In the Bible, there’s a lot of the supernatural. There’s an infinite, eternal God, who invisibly directs in the affairs of people and nations, and who occasionally breaks out in something miraculous. There are—or were—prophets, who speak the very words of God. There are invisible forces with visible results. Christians, including me, believe this as a matter of course.
But this same biblical God is directly opposed to magic. He doesn’t propose that there are fairies at the bottom of the well, and he even forbids the kinds of activities that have been associated with magic. Israel’s prophet speaks scornfully of “wizards that peep and mutter” (Is 8.19). When Israel’s King Saul consults a medium and—to the apparent surprise of the medium herself—converses with the departed spirit of the prophet Samuel (1S 28.12), the Bible presents that event, the night before Saul’s death, as the final low point of a life of thoroughly unmet potential. When Israel marches the Ark of the Covenant into battle “for luck,” God allows it to be taken by the victorious enemy (1S 4.1-11). When a later and more deeply apostate Israel brags that Jerusalem will never fall because the Temple of God is there (Je 7.4), God brings in the hated Babylonians (Hab 1.6-11) to demonstrate the emptiness of their confident boast. And 600 years later, in a new Temple, God’s Son rejects the idea that those who pray “will be heard for their much speaking” (Mt 6.7).
Why is that? Why does God reject magic?
It’s pretty obvious when you think about it.
What is magic? (I’m talking about real supernatural activity, not the legerdemain of modern entertainers or shysters.)
At its heart, magic is the attempt to get the supernatural powers to do something. It’s about making them serve your desires, instead of serving theirs. It’s about trying make yourself God’s boss.
And that’s not going to happen, because it’s just impossible; it turns the universe completely upside down.
And furthermore, the people who want to do that are precisely the people who should most certainly not be in charge.
And yet we find ourselves tempted to live out our Christianity—our “faith”—that way.
It’s easy for us to see and reject the magical in the aberrant and extravagant behaviors of certain extreme subgroups of Pentecostal or Charismatic Christianity, where if you’ll send in a prayer cloth or apply a vial of completely ordinary oil received in the mail from some huckster, or “if you have enough faith,” God will certainly heal you—and when he doesn’t, well then, whose fault is that?
But what of us?
- If you have your devotions, God will give you a better day—by your standards—right?
- If you’re busy at church, your kids will turn out just as you want—right?
- If you give enough, or pray enough, or go to the right school, or vote for the right “Christian” candidate, you’ll get what you want, right?
And in the end, we’re all little wannabe gods, trying to influence the Big Guy to do what we want him to.
God is not your genie, released from the bottle only when you rub it, destined to be your slave forever.
He is Father, Son, Spirit, infinite, eternal, unchangeable, creator and sustainer of heaven and earth, Yahweh God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth.
He’s not magic.
We serve him; he most certainly does not serve us.
He does love us, however, and as the omnipotent and omniscient God, he will do for us precisely what is best—in his own time, and in his own way, and by his own will.
And that is all the more reason to trust his will and judgment, and to keep our own executive ideas to ourselves.
We trust, we serve, and yes, we ask, as he encourages us to do.
But we do not manipulate.
He’s better than that.