Some people are convinced they have been in contact with the deceased. Specific details the medium presented seemingly proved that they received comforting messages from their loved ones. Others state that certain information was only known to them and conclude it must be that same person communicating with them. Under carefully managed conditions some are more susceptible than they might have been otherwise and more open to suggestion.
Individuals have initially been sceptical though having had an experience, or attended a séance, are later convinced they had a genuine encounter. So how is it possible to reliably determine what is actually happening?
Investigations and enquiries
Many ancient civilisations practised spiritualism though in 1848 investigations were undertaken regarding the Fox sisters who were integral to the modern movement. They were believed to contact spirits by means of reciprocal tapping noises. In 1855 Kate and Margaret Fox publicly acknowledged that they caused the rapping noises with their toes. Later they retracted that admission although spiritualism grew rapidly. Interestingly, Harry Houdini, the famous escapologist was able to expose the unscrupulous practises of mediums in his time and there is undoubtedly an element of this practised by some, though obviously not all.
The biblical perspective
There are commands and precedents in the Bible to help us avoid interacting with mediums who may well be in contact with familiar spirits impersonating those who have passed away.
‘Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God.’ (Leviticus 19:31)
“There shall be none found among you who anyone who makes his son or daughter pass through the fire, or one who practises witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the lord your God drives them out from before you.” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12)
And when they say to you, “Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,” should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living? (Isaiah 8:19).
What about the medium at En Dor?
Discussion has arisen concerning this unique passage from 1 Samuel 28:3-25 as to whether Saul was actually able to call up the deceased prophet Samuel by means of a medium conducting a séance.
There are a number of factors that should be considered carefully. Firstly, Saul had already outlawed the mediums and spiritists out of the land which was in accordance with Scripture. Secondly, Saul was often disobedient towards God who did not respond to Saul when he enquired of Him. Thirdly, Saul was afraid of the Philistines and deliberately sought out a medium which was a gross hypocrisy. Is it any wonder that things did not turn out well for Saul and he fell on his own sword since he was later wounded by the Philistines in battle and feared that they might abuse him (1 Samuel 31:1-5)?
Even the woman he consulted was wary and did not recognise Saul initially since he was disguised. She was concerned that he had removed mediums and spiritists from the land. In addition to deceiving her by trickery, Saul swore by the Lord that no punishment would come upon her. It was only when the woman saw Samuel, she recognised that Saul was actually the one who asked her to call up Samuel.
Commentators are divided on whether God in this one isolated case enabled Samuel to be seen or whether it was a case of familiar spirits impersonating Samuel. What is absolutely certain was that Saul knew that his actions were wrong and disobedient to God and that it only made things far worse for him. Rather than trying to see how close one can approach the edge of the cliff without falling off, it would be wiser to keep a good distance away from it!
When the seven principles of spiritualism are compared with the Bible, they are directly opposed to the central teachings. Prayers for healing are offered to ‘the Great Unseen Healing Force’[i] or to the Divine Spirit for healing energy.[ii] There is also a distinctive hymnology which reflects the above.
What Yeshua taught
The Lord Jesus told the parable of the rich man and Lazarus and made it clear that both the righteous dead and unrighteous dead are separated and limited in their movement.
19 “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and [h]fared sumptuously every day. 20 But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, 21 desiring to be fed with [i]the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. 26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’
27 “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ ”
Real hope in the living God
When the saducees who denied the ressurection of the dead questioned the Lord Jesus concerning marriage, He explained “But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead but the living. (Matthew 22:31-32)
How many of us can honestly say we have kept all of the Ten Commandments? When we examine our ways we recognise that we have all broken God’s laws and commandments. We therefore need to be reconciled to God. The Lord Jesus died and rose again to provide atonement for our sin and His resurrection is the guarantee of our resurrection. What other leader or founder of a religion died and rose again? Yeshua is the way, the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6).
God is not a mysterious force or Divine Energy, but has revealed Himself and wants us to know Him (Jeremiah 9:23-24; John 10:14). Jesus is totally unique and is the Messiah who lived a perfect sinless life and made atonement for sin through His sacrifice on the cross. Jesus is not an ‘ascended Master’ since the fullness of God dwells in Him bodily (Colossians 1:19) and He was not created (Colossians 1:17). He is fully God and fully Man and has also appointed a day of judgement (Hebrews 9:27). Paul wrote, ‘For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.’ (Romans 3:23). We should consider carefully that we will either meet Him as our Saviour or as our judge.
Salvation by God’s grace, not our works
How then can be be saved from the wrath of God and the judgement to come? ‘For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.’ (Romans 6:23)
We cannot obtain God’s approval by any amount of good deeds no matter how well intentioned. We are not able to save ourselves and our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Instead we must repent, meaning a change of heart, mind and direction, confess that we have sinned against God, ask Him to forgive us and trust in Him alone. Grace is a wonderful gift that cannot be earned and is not deserved. Grace is entirely unmerited. There is a sure and certain hope however. ‘If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead you will be saved.’ (Romans 10:9)