Monday, March 17, 2014
What is a Christian to make of Psychics, Mediums, etc.?
My article from this week's newspapers answers a question about psychics, mediums, and other similar practitioners:
Q: How should a Christian understand the existence of psychics and mediums? Are their services genuine, and if not, what is their source?
The two typical reactions to psychic phenomena and those practitioners who engage with such things is either to embrace it as real and genuine, or on the other hand, to reject it as fantasy or mythology. However, it seems that a fair treatment of this question must acknowledge that there are several explanations for this sort of experiences.
The criticism that these experiences are pure imagination is certainly plausible, and on several occasions is probably an accurate analysis. A person who believes herself to have psychic powers or communicate with another realm of spirits could potentially be imagining her experiences, but convinced in her own mind that they are genuine. Legitimate mental illness is also a possibility, as is the individual simply misinterpreting otherwise natural phenomena as more than they really are.
It also must be acknowledged that there are those practitioners who are skillfully fabricating these paranormal experiences. They may be adept at reading their clients or subtly mining them for details that they can use to better create the desired experience and give the appearance of a psychic connection. In such a case, nothing spiritual is occurring, but simply a fraudulent manipulation.
On other occasions, these logical explanations do not seem adequate. Perhaps the medium knows something that they could not have possibly known, or the psychic makes a prediction that is ultimately found to be accurate, making it necessary to explore spiritual causes.
The Christian can rule out that genuine communication with the spirits of deceased humans has occurred, because Jesus description of the Rich Man and Lazarus from Luke 16 describes a gulf that cannot be breached between the habitation of the deceased and the world of the living. Hebrews also explains that “it is given man once to die, and then to face the judgment.”
It can also be ruled out that the revelation is angelic, as every instance of angelic revelation in Scripture is unmistakably clear, and not concealed or mysterious. Nor is the Holy Spirit a plausible source, as Scripture’s record of the His role never describes Him working in the ways seen in relation to psychic experiences, and when Jesus Himself describes the Holy Spirit’s work in Gospel of John, He describes a work of pointing to Jesus and reminding of Jesus words – and not one of revealing anything new or hidden.
Assuming that a chance guess is not a satisfactory explanation, it would be necessary to explain the source of such knowledge, which is the more challenging task – and one that brings potentially unwelcome conclusions.
If an experience cannot be explained after ruling out human, divine, and angelic sources, only one option remains – the demonic world. Although we may be hesitant to make such claims, Scripture’s revelations about the demonic world do make this a plausible explanation.
We know that demons are immortal spirits and so have knowledge that reaches beyond that available to living generations, making it possible for them to reveal events and details of the past that could not be known except by an eyewitness. We also know that their goal is lead people away from Jesus by any means, which allows that they may even provide appealing and comforting revelations for the sake of distracting a person from Jesus.
So, it is possible that a demon might impersonate a deceased spouse or parent, revealing little-known details to the psychic, because the demon witnessed the life and relationships of the deceased. Or perhaps a demon can reveal the location of a body or weapon to a psychic who has been asked to help with a murder investigation because he was the one who inspired the murderer to commit the crime in the first place.
Ultimately, the Christian can be certain that Mediums, Psychics, and similar practitioners, no matter how sincere, are not what they seem, and that there is no cause to consult them. Even when it is difficult to discern what is happening in the spiritual world, the Christian can be sure that through Baptism they are protected from those spiritual forces which would seek to harm or deceive them. God’s promises, having been applied to them through the water, defend them from the devil, his angels, and even death itself with the certain and unconquerable power of the Cross of Christ.