad enough already. Pray that you always stay on the narrow road that leads to life...