I've written to your site a few times, and I appreciate it very much. Thank you for trying to always look to the Bible for answers.
If you don't mind, I have another question I could use wisdom on. I am a member of the Lord's Church, and for the moment I'm staying in Africa with family. I have come across something that has troubled me.
As I'm sure you're aware, many people here believe in the existence of witchcraft. Some use rituals to curse people, get rich, and do other things. And other people, even those who grew up in and are in the Lord's Church, seem very much afraid of the possibility of being "witched." This might entail a "curse" of never being able to get married, getting a "spirit of poverty" that attacks your finances or even literally getting killed through spiritual means. People may also say that if they dream a certain thing, it means "This so-and-so spirit is attacking me, so I must rebuke it, or I shall go to a 'prophet' to be prayed over." Then hundreds of people give "testimonies" about being freed from such a spirit with the help of a "man of God." There's even a TV channel on the continent that very often shows these things.
As a Christian, I admit it's troubling to see these kinds of beliefs about these things, even among Christians. I think that as a Westerner, too, it is something that I have not seen many talk about as being a real thing. I know that on your site, you have argued many times that witchcraft isn't real. I think I agree with your position, even though it's mentioned in the Bible as a practice that takes people away from God. Witchcraft is thus a kind of false teaching, whether real or not.
But what do you suggest one can say to those Christians who sincerely believe an enemy can "witch" them, even by something as simple as their footprint? I find many of the ideas I'm hearing to be very troubling. Without much biblical support other than "There are still prophets and the spirit of discernment; the New Testament talks about these," people claim that "Christian prophets" can see "spiritual wives" that prevent or ruin marriages and even "spirits of men or women" that cause homosexual behavior. (The latter doesn't even seem to acknowledge that the Bible tells unrepentant sexually immoral Christians to be "handed over to Satan," (I Corinthians 5) not to be "delivered" from a spirit the Bible says nothing about. Though this passage mentions sinful relations with a father's wife, I think it should be applied to any kind of unrepented sexual sin. Other passages also stress Church discipline over anything like "deliverance" from demons.)
I often give a skeptical or questioning response to such claims, asking for evidence that that's actually the case, asking for Scripture to support beliefs in such spirits, and so on. Common answers may be "How do you know that type of spirit doesn't exist? Think about how many stories there are of these things happening." They'll also say Africa is a different place spiritually, so witchcraft is an actual danger here, but not in Western Europe or North America, because of "spiritual principalities."
Sorry for the extensive background, but it is something I've been praying and trying to learn more about. We all know that the devil is real, and demons and evil do exist. Yet, I always try to stress belief in the Bible instead of in ideas that come from outside it (or even contradict it, as in that "spirit of man" example). I also often say something like "An incorrect belief is wrong, no matter how many believe it."
One of my biggest struggles with this is that I know those who have lost loved ones, and they believe it was due to unexplainable death, allegedly spiritual reasons, witchcraft, and so on. These events are obviously very painful, and they require sensitivity and empathy. I also do not wish to be arrogant, coming into a new culture and automatically dismissing personal stories or current understandings. Yet the Bible and God's will are more important than experience and belief. Jesus even said that He will not care how many demons someone would cast out or how they would prophesy in His name. Jesus said that only following God's will and obeying Him matter. (Matthew 7)
How would you suggest mixing the need for understanding and empathy, while also making sure the Bible is applied accurately, especially in an unfamiliar culture? Do you know what church people have done to respond to such challenges?
I'd appreciate any wisdom you could share on this matter.
Thanks a lot.
Satan's primary language is the lie. "You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies" (John 8:44). Idols are nothing, but most of the world was given over to idolatry at one time. The number of followers doesn't indicate reality. In fact, Jesus said that followers of the truth will be a minority. "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matthew 7:13-14). The simple reason is that most people prefer lies that tell them what they want to hear.
When the prophets of old battled false prophets, they allowed the false prophets to "hang themselves" with their false claims. See Jeremiah 28 as an example. False prophets count on people not remembering when their claims did not come true. One of the most effective questions to ask people is: "Is this so-called prophet always right? Has the prophet made predictions that didn't come true?" More times than not, the person I'm talking to will affirm that the prophet is not 100% accurate. I then ask how can a person claim to speak for the God of truth and not get it right? God is never wrong.
Directly attacking what a person believes rarely works. They tend to dig in and deny the truth. You don't want to get involved in a "my opinion versus your opinion" battle. But pointing out facts as opportunities arise does get people to think. Asking for passages to support their claims is excellent. Giving passages to support your position is the proper thing to do. Even if you don't convince the person you are talking to, others are listening and they will take note.
If a person is grieving over a death, then express your sorrow over their loss. Understand that people grasp for explanations. You don't have to accept their explanation, but you can be sympathetic to their grief.