I often have trouble sleeping when we are in Cameroon. One of the many things that bothers my sleep is that I often hear people calling out to me in the night. I then find myself waking up while opening the front door, or calling back out the window. Of course, at that point I realize that there is no one there. When I talk to my neighbors about this, they often get very afraid. They tell me that when you hear someone calling out to you in your sleep, it is someone using magic against you. They warn me that if I reply to those voices, they will be able to do me harm.
This is the third post in a 3-part blog series about magic. In the first post, I talked a bit about what the Bible says about magic. The second post I applied biblical truth to African worldviews. Now, I would like to talk to Americans.
So, I don’t have these kinds of dreams in the US. In fact, I sleep very well we we are on furlough, as I have my whole life. So, what is the difference? What is going on in Cameroon that leads me to sleep so poorly, and specifically to dream that people are calling out to me? Could it be magic? Or is it just my body responding to tropical viruses?
My culture tells me that my neighbors are being ridiculous. My culture tells me that there is always a natural cause for any sickness and problem that I have. The truth is, I want to dismiss their concerns, take a Tums and go back to sleep. However, taking a Tums and going back to sleep reveals that I am misdiagnosing my problem and allowing myself to be spiritually blind.
Stacey read a book called Life and Death in Kolofata: An American Doctor in Africa. This book chronicles the 24 years in which Dr. Ellen Einterz worked in Cameroon. She was not a Christian, but genuinely cared for her patients. She worked in an environment very different from ours, but there were some striking similarities. One similarity was that people usually considered spiritual attack to be the cause of sickness. This led people to misunderstand the purpose and function of medicine. As an example, she spoke of one man who took the pills that she gave him in a plastic bag and tied that bag around his waist. He expected the medicine to work like a charm he would get from a medicine man.
Now, I am tempted to read that and shake my head at his ignorance. However, I have come to realize that my cultural worldview has led me to make the same type of mistake. Of course, I do not read magic into medicine, but instead it is the opposite: I search for physical remedies for spiritual problems.
One such issue came up with a young believer here recently. He was having trouble sleeping because of concerns for his field and providing for his family. He was also anxious due to some family conflict. So, he was lacking sleep (physical problem) due to anxiety. He heard some Bible teaching and came to the conclusion that the cause of his problem was spiritual in nature. Specifically, he heard James 4:2 which says: “you have not because you ask not.” He was convicted that he was anxious because he was lacking something, but he was lacking because he was not praying.
How do we in America generally diagnose sleeping and anxiety problems? I believe we usually consider them physical, and therefore prescribe medicine. Now, I am not a doctor, so don’t take medical advice from me. However, the Bible has a lot to say about anxiety. Could it be that (at least sometimes) we neglect spiritual realities when we diagnose someone with anxiety? Could it be that some of the pills we take would be just as effective to deal with the real problem if we tied them in a baggie around our waist?
Another example of misdiagnosis regards conflict with other people. I get most of my information about what is happening in America these days from the news and Facebook. And I would say that the word that characterizes American discourse from my perspective is: “strife.” Most recently strife regarding COVID and vaccines, but that is just the newest cause.
When you see people arguing over vaccines, particularly in the church, to what do you attribute the conflict? Is the problem ignorance? If so, we could solve all of these problems with just more education, right? It seems clear to me that the problem is not a lack of “information.” I find Paul’s words in Ephesians instructive:
“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:11-12)
I like how the Good News Translation translates the beginning of verse 11: “For we are not fighting against human beings.” If you have strife and conflict in your church because of COVID, and you think the problem is people fighting people, you have made a misdiagnosis. The problem is not fighting human beings. The problem is that we are wrestling against spiritual forces.
Just as misdiagnosis leads Cameroonians to misplaced hope in charms, neglecting spiritual realities leads Americans to false solutions for conflict. Facebook has become a constant stream of witty banter, vain attempts at persuasion, and just outright arguing. However, if we recognize the problem as being spiritual, the solution will also be spiritual. In this passage Paul says that the solution is Christian people arming themselves with truth, righteousness, a readiness to announce the Gospel, faith, salvation, and the Word of God. God is calling us to defeat conflict over vaccines with righteousness and faith. Do you believe that you can find a solution to conflict in your church and family through spiritual means?
If you have trouble believing the idea that vaccine conflicts can be resolve through spiritual means, you may be falling into the trap of being spiritually blind. Jesus pointed out the danger of spiritual blindness by comparing the culture of his day to people in Noah’s day. Up until the flood the people around Noah were living normal lives, thinking only about their physical situations. But he warns also that people will live like this until his second coming. Read what he said in Matthew 24:
“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24:36-39)
Certainly people in the days of Noah were sinners, in fact the Bible says “that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). However, another core problem they had, which probably led to such evil thoughts, is that they didn’t think about God at all. They were just going about their lives, eating and drinking. They were thinking about work, and relationships, and sicknesses, and how to relax after a long day. None of that is bad…unless that is ALL we think about. The problem is when we consider our lives to be merely material.
The Bible says that Satan goes about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour our souls (1 Peter 5:8). The Bible says that we are in a spiritual war for our souls, and for the souls of those around us. Imagine someone laying out a picnic blanket and having a meal in the middle of a WW1 trench warfare battle. That is the life of a Christian who ignores spiritual reality. John Piper wrote:
“The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night.” (A Hunger for God)
The greatest danger for Americans today is that we are tempted to act as though the spiritual does not exist. We are tempted to live as though people are our enemies. We are tempted to drug ourselves into ignoring the attacks of the Devil. The danger is to pretend to be children of God when we really belong to the world. And when Jesus returns, so many will be swept away.
What does this have to do with magic?
So, what does all of this have to do with magic? Well, I would define “magic” as humans using spiritual power in an attempt to achieve their own desired end. Maybe you don’t know many people that cast spells, or wear charms, or offer sacrifices to spirits. However, all of the spiritual realities that underly these practices exist even in America. The Devil is just as active in the US as he is in Cameroon. His use of spiritual deadening is just as damning as his use of magic.
If you are like me, any time someone brings up the Devil or demons as an underlying cause of our problems, you are skeptical. When you hear stories of supernatural experiences, you roll your eyes. However, unlike our culture, the message of the Bible is never: “ignore spiritual reality.” There is no message in the Bible that magic is pretend, or that the days of angels and demons are past. It does not say that everyone who claims to speak to the dead or use magic is a fraud. Certainly some, maybe even many are frauds. However, it is unwise to live as though the spiritual world does not exist. I woke up again last night hearing someone calling me. And once again I was tempted to take a Tums and go back to sleep. Instead, I chose to take some time in prayer for protection of my family and salvation of anyone who would try to cast a spell on me. I chose to neither fear, nor ignore the spiritual. While this is a shift in my perspective and behavior from my own culture, I believe it is a shift toward the Bible. My prayer is that my American brothers and sisters would live in light of the physical and spiritual world that we really live in.