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To Magic or Not to Magic

1 Corinthians 10:23-24; 32-33, “‘Everything is permissible,’ but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible,’ but not everything is edifying. No one should seek his own good but the good of others. . . . Do not become a stumbling block, whether to Jews or Greeks or the church of God- as I also try to please everyone in all I do. For I am not seeking my own good, but the good of many, that they may be saved.”

To borrow some lyrics from a musical: just because it’s magic, doesn’t mean it’s easy. Actually, magic is never easy. And I’m not just talking about stage magic. (Although, that’s hard to perform too.) I’m talking about fiction magic. You want to open a can of worms? Ask a group of Christians whether or not magic is acceptable in entertainment. On the one hand, we do want to be God honoring. Thus, including or indulging in magic within our imaginations sounds rather anti-Biblical. Especially since God opposed it so much. However, magic feels so appropriate to fantasy and adventure genres, it feels like omitting magic carves a major hole out of its fun. Besides, invisible powers and presences is part of daily life anyway. So is there a Biblically right way to portray fantastical magic? Or is adding magic in general just plain wrong?

Now, before we go anywhere, let me address the gargantuan elephant in the room. This specific blog is not about whether or not stories like Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, or The Chronicles of Narnia are good or bad. That conversation is deserving of a whole book. This blog, however, is about Biblically deciphering the magic riddle itself. Is there any appropriate fictional use for magic? I asked my fellow Christian authors the same question to find the general opinion and received a smorgasbord of responses. Opinions varied quite a bit. However, most agreed that magic from a demonic source should be left out or limited to villain use, and magic that was intrinsic to the characters or the world itself was fine. Sure, there were other more unique sets of opinion. Some writers like to pattern magic after God’s invisible power. Still, the only rule that seemed to universally matter to everyone was that any fantasy magic invoked by the devil was bad. Magic by any other means solved the problem. But does it really? Are we sure? Our ultimate authority is God and His Word. So let’s consult with Him. What does He have to say?

At first glance, to add or not add magic in stories seems like an open and shut case for Christians. There are numerous verses all over Scripture that forbids magic, sorcery, divinations, fortunetelling, spells and talismans of any sort. God declared how abominable their practice was to Him. That must mean we should shun magic in both reality and fiction, right? Well, yes, that seems to be the case. However, I don’t think it helps to be quite so cut and dry about it. Most of us have the basic understanding that sorcery is wrong, but just as many of us can hardly say why it’s wrong other than God said so. Have we ever taken the time to really learn why God hates it? For if we draw closer to His heart and learn why His sinless character cannot abide magical practice, then maybe we can see the rot at magic’s core and learn how we can avoid causing more harm than good in weaving our fantastical tales.

First, it’s important to remember what the Lord desires for us as Christians. For anything that goes against Him is rebellion, and rebellion is sin. So what is His primary will for His followers? This can receive a myriad of answers from ‘declaring His Gospel’ to ‘showing His love’. However, I do believe there is one answer that covers it all. He wants us to be imitators of Him. Knowing that, let’s look at one of Paul’s letters. More specifically, Philippians 2:5-8:

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross!”

This poignant passage showcases Jesus’s attitude of incredible humility. Although He was united to the Father as an equal member of the Trinity, He denied His divine rights in order to die as a lowly man. He did this not only out of love for our sake but out of love and humble obedience to the Father, who asked Him to drink from the cup of His wrath. That means that to imitate Christ we too must adopt this same supernatural humility. This humility doesn’t come from self-degradation. No. It’s a humility born from a love for God. For when the Spirit empowers us to love Him, obedience becomes our free choice. Because we’d want to be humble and obey Him as opposed to having to.

So what does this have to do with magic? Well, let’s consider the worldview behind magic’s practice. I’ve researched a few Wiccan resources in search of a concrete belief system, but it’s surprisingly loosey-goosey. Turns out most Wiccan beliefs are determined by small groups. However, there were some notable common threads. First, they are adamant that there is more than one way to truth (and vehemently oppose Christ as the only way). Second, the vast majority of Wiccans actually condemn demonic/satanic magic too. They instead believe harnessing the natural energies from nature, benevolent forces, and/or inner self is the ‘good’ way to spell-cast. Third, they believe magic can only be harnessed by naturally gifted individuals. Lastly, most Wiccans believe magic must only be used for good. That could mean exuding ‘positive vibes’ or maintaining ‘universal balance’, but point is, they often discourage harmful magic. So, yeah. There are a lot of messed up ideals going on here, but it’s important to know. Because now we can pin down what this magic is all about. And magic is all about self-reliance and self-empowerment. It rides on the underlying notion that we can gain control through rituals that can coerce the world around us into doing what we want, and believe me. That’s a notion Satan and his cohorts have been happily perpetuating for centuries all across the globe.

This mindset isn’t limited to Wiccan magic either. Other magic disciplines from eastern mysticism to paganism also share this idea of self-empowerment. No matter if it’s appeasing a deity, opening chakras, or ‘bettering’ your inner self, the root idea is still the same and requires a power seeking attitude - the exact opposite attitude that Christ had. Not only that, but this kind of self-reliance drives us further away from God. How many times had God implored the Israelites to rely on Him and His strength? How strongly does He want us to increase our intimacy with Him today? Yet we have a knack for trying to fix our problems; other’s problems; and the world’s problems through other means before seeking God. That’s heartbreaking and (to be frank) insulting to our loving, limitless Maker. Thus, it’s no wonder then why magical practices are so appalling to Him. It’s literally an attempt to replace God with a facsimile. Pardon me if what I’m about to say sounds harsh, but claiming powers that He alone has any right to is such blatant audacity on our part. Thank God then for His limitless grace for those who’ve repented.

“But what about fiction?” you might say. “God orchestrates impossible miracles everyday. Can’t I follow that line of logic and call inexplicable events in my stories ‘magic’?” Well, that depends. Does adding magic or labeling something as magic help promote a Christ like attitude in your story? Or is its spectacle an enticement for others to stray from Biblical thinking? It’s true the Holy Spirit has empowered incredible feats from Samson’s strength to the parting of the Red Sea. So it’s not automatically unethical to include supernatural elements. However, we must remember their purpose. Those events were used to ultimately glorify God and reveal something about Himself to us. Even the bronze snake God had built to heal the Israelites’s snake bites He also had destroyed when people began worshiping it instead of Him (Numbers 21:4-9; 2 Kings 18:1-4). So it’s a matter of purpose and worldview. Is ‘magic’ in your story an active storytelling tool that will glorify God? Or are you unintentionally setting a snare for others simply because it’d be cool? We can’t fully control how people react to our stories. Everyone’s spiritual maturity is different, but are we, as God’s writers, doing what we can to avoid causing pitfalls? Even Jesus Himself said it’s better for a man to cut off the hand that causes him to sin than to keep it and lose his soul.

So, my friends, magic is like playing with fire. It can be a huge asset or badly burn you and those around you. It’s not that there is no possible way to include magic-like elements in your story. God’s mysterious works supersedes our senses all the time, and there are authors who have applied magic very well in Biblically founded stories. However, if the magic (in conjunction with your story’s plot) doesn’t direct readers toward adopting a Christ-like attitude, then what good does magic do anyone? None. It’s better off removed. In some cases, magic is likely not worth the risk, but to those of you who feel that magic-ish elements will elevate the Biblical principles in your story, I say this. Study, study, study your Scriptures, and be very very careful.

Matthew 18:2-4, 6-7, “[Jesus] called a little child and had him stand among them. And He said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. . . . But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!’.”

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