Standing Up For Magic

Monday being my regular blog day at Speculative Faith, I posted an article yesterday about magic (a reworking of three articles I’d first posted here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction nearly four years ago). One of the commenters (and fellow Spec Faith poster) Stephen Burnett recounted a question that came up at the recent ACFW Conference. Seems one of the conferees was asking how a Christian fantasy writer is to handle magic since magic is intrinsically un-Christian.

Interesting. But here’s the first definition for magic in the Oxford American Dictionaries: “the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.”

My question, then is, Do we Christians not consider God “supernatural”? But … but…but … God’s work is miraculous, not magic, someone may well say. And the Oxford American Dictionaries would agree that God’s work is miraculous: “occurring through divine or supernatural intervention, or manifesting such power.”

But isn’t miraculous simply a more narrowed term, specifically referencing the divine? Magic, on the other hand, does not exclude the divine.

However, I don’t want to get too caught up in semantics. Let’s agree that the Bible does warn against magic and witchcraft and other sorts of divination sought from powers other than God Himself.

In contrast, God’s powerful works are called miraculous and prophetic.

The point that is noteworthy for fantasy writers and readers, however, is this: the Bible makes it clear that both God and Satan have power. Not in equal measure. Satan is no more omnipotent than he is omnipresent, though I suspect he’d like Man to think he is both.

Make no mistake. God’s power trumps Satan’s, and it’s not even a fair comparison. Satan may not get this because it seems he keeps trying to go up against God, as if he can outmaneuver Wisdom or out-muscle Omnipotence.

Be that as it may, we can’t deny that he has power and it is supernatural—beyond Man’s abilities. Pharaoh had his magicians and so did Nebuchadnezzar, and seemingly they were used to these conjurers producing what normal folk could not. Their power was not from God, however.

Moses, with the rod of God, went head to head with Pharaoh’s magicians, if you recall, and God’s power dominated. Nebuchadnezzar’s sorcerers could not tell their king his dream, let alone the interpretation of it, but God’s man, Daniel, could.

But back to fantasy. If supernatural power—good and evil—is real, then why should Christian fantasy writers pretend that the evil forces in their stories don’t have real supernatural power? Why should we pretend that those siding with good have no supernatural power?

Fantasy, after all, gives a story-long metaphor for the real world. Why would we want to give Christians—young adults or adults—the idea that there isn’t actually supernatural power of any kind by doing away with magic in our stories?

It seems to me it’s important to address the source of power and the reality of power and the proper attitude toward power—all of which fantasy can address. Unless, of course, a Christian story must be scrubbed clean of supernatural power.

Published in: on September 21, 2010 at 5:14 pm  Comments (7)  
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7 Comments

  1. Thank you Rebecca!You’re right, just because its a Christian book doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be any magic whatsoever (even for bad guys). I’m not super fond of good guys using spells and whatnot. But I do appreciate when some Christian authors draw clear lines in their books about what is good and comes from God and what is evil. I personally think “magic” in fantasy is a great way make analogies about supernatural things in the “real world”. :0D

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  2. I like stories in which there is something that might be magic, or might be some unknown technology or some natural talent.

    I feel that in fiction, the Christian writer need not be theologically correct— it’s supposed to be entertainment not a theology class.

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  3. “I feel that in fiction, the Christian writer need not be theologically correct— it’s supposed to be entertainment not a theology class.”

    The problem with that is Christian fiction can still influence people. Wouldn’t we rather influence towards God’s truth? Many things I’ve learned about theology I came to understand better through reading a piece of fiction than an essay on the subject. Essays can explain the theology, but fiction can give it handles, show us how it works out through story.

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  4. Thank you for a great article! I especially like the point about the definitions for magic and divinity! God Bless you!

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  5. Becky, Thanks for a great article on Magic and your distinctions between magic and miracles. It seems to me the source of exercised power determines whether it is good or bad. I like the way Donita K. Paul handles magic in her books. The kindly wizard realizes where his power derives, and tries to work good for others. The evil magic-users try to utilize their power for personal gain and to use their power on others.

    Even an inanimate object, like Gollum’s ring in Lord of the Rings, corrupted those coming into contact with it through it’s malevolent influence. A good artifact, like the Ark in Raiders of the Lost Ark, will bring harm to those of evil designs.

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  6. Hi Becky

    If the distinction between miracles and magic is where the power derives, then I think maybe there’s a critical lack of understanding about the fundamental nature of each.

    I like CS Lewis’ point that the miracles of Jesus are reflections of what God does (maybe this comment would be better in your post about Patterns!); that every day along grape vines God changes water into wine; that every day in growing fields of wheat, God multiplies food. Jesus saw what His Father did and kept to the pattern.

    To me, magic is abuse of power. The source of power ultimately is God (who is also the source of miracles). So I don’t agree that the distinction between magic and miracles is the source.

    I’m not even sure that intent is really where the difference lies either. I’m not sure whether self-serving or serving others should be a primary criterion for distinction (though they are relevant.) The line between faith and magic is often very thin and I’ve known Christians who have, with the very best of intentions, crossed the line.

    If I have to think on my feet and define the difference between the two, I’d say:
    MAGIC = I did it my way.
    MIRACLE = God gave me the authority to call on the power of Heaven and He did it his way.

    But maybe I need to think about it more.
    Thought-provoking post, thanks!
    Annie

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  7. Thank you SO MUCH for this article! I agree 100%. And when people have asked me why I read about such things in Christian books, or write about such things, I try to explain but it all seems to come out wrong. Now I can point them to this article instead, as this basically says it all! 😀 THANK YOU!!!

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