Many Christians refuse to read Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, or The Lord of the Rings because they contain "magic" in them. Magic and witchcraft, they say, is prohibited in Scripture, ipso facto whatever praises or casts magic in a positive light (see what I did there?) is anti-Christ.
I am going to argue against this idea, not only in literature, but in Scripture and in all of reality itself. But first, I will beg your patience, as I will take a brief aside, before delving into the matter at hand, to talk about "white magic".
White magic is diabolic and demonic. I will soon be talking about the definitions of magic, what magic itself is. And we will see where in those definitions magic fits. But let's make no mistake, "white magic" is what witches, idolaters, and evildoers call what they do because evil in magic is so powerful that they need to differentiate between "selfish" manipulations and "kind" manipulations of the demonic.
Many witches and sorcerers practice both "white" and "black". White is the color used by those who worship false gods, and through it, claim to be calling good and positivity on the world.
These are worshipers of demons. White magic, if we even use the term, is as wicked as black. I am about to propose definitions for good and for bad magic. Any Christian who knows anything about these religions and rituals will see that white magic fits in what I will define as bad magic.
From Acts 16:
As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers.
In this passage, Paul and Silas go straight up against magic. And the magicians opposed to them manipulate the situation to punish them. Paul and Silas are imprisoned, leading to the famous conversion of the jailer and his household.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.
Why on earth did all the prisoners stay where they were? Why would they do something so apparently against their own interests? It is possible, of course, that the explanation lies outside the text. And there is an obvious answer given us by the framework of Scripture and by the book of Acts: the prisoners stay by the power of God.
But let me suggest that there is indeed an answer in the text. Paul and Silas spoke, and a demon was cast out. Not by their own power, but by the power of God. In the prison, Paul and Silas sang hymns, and the prisoners were listening. Perhaps the force exerted upon the prisoners, the power of God upon them, was the singing of these men of God. Otherwise, the detail of the singing is an odd little addendum, telling us only that Paul and Silas were in good spirits.
My suggestion is that Paul and Silas, in this story, worked magic twice. They worked magic when they cast out a demon, and they worked magic when they sang. I'm using words like suggest and propose because this is only an essai, an attempt, at an idea. I am thinking out loud and would value your input in the comments section.
According to Merriam-Webster, there are two definitions of magic (actually, three, but the third defines parlor tricks and illusions):
1. The use of means (such as charms or spells) believed to have supernatural power over natural forces.
2. An extraordinary power or influence seemingly from a supernatural source Both pitchers, although they are older, haven't lost their magic. Something that seems to cast a spell: enchantment.
Between these two definitions we have a pretty all-encompassing description of magic. Magic is supernatural power. But there is a key difference between the two definitions.
Now the works of the flesh are evident: porneia, akatharsia, aselgeia, eidolatria, pharmakeia, echthra, eris, zelos, thumos, etc., etc.
Even without knowing Greek some of these are apparent to us. Porneia is where we get porn from: sexual immorality. Eidolatria is idolatry. Cool. What's pharmakeia? The sin of being a pharmacist?
Yes, actually. I mean, pretty much. Pharmakeia is sorcery. Translations that don't render it as sorcery choose witchcraft. Witches and sorcerers are potion makers. Poisoners. Blenders of love potions.
When it speaks of magic, the Scriptures condemn deceivers, con-men, poisoners, potion-makers, mutterers, necromancers, and human sacrifice. Sorcery and human sacrifice go hand-in-hand. "And he burned his sons as an offering in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, and used fortune-telling and omens and sorcery, and dealt with mediums and with necromancers. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger (2 Chronicles 33)."
But Daniel and Aaron and Moses and Joseph worked magic. God condemns omens and yet Daniel and Joseph read dreams. God condemns sorcery yet Pharaoh says "Work a miracle" and Aaron and Moses outdo the court magicians at their own game by turning their staff into great snakes.
The difference between the mutterers and Daniel, the difference between the Egyptian magicians and Moses, was their relationship to supernatural power.
The first dictionary definition of magic was, means believed to have supernatural power over natural forces. That's bad magic; that's pagan magic. That's magic as manipulation, magic as a tool. The supernatural is obligated to respond to me if I do such and such.
The second definition of magic is power or influence from a supernatural source. That is, it comes from elsewhere. It does not respond to means. It's pure. It's not technology. It's real magic. Deep magic. It's what God does. "Work a miracle."
Bad magic is when we say that certain things must happen when I manipulate God or the spirits. Christians do bad magic all the time. We believe that God owes us. We do certain actions, we follow certain rituals, we pray certain prayers. And then God owes us. This is fundamentally pagan. It's impersonal; it deals with forces. It's bad magic, y'all. Christian sorcery at its proudest.
Good magic is saying that certain things [may] happen when we interact with God and the world. Prayers are spells, if we do not limit spells to that first definition. A prayer asks God (the ultimate supernatural source) to accomplish something on our behalf. It is a spell of good magic, because it is completely independent of us and completely dependent on God. Good magic is therefore personal, and has everything to do with the Triune God. It recognizes the source of power and agency as personal, and Creation as a personal work.
And I don't think we'd want to say that all manipulation magic is wicked either. Not if we make everything personal and, dare I say it, relational. It has to do with what we're manipulating and why. We can't manipulate God, or make deals with demons, or mess with death, or poison people, or seduce people. But we already knew that, whether we used words like witchcraft and sorcery or not. We may manipulate that over which we have rightful authority. We may therefore work our magic on the magics already in creation, over which we are stewards. We can manipulate a billion yeasts and oblige them to make us strong drink. We can take the magic already trapped in a grape skin through yeast and sugar, work our own workings upon it, and lo! wine.
I'm not necessarily calling for us to rehabilitate the word magic. But I think we can at least all relax about it showing up in our pop culture. And our lives can be richer when we see how much magic is really out there. God sustains the world by magic, and that's really the key to seeing magic properly: God sustains. Good magic is constantly surprised and grateful. What will God do this time, we ask ourselves. Can it really be that God will yet again bring an eternal being from out between that woman's legs? Will he indeed allow me to transmit a thought across a wave of air? Will he really be present in bread and wine as last week? It seems too fantastic to be true. Will he actually turn barley juice into beer? Will he make the air under helicopter rotors move faster than the air over them? Incredible.
Magic is an extraordinary power or influence seemingly from a supernatural source. That's what Creation is. That's what you are. That's what you have. Your power is from a supernatural source. You're magic, and you work magic.
Do good, and not evil.
Update: here's a link to some fascinating quotes by Reformed thinkers on the topic. Thanks, John!