A few years ago we posted a two-part series titled The Starbucks Logo Upside Down Looks like Baphomet: Modern Day Occultism. In these Q&A style posts, we asked one of the elders at our church, Bryan C. Hodge, a series of ten questions on the occult. It was a hit! Readers were so thankful to Bryan for helping them think through those obscure topics Biblically.
In light of the response from that series (and because of the alarming rate at which churches are adopting New Age/occultic practices), we thought it prudent to address these issues again with another Q&A.
Not one to shy away from a theological challenge, Bryan kindly agreed to let us pick his brain once more. So, without further ado, here is part one of our two-part series on the seemingly unexplainable.
Amber Frederick: Why do humans like to be afraid? Why are scary movies and talks of ghouls, goblins, and things that go bump in the night so intriguing, even to believers?
Bryan Hodge: I actually think humans hate being afraid. Instead, we like being stimulated with fake fear that is quick and we know can be escaped, or is not really a danger. It gives the same type of rush as skydiving or a rollercoaster ride. It’s just a way of being stimulated. Real fear is a terror that traumatizes people because it’s a true threat and we just want to flee from it immediately.
So I think scary movies and haunted houses are like carnival rides in that way. We love the simulation of excitement and vicarious experiences that allow us to do dangerous things without being in danger. We get the rush without the risk. That’s why fantasy is often terrifying if it becomes reality.
AF: There has been a lot of talk about aliens in recent years with UFO sightings and abductions making headlines, not to mention TV shows like Ancient Aliens and Skinwalker Ranch keeping the conversation alive. There does seem to be some credence to these claims, but many Christians (myself included) believe that “aliens” are actually demons. What are your thoughts on this, and how should we as believers think about aliens and UFOs?
BH: To borrow from C.S. Lewis a bit, we really just have three choices here. These people are either liars, lunatics, or legitimate, and I think it’s likely that the majority fall into the first two categories.
By lunatic, I don’t necessarily mean that they are insane, but rather that they are experiencing a delusion, either drug or alcohol induced or from some other influence of the psyche. Some people just want attention and need to make their lives more interesting and this is the way they choose to do it. Many of these people have told these lies so long they even start believing them themselves.
However, it is possible that people are experiencing something legitimate. I personally don’t believe in extraterrestrials and think that it’s something that is largely connected to the occult, and so I do think that if there is a legitimate experience, it is likely a demonic encounter that intends to deceive people through religion.
I rarely hear genuine Christianity from these people. They’re often into the New Age movement or some weird alien religion, and deceiving people through false religion seems to be the focus of most demonic activity in the world. Michael Heiser has a DVD called “Aliens and Demons” that talks about his view of these things, though I should say that I don’t endorse everything that he says.
AF: Have you ever had a dream that has come true? Have you ever thought of a friend or family member out of nowhere and then received a call or text from them a few seconds later? Have you ever had a vision of a person or place you’ve never met or seen and then seen that person or place in real life? These are often referred to as premonitions and I believe we can all answer yes to at least one of these questions. How do we explain this phenomenon from a biblical perspective?
BH: Some of these answers may blend together in that this gets into the idea that one can tap into the unseen realm in various ways. To explain this, I’ll likely need to explain how God communicated to His people by prophets.
The prophet would be asked to inquire of the Lord and ask a question. He would then go into a trance-like state in order to get the answer from God. This is what a vision is. When God wanted to speak to an untrained prophet who did not know how to go into a vision, He would use dreams instead, since the person is essentially in the same state.
The idea is that when a human is disconnected from the conscious physical world he is closer to being connected to the spiritual world. The same can be said of people who are extremely sick and close to death’s door. Hence, in this state, one is able to receive messages from God who is in the unseen realm.
This also means, however, that one is able to receive messages from other beings in that realm, whether they be the dead or demons or what have you. The Scripture is very clear that these things can be done but should not be. So it really is not a matter of it being false as much as one should not seek to get his or her information from these things unless they were verified by God through the Scripture. Scripture is what we need to look to in order to get our understanding of God and His will, not our dreams.
On top of all of this, dreams can just be subconscious thoughts and fears that manifest in our sleeping state because the body needs to work them out psychologically. This means that we cannot read too much into them, and even when they may end up happening, it does not mean that information is from God. All of our theology and ethics need to be derived from Scripture and we should use Scripture to judge anything we have gotten from a dream.
AF: Astral projection is the practice of intentional out-of-body experience via an “astral body” into what’s known as the “astral plane”. Practitioners of astral projection claim to be able to do everything from fly through solid objects to spy on friends and family, to build altars and “safe spaces” in the astral plane. They also claim to have met spirit guides who send them on quests to reach further enlightenment. The astral realm seems to be a real place, with real spirits, and sadly, this dangerous practice is infiltrating the church. What is the astral plane? How is it possible for flesh and blood humans to access it, and what do you believe these “spirit guides” are?
BH: This idea is as old as Mesopotamian religion and is connected to the dream idea. It was thought that when one disconnects in sleep or a vision, he or she could disconnect from the body completely and the spirit could then move freely over the earth or even into the netherworld.
I think this is an illusion. I think it is likely that this is either a demonic deception in a dream or simply something like a vision or fanciful daydreaming. I think the spirit only separates from the body when one has died. However, having said this, I do think the Bible speaks of one visiting places in his spirit, but I take this to mean in a vision, not that he actually traveled there in his spirit.
Again, even if Christians can disagree on this point, I would argue that any information gained in this way, if not instructed to do so by God, would be evil and forbidden by God. Remember, the occult itself is often the pursuit of knowledge by means of accessing other spirits, human or otherwise. So much of this if forbidden by God because it rejects God’s revelation as sufficient and instead looks to know more. This is almost the same way that Adam and Eve sought to know as God knows rather than be content with what God had explicitly commanded.
AF: Accounts of Sleep paralysis can be traced back to medieval times and beyond, and still affects many people to this day. Biologically we know what’s happening: when the body enters REM, we become immobile (paralyzed), so we don’t act out our dreams. But sometimes we wake up during this period and find ourselves unable to move. What’s harder to explain are the countless examples of people seeing demonic like figures and creatures during sleep paralysis. What do you believe is happening spiritually at that moment and how should a Christian respond when they see/encounter such things while experiencing sleep paralysis?
BH: I’ve counseled people who have experienced this. I think, as you’ve said, the body is still in the state of paralysis as a safety mechanism so we don’t harm ourselves when we are sleeping. Obviously, people who sleepwalk or lash out in their dreams lack this.
However, if we are closer to unseen realm when we sleep, that means we can experience things in that realm during that time. It makes sense that if we are still somewhat in that state when waking up, that we would also be capable of experiencing some of those things.
Again, it should really just point us to God as our comfort through Jesus Christ who has overcome the horrors of those demonic powers. Such things show our helpless state and absolute dependence upon the mercy and protection of the One whom they absolutely fear. I would be terrified of such things and without hope if I did not know that they themselves are terrified of Him. The crusher of the serpent’s head has vanquished them all and His power is unmatched by them.
A big thanks to Bryan once again for answering our first round of questions. Join us next week on October 31st as we continue our discussion with Bryan on the topics of witches, Angel Boards, and demonic possession through psychedelic drugs (yikes!). Here’s a little bit more about our pastor:
Bryan C. Hodge is an Elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Las Vegas. He holds a B.A. in Biblical Theology from Moody Bible Institute and an M.A. in Old Testament and Semitic Languages from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. At this same school, he also received Candidacy for an M.A. in New Testament and achieved Candidacy for the ThM in New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary.
A husband and father of nine children, when he’s not at the pulpit teaching, defending the faith, and affirming Christ through what has been historically maintained as Orthodox Christianity, he’s doing the exact same thing on his blog Theological Sushi: Theology Served Raw.
Until next time, salutations and selah.