22. Miracles and Magic
There seems to have been a great upsurge of interest recently in the supernatural: ESP, astrology, reincarnation, the psychic, the occult, oriental mysticism. This is probably a reaction against the cold logic of scientific materialism on which our society has been allegedly based since the turn of the century. Many people feel that science has somehow let us down. We were led to believe that science, through its advanced technology, would transform the world into a paradise, bringing "peace on earth, goodwill toward men," without our having to bother about giving "glory to God in the highest." In fact, science apparently ruled God out, and denied the very existence of supernatural or spiritual forces and phenomena, proposing to reduce all human behavior to mathematical formulae. Well, it has become very obvious to us now that human behavior is not governed by logic or mathematical principles, nor by sane rational arguments. People act on emotions more than they do on reason. Even wars are won, not by force of sophisticated weaponry (as was expected) but by the power of the human spirit.
As part of the reaction, science itself has begun to extend its frontiers of investigation. Scientists no longer assume that the universe is just a piece of elaborate machinery (as Newton supposed it to be) ; rather it is a structure manifesting mind, choice. Psychic phenomena are being studied as data. Even the old concepts of space and time have been questioned. Nobody knows for certain any longer whether a straight line is the shortest distance between two points, or whether two plus two really equals four! This lack of confidence in the rationality of the universe has permeated every branch of study. We can no longer assume that African witch-doctors are all humbugs and charlatans, or that Chinese acupuncture is something puerile to be treated as a joke, or that ghosts and hauntings and poltergeists are all figments of an over-excited imagination. Scholars and critics are beginning to look at the miracles recorded in the Bible in a new light. Are they so impossible after all?
We are asking ourselves: What is a miracle? A tape recorder or telephone would have been regarded as miraculous a hundred years ago.... We say they are not miraculous because they operate according to scientific laws. But what is a scientific law? In fact, I believe that scientists will be turning more and more to the study of the inner reaches of the human mind, the so-called unconscious...
What, then, is a miracle? I would say that, in a miracle, power flows down from the spiritual world and causes matter to behave temporarily according to spiritual laws instead of the laws of physics. The case of Elisha and the widow's oil would come under the heading of a miracle rather than ESP. The oil went on increasing so long as the woman poured it out into her neighbors' vessels, and only stopped increasing when there were no more vessels to fill. Here the oil was behaving according to the spiritual laws of increase governing love, wisdom and such like commodities, which grow in the degree in which you give them out. The same applied to our Lord's feeding of the five thousand with five loaves and two fishes. Swedenborg would say it operated according to Correspondence: physical occurrences corresponding to spiritual ones.
Before our Lord Jesus Christ came into the world and glorified His humanity, correspondences from the spiritual world worked much more powerfully than they do today. The Red Sea divided for the Israelites, but drowned the Egyptians. The walls of Jericho fell at the blast of a trumpet. Fire came out of the ark and destroyed the people of Bethshemesh. A heathen altar exploded. Two hairy bears killed the children who mocked Elisha on account of his baldness; these and many other instances were pure correspondences. That kind of miracle does not take place today, because of the change in the relationship between the physical and the spiritual worlds effected by the Redemption and the taking on by God of a Divine Human nature. In that sense the age of miracles is passed. But it is nevertheless still possible for us to open up a channel, so that increased spiritual force can pour into a situation and produce what we think of today as a miracle; or, if from hell, as magic.
Before I deal further with this, I want to touch on a specific branch of the subject, which is generally called "spiritualism," or, more accurately, "spiritism." By this we mean getting into personal contact with individual spirits on the other side. Techniques for doing this have been known through the ages. In the Old Testament it was called "having a familiar spirit," and was condemned absolutely. Witches who had familiar spirits, or men that were wizards, were to be stoned to death (Exodus 22:18, Leviticus 20:27, etc.). That sounds severe; but at that time hell was so strong that if the Israelites had not taken drastic measures to stamp out other-world communication, the church could never have survived, let alone acted as a means of holding heaven and earth together until the Lord came and "took over."
Swedenborg himself communicated with spirits as a matter of course; but in his case it came unsought. He resisted it for nearly five years until he was convinced beyond doubt that the Lord willed him to have such contacts for a specific purpose, and that the Lord was protecting him. And Swedenborg strongly warns his followers not to seek such other-world interaction, because of the dangers involved. He explains that there are spirits good and bad in close contact with every one of us. We attract or repel them by our own effort of will. If we cherish beautiful thoughts of love and gratitude, then good spirits, and even angels, draw closer. If we harbor evil thoughts of resentments and jealousy, then the good spirits have to withdraw and evil spirits take over, fanning our evils into flame and doing everything possible to ruin us. But good spirits are always there, doing their best to mitigate the influence of hell and win us back to a state of goodness and truth. The whole process owes its effectiveness to the fact that we, and the evil spirits who are with us, are unaware of what is taking place. If the evil spirits knew they had power over us, they would destroy us. They do not destroy us only because they think, while they are with us, that they are us, and so (apart from trying to make us more like ourselves) they love us as they love themselves! On the other hand, if we on our side deliberately seek contact with spirits, then the evil spirits recognize us as "other than themselves," and see us as fair game for their cunning. They impersonate, with great skill, any individual on the other side with whom we want to get into touch, until we are completely sold on the whole thing. Then gradually, not too obviously, they begin their destructive work. Hence it is that "sorcerers have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." (Revelation 21:8)
Of course, it is theoretically possible to get through to good spirits; and when the Lord opens someone's spiritual eyes, as He did in the case of Swedenborg, and the saints who saw beatific visions, then evil spirits are kept away. But if you deliberately seek interaction with spirits, especially if you do so from mere curiosity, or to prove something you want to prove, then the odds are you will get through to evil spirits and not to good ones. Therefore you are well advised to keep away from sťances and from the whole business of spirit communication. Be content with any insight the Lord gives you, but don't try to gate-crash into the other world for your own purposes. Then your guardian angels will have the best possible chance of protecting you and gently guiding you, without interfering with your freedom; and all will go well.
Some people ask about demon possession. I believe the only real demon possession today is what we have been talking about, where people deliberately hand themselves over to evil spirits. Otherwise, what may appear to be demon possession is probably the effect of a damaged brain, which would come under the general heading of insanity. If a person is insane, his spiritual development is "frozen," as it were. If he goes insane at, say, fifteen years of age, he wakes up in the other world as if he were fifteen, even though in fact he may have lived on in a mentally deranged condition until he was eighty or ninety years of age. In other words, demon possession today does not affect a person spiritually; he is protected from its influence. This is one of the benefits that have come from the Redemption. Jesus Christ fought and conquered the hells, and made it impossible, from then onwards, for evil spirits to "possess" individuals on earth, except with the individual's free consent.
That is all I am going to say now about other-world interaction. Much more interesting to me is the fact that we can be channels of power from the spiritual world - not from any specific individual spirit, but from heaven itself, or, of course, from hell itself. And this is probably the real area of miracles and magic, as operating today. The simplest way to get power from heaven (or rather, from the Lord through heaven) is by Prayer. It can operate at any distance.
Miracles can occur in relationships. A marriage may be on the rocks; every human thing has been done to save it, but to no avail. Then God is allowed to work on the situation; a miracle occurs, and the couple live happily together ever after. To recapitulate: a miracle is when forces operate from God through heaven, which effect changes in our material lives which could not be produced by any physical force, or even by any psychic power emanating from ourselves. A miracle is an eruption of spirit into matter; and although we can be used as a channel for the flow of spiritual power, the Source must be God, not ourselves. The results need not be dependent on us, and will be unpredictable by us. We cannot command them; we can only invite them and open ourselves to receive them. They are not the result of any effort on our part, but depend upon a Divine intelligence and love, outside and above us. It is God who works miracles, no one else.
Have you had any miracles happen in your life? I am sure you have! If not, you haven't really lived! Expect a miracle, and one will probably occur. God's hand is not so shortened that He cannot redeem. He will touch us and bless us, if we bow expectantly before Him. And blessing is the highest form of miracle.