In the church I grew up in, the answer was made quite clear: it’s all evil and we ought not even consider looking at our horoscope in the newspaper, let alone get our palm read, use cards or stars as pointers for direction, and only the wicked and a couple of kids I knew ever really went to séances (or held their own during sleep-overs). But through years of scripture study and the suspension of assumptions and traditions, a couple of interesting answers have emerged.
Our question really breaks down into two parts— the question of communicating with the dead through mediums, and the question of divination through other means such as the Tarot, astrology, or even flipping a coin. These two answers are complex enough that we will deal with communicating with the dead this week, and look to divination next week.
So, what about consulting with mediums?
Our media has broken down many of the fearsome taboos about communicating with the dead. The first time I remember seeing “channeling” (one method of communicating with those who have departed this life), was in the movie Ghost. Whoopi Goldberg as Delores helped solve a murder and protected the living by using her ability to communicate with the dead. More recently, John Edwards in Crossing Over has become one of Sci-Fi channel’s most popular hosts with his show that features his ability to act as a spiritual medium. With the removal of the traditional taboos, the act of consulting the dead has become more mainstream and rather common.
Recently, a friend who was active in the church and had lost a loved one came to me and said they had consulted a medium who had contacted the deceased. My friend said that after they had finished with the medium they had found such peace, for now they knew their departed loved one was “okay.”
I was troubled by the conversation on two levels. For one, the scripture is clear about consulting mediums. In the Torah, the books of the Law, we read, “Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them” (Leviticus 19.31) and “Let no one be found among you …who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12a). Examples condemning the consultation of mediums are also well documented (e.g., 1 Samuel 28; Isaiah 8.19-20).
But aside from the obvious breach of commands, I was troubled on another level altogether.
My friend’s response of relief matches the vast majority of those who appear on John Edwards’ Crossing Over. Most of the people on the program are relieved to find that their friends, family, and even pets have “crossed over” safely. I can truly sympathize with those who have no real relationship with God and their fears about their departed loved ones; however, I am deeply troubled by those who claim to be followers of Jesus and choose to consult a medium.
Jesus was clear in his promises that for those who
believe, that for those who follow, and for those
with a child-like faith, the hereafter is not simply
a promise, but an assurance that can be counted on. The
question comes down to this: do we trust Jesus or
not? If we do, then there’s no need to
consult the dead to find out who’s who or who’s
where—to paraphrase Paul, “God’s
grace in sufficient” (2 Corinthians 12.9). To
seek out the assurance from a medium is to undermine
our own faith-walk. In the words of the prophet
Isaiah, “When you are advised to consult mediums
and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not
a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead
on behalf of the living? To the law and to the
testimony! If they do not speak according to this
word, they have no light of dawn” (Isaiah 8:19-20).