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Friday, April 17, 2009

Prophets and Wizards

Travis Perry read my last post on is Sorcery and Magic Evil and had a valid comment which I wanted to expand upon. Here's what he said:
I disagree with one basic point you make. A Biblical prophet is not really characterized as someone who prays for a miracle and gets it. Of course, this sort of thing DID happen for the prophets, sometimes. But far more often, a prophet is described as having “the word of the Lord” come upon him. Far more often, the prophet is called to preach to the people, make an announcement, or perform a symbolic act.
Prophets aren’t really about the miraculous, actually. A number of Bible prophets have zero miracles ascribed to them. All heard the word of the Lord (unless this itself is seen as a miracle).
Now if in Christian Fantasy we were to portray wizards in this way, as masters of the “Deep Magic” in that they are at it’s command, rather than the other way around, if we wrote wizards in alternate worlds who must do acts of good at certain times or make announcements at certain times, COMPELLED to do so by the power of obviously-symbolic- for-God’s- power-magic, then we’d have fictional wizards for all practical purposes the same as a Biblical prophet. (And I think such wizards would be interesting to read about.)

Thanks for posting, Travis. You do have a point there which I agree with. In that it isn't a one-to-one correlation. At least, as you note, how wizards tend to be depicted. The main point I was making is that the source of the ability comes from the same place, whether we are talking about a wizard or a prophet. It just tends to be more overtly stated as such with the prophet for the reason you mention.

I think there are two levels here that are valid concerning a wizard who recognizes that their power comes from God, as opposed to the "evil" wizard who sees his power wrongly coming from another entity including possibly himself (or herself if we throw witches into it).

First, there is "magic" that would be no different than any other "talent" or energy that we might have and can control ourselves. Electricity would be one such example. It can be used for good or bad, and the one using it is either in God's control which means they would tend to use it according to His will, whatever that might be. Otherwise they use it for themselves, their power, and use it for evil. It tends to be the kind most often portrayed in fantasy stories, like Harry Potter, but simply doesn't exist in real life.

This is for those out there who think Harry Potter or others have some relation to the real-life occult: there is no such thing as a person born with the innate ability to harness a magical energy existing in the world. In the real world, there is no such magical energy like there is electricity by which someone born with the right genes (who doesn't exist) could use it to create "magic."

Such magic is a fantasy, and that's why those stories are labeled as fantasy. Unless someone plays a trick, you will not find Harry Potter's stories in the non-fiction-occult section of your bookstore or library. It's in the fantasy section for a very good reason. Such wizards as are depicted in a story like Harry Potter simply cannot exist in the real world. One shouldn't have to say that, but so many act like real-life occult is being communicated in those stories, and it is impossible.

The other kind of supernatural energy that could be depicted is more real world. That is, there is a spiritual world created by God as well that most of us never see. In it, evil spirits have some level of power and ability. So do angels. In either case, that all comes from God. But the corruption of God's energy by demons and evil spirits is sometimes given to humans, and they can appear to do magic and miracles.

It is this corrupted power of God being used for evil purposes which is condemned in the Bible. It is this same power, but uncorrupted, that the prophets are given by God. And I agree, a wizard with this type of power, as opposed to or along side of the above traditional fantasy wizard/witch power, would be interesting.

Which is why I created the character Josh in my stories, Sisko's friend who becomes a wizard. He has the standard fantasy type power mentioned first, but he also has another power that makes him the "most powerful wizard of all," and that is God's power working through him. And he can only use that power to bring people to repentance (or attempt to do so), not to destroy them.

You get a little taste of that in Transitional Realities that just came out. In the next book, already written and I'm currently editing, you get more of his history and how he became so all powerful and the "calling," if you will, he receives as a result. Something to look forward to.

But yes, traditionally wizards are not often directly controlled by God as a prophet would be. My only point of comparison is where the power comes from is exactly the same in the end. But glad you pointed that out, Travis, and allowed me the chance to further delineate that.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Magic and Sorcery, Are They Evil?

My article on why I write fantasy as a Christian garnered some comments in a group I'm part of a few months ago when it was published at Residential Aliens. Part of the concern dealt with fear that such things as magic, wizards, and witches lent a sense of "it's okay to dabble in the occult" and that the Bible prohibits such practices as sorcery of any kind. I'd promised to address this Biblical issue more in depth at the time and have finally done it.

Magic and sorcery, are they evil? That in part depends what you're talking about. If you're talking about a magician who uses card tricks and such to entertain people, then I would say no. Such magic isn't inherently evil.

But what about "black magic" or the like? In real life, such things are usually understood from a Biblical perspective as evil. However, it is not the simple casting of a spell itself that is at issue. No, far from it. If that were the case, then such evil magic would appear to be no different than someone offering up a prayer for healing and having it happen.

This is clearly illustrated for us in Exodus 7 and 8. In those chapters, Moses performs what we would call miracles. He tosses his rod on the ground and it turns into a snake. He strikes the water of the Nile and it turns to blood. He calls out frogs to plague the land. The problem is, the magicians of Pharaoh's court do exactly the same thing. So what makes the magicians "evil magic" but Moses' "miracles"?

I make the point in my article on why I as a Christian write fantasy to show that the principle that all comes from God has to be upheld. That sin is a perversion, a corruption of God's intended use for anything. This is no different here.

To understand, we must go back to Genesis 1. God created man and woman on the sixth day, and on the seventh He rested and called it the Sabbath. The number "six" becomes associated with man. Now jump to Revelations, to the infamous passage that the number 666 will be placed upon the forehead and/or hand of every person, and it is called the "Number of the Beast." Many have gone through elaborate systems to attempt to determine who will be the anti-Christ based on this number. But there is a more basic meaning here that applies to all of us, whether or not we ever see a literal 666 stamped on our bodies.

For repeating 6, man's number, three times poetically indicates completeness. The number at its heart represents man as self-sufficient, as not needing God—secularism. The foundation of sin is man wanting to be like God, to eat the fruit, desiring to be in charge, to have the power. But all such desire does is corrupt the good that God has created into something destructive to us spiritually and physically. We bear the mark of 666 when our thinking (on our foreheads) and our actions (on our hands) are steeped in secular thinking. A belief that there is a reality and power apart from God.

This illustrates why Moses and the magicians did the same feats, but one we call magic and sorcery, while with Moses we call them miracles from God. Indeed, when the magicians finally cannot match what Moses accomplishes, they conclude that his God is too powerful.

This shows us that the ability itself to do something supernatural is not evil. Rather, it is whether one acknowledges that such a supernatural ability comes from God or not. It just so happens in everyday life and in the Bible, rarely is the word "magic" and "wizard" used to speak of a prophet who makes axe heads float on water. Those words are reserved for those who believe their power comes from another god, or from themselves.

In other words, the magicians were using the same power as Moses did, but they failed to acknowledge its source. They wanted to claim the power as being under their control, not God's. And for that blaspheming of the Holy Spirit by not acknowledging Him as the source, they have corrupted God's power and are using it in an evil way.

So when you see passages in the Bible condemning sorcery, wizards, witches, and the like, it is referring to someone who accesses God's power but claims it as their own or another god's. In Scripture, such words refer to the corruption of God's power.

It is with that understanding as a foundation that we can now move into the realm of fiction. There are those Christians who cannot look beyond a surface level understanding of what a word means, and when it is used in a different context, fail to understand it properly in that world created by the author. For instance, in the Harry Potter series, much maligned on this point, magic is understood as a force you can learn to control. Good people will use it for good, evil people will use it for evil. The word "wizard" in that world doesn't mean what it does in ours. It is someone who has learned how to control what is there in creation even if by means of a gift at birth. A wizard in that world is not the equivalent of a wizard in our world.

Rather, one must understand what an allegory is, and the limits of allegory. There is never a one-to-one correspondence on all points with "reality," but often such allegory illustrates the truth. It is a fictional world created to tell a fictional story. Therefore, to make assumptions that it is identical to its equivalent in this world is foolish. It's called fiction for a reason, because it's not reality.

Magic and wizards in most of these stories bear little resemblance to one called such in real life. If you're curious, research real pagan rituals and see if it looks anything like what you saw in Harry Potter. Nope, not the same. So much so that real-world witches and wizards despise the books because they feel it promotes stereotypes of who they are.

Rather, allegorical stories can highlight the issues in our reality in unconventional ways, making them easier to swallow, not just for the Christian, but the non-Christian as well. In my own story, I have an evil wizard, a good wizard who derives his power from God and knows it, and a prophet. They all do supernatural things. But it illustrates the fact in our real life that we are all given gifts by God to use, and how we use them determines whether we use them in an evil way, not the term we chose to label them with.

Am I, or any other author who uses wizards and such in their stories saying, "Hey, this is the occult and it's fine to use it?" Not hardly. Do we suspect Poe is saying we should be psychos simply because his stories have some in there? Does one really think CS Lewis using the term "Deep Magic" to refer to God's power mean that he thinks God's power is occultic? No, it's an allegory illustrating the power of God and the gospel message. What is occultic about God's power? Just because he labels it "Deep Magic" doesn't make it occultic in his world anymore than calling an orange an apple turns it into an apple.

In reality, using such terms within a fictional story in a way not often used in real life highlights the fakery of real-life occult practices. They are nothing more than perversions of God's power and creation being used for selfish purposes.

I should add that there may indeed be cases where someone who has converted to Christianity from an occult group may find such things too tempting. If that is true, then I would suggest that person stay away from fantasy stories, Christian or otherwise, or be very selective in what they read, just as I would recommend an alcoholic stay away from bars.

However, for any who have come from that religion they would be hard-pressed to equate what happens in most fantasy stories with what they experienced from that world. For most of them, it won't be a temptation to return to paganism—in which case there's more at issue than reading a fantasy story going on—but a realization that this fantasy world is indeed made-up and not real.

The Biblical injunction against sorcery in the Bible is specifically referring to those people who use God's power for selfish purposes, believing the source of the power derives from somewhere other than God. It's forbidden because it's a lie.

But if a character in a fictional story is labeled as a wizard but believes and understands his power comes from God, then he is really no different than a prophet in the Bible. He asks God via a "spell" that is the same as a "prayer" and God does it. The label doesn't change the reality presented in the story to equate to the Biblical prohibition against wizards because they do not treat God's power the same. The former believes God ultimately does it, the later that they or their "god" does it. And that is what underlies the Biblical prohibition against wizards and witches. Not merely the label that is used.

So, why use the label? Why not just call that wizard a prophet?

Simple. If you are wanting to reach a certain audience, you use terms and concepts they are used to seeing. By so doing, and establishing a different underlying basis for why one is bad and the other is good, you aid in helping to change their perspective. It's a form of evangelism, subtle but effective.

When St. Paul stood before the philosophers of Athens, and claimed to tell them about the "Unknown God" they had an idol to, guess what current day Christians would say about that? They would lambaste St. Paul for equating our God with an idol. Why, he can't do that! That's totally unbiblical! There are countless prohibitions even in the famous Ten Commandments against it. Yet, there's St. Paul telling the Athenians that their idol is really talking about his God. Why? He used their language, their point of reference to help them see something beyond what they currently understood.

We are not going to reach many in the world by speaking Christianese all the time. They'll turn it off faster than a televised Billy Graham crusade. Sure, sometimes you can reach someone that way, but many more never even give a thought to Christianity because they assume it is like what they experienced as a child, or what their annoying "Ted Flanders" neighbor is like, or how it has been portrayed so often in movies and TV. So the first mention of anything Christian and their ears plug up. If you want to reach them, you use their terms as a starting point.

As a fantasy author, I can guarantee you that my wizards are nothing like their real-life counterparts. They are fantasy, not real. They are creations of my own mind to serve specific purposes. I know it can be a little work, but don't assume labels point to the same things in a fantasy world as they do in the real world. That's the point of fantasy, is that they don't. It is an un-real world even if it illustrates for us some real world issues and conflicts that we all face.

Real-life sorcery is to be avoided. That doesn't mean I shouldn't use their concepts and turn them on their heads to show what God's reality is really like in ways they'll be able to see and relate to. If I can do that in an entertaining way that will make the pill easy to swallow, I've accomplished my purpose.

Enjoy the journey!

A Five-Star Review of TR

Transforming Realities has already received one five-star review at from author/publisher Grace Bridges. But she's also posted it under "Book Reviews" on her publishing site, Splashdown Books.

Take a moment to read it. Warning, it may create an undesirable urge to go buy several copies of my book. One to read, several to give away as gifts! But this would be one time I can hardily recommend giving into your urges.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Transforming Realities is Real!

As in, a real book! What has been sitting on my hard drive as bytes and electrons is taking on the more solid form of a paperback book. It certainly has been worth the wait.

In November 2007, my first book was released, Infinite Realities, still available through Amazon and many other places. It has had moderate success, especially for a first book. But being novella sized has probably hindered its market reach.

Two years ago, I wrote the rough draft to a sequel, which is now titled, Transforming Realities. It was published March 16, 2009, but has worked its way through the publishing process to show up on Amazon's electronic shelves.

I want to give some fantastic kudos to the cover artist, E. J. Mickels. He did a wonderful job putting into graphics what I had visualized in my head. I enjoy seeing it!

Many thanks go to countless people who've had a hand or finger in this project. But, I should let readers, or potential readers, know that I am currently editing the final installment in this trilogy that I hope to see come out in 2010. So, you can buy both Infinite Realities and Transforming Realities and know there is yet another great fantasy story to look forward too!