ascination with the spirit world is growing. People claim to experience strange phenomena: the feeling of a pet jumping onto the bed when no pet is there; a person smelling flowers when a loved one many miles away dies but no flowers are nearby. Others claim special powers: a “gift of clairvoyance” to read your life story—past, present, and future; the capacity to “channel” energy vibrations from the spirit world to heal physical and emotional problems; the ability to help you get in touch with your previous lives.
People of almost every religious faith in the world, including Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists, believe that life continues after death. This belief opens the door to all kinds of paranormal possibilities, real or imagined. Feeding this deception are stories of near-death experiences from a variety of individuals. Subtle and not so subtle suggestions about life after death are made in books, the media, and in the movies. Oftentimes the message comes in humorous and seemingly innocuous packaging. Some would see this as relatively harmless entertainment, but it tends to undermine and obscure the biblical teaching that the dead know nothing (Eccl. 9:5) and that it is like a sleep (John 11:13; 1 Thess. 4:13). Worse, it mainstreams the idea of existence apart from the body and contact with the dead.
The Spirit World and Spiritualism
The popularity of television programs devoted in some way to talking or working with the so-called spirits of dead people shows clearly that the notion is widespread and no longer on the fringes, even of Western culture.
But the Bible speaks directly and clearly against such activity: “And when they say to you, ‘Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,’ should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:19, 20).*
When Isaiah wrote these words, the Scriptures consisted of the Law (the Pentateuch) and the testimony of prophets like himself. These sources are ultimately trustworthy because they represent the voice of God to us. There are many misguided voices in our world today trying to get our attention, in books, videos, and advertisements. Many of these voices cannot be trusted because they are “inspired” from another source—designed by the devil himself to lead us astray.
The only source we can fully trust is God’s voice speaking through His inspired messengers. Unfortunately, “every day adds its sorrowful evidence that faith in the sure word of prophecy is decreasing, and that in its stead superstition and satanic witchery are captivating the minds of many” (Prophets and Kings, p. 210). Satan designs different deceptions for different classes of people. Those who would never think of going to a medium might watch one on TV. And even if we know better than to listen to people advocating contact with the spirits, these messages are alluring.
The basic deception of all New Age thinking is that we all have spiritual powers within, waiting to be used. This supposed wisdom, while appealing to our selfish desires, is really unspiritual and devilish (James 3:15). But by repeated exposure through the media to flattering messages like these, they can become commonplace in our thinking. We can become desensitized to the danger and not recognize Satan at work. We may even start to act on some of these messages. Bible study may become less interesting. After all, Satan doesn’t care in the end which deception captivates us as long as one of them does. Fortunately, God gives guidance in His Word so that we can recognize the misguided messages all around us for what they are.
There are spirits arrayed against us—not spirits of dead people, but evil angels: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). Our real enemies are beings we cannot see, who are trying to lure us away from God. But there are also spiritual armies arrayed for us and against these evil forces. The war that began in heaven has come here (Rev. 12:13), making the whole earth the battleground of the universe.
Angels and Spiritualism
Some think that angels are just waiting to do our bidding; all we have to do is ask. That may be true but, in that case, we may not be dealing with the kind of angels we think they are! Evil angels will deceive us and use us if we let them.
God’s angels do not work this way. They cannot be manipulated by us and are not interested in serving our selfish purposes. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told Peter He could be provided with more than 12 legions of angels (72,000!). He did not say He would summon the angels Himself. Instead, He said, “Do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:53). Everything Jesus did was surrendered to His Father’s will. If He would not call on angels for help, do we have any right to?
Jesus also told us that the last deception would, if possible, deceive even the elect (Matt. 24:24). In Revelation we see Satan and his evil forces sending out unclean spirits to deceive the world. These spirits work miracles to deceive as many as possible and gather them into one massive military force for withstanding God in the battle of Armageddon. Thus, beforeJesus comes, demonic spirits will work miracles to deceive those who trust and believe what they see rather than the testimony of the prophets. Just as Satan can transform himself into an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), spirit beings can assume various guises. They can even use religious piety (see The Desire of Ages, p. 256). The demons of Revelation 16 will work through human agents to heal the sick and to utter “revelations” that contradict the Scriptures (The Great Controversy, p. 624).
The Bible is clear: the dead know nothing. Our real enemies are the spirits of darkness, evil angels, who will blanket the earth with deceptions that include miracles orchestrated by Satan himself. We already see the groundwork being laid for these events, which will bring an overwhelming delusion upon the world. In order to protect ourselves from being deceived, we need to pay attention to the clear guidance God has given us in His Word about what will happen and the practical steps we can take to RESIST Satan’s schemes.
Perhaps the following acrostic (based on the word “RESIST”) can help:
Recognize the enemy, including his many voices. Even Jesus was able to do this
only by knowing the Scriptures (Matt. 4).
Exclude anything evil that Satan could work through. By knowing Jesus personally, not second- or thirdhand (Acts 19:13-18), we will have the courage to eliminate from our homes any influences that could give evil angels a foothold from which to operate in our midst (Acts 19:19).
Surrender ourselves and everything we have to God (James 4:7). As we do this, inviting God’s presence into our home, Satan will be driven out.
Intercede in prayer for ourselves, for our loved ones, and for others, including our enemies. Some evil influences are so strong that only persistent prayer and self-denial will eliminate them (Mark 9:29; Eph. 6:18).
Study the Word. Many pieces of armor for spiritual protection are listed by Paul as available to us (Eph. 6:14-17), but the Word of God is the only actual weapon mentioned. In order for it to be effective, it must be wielded not by us, but by the Spirit working through us (verse 17).
Teach the truth to others, who will be able to teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2). In this way, the work of God’s kingdom will tear down Satan’s strongholds and prepare the way for Christ’s return (2 Cor. 10:3-5).
*All scriptures quoted in this article are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND SHARING
1. How might Adventists, who know about the dangers of spiritualism, become caught up in its deception?
2. Which is greater—the forces of evil or the forces of God? Give examples from Scripture.
Clinton Wahlen is associate director of the Biblical Research Institute at the General Conference. He also served as associate editor of the Journal and is the author of Jesus and the Impurity of Spirits in the Synoptic Gospels, published by Mohr Siebeck.