Could It Be a Masterful Deception?
OVER the centuries humans have witnessed the strangest of happenings. Rocks, water glasses and the like have been seen sailing through the air as if moved by invisible hands. Voices, rappings and other noises have been heard even though there was no apparent source or cause for them. Shadowy figures have appeared and then quickly disappeared. At times such happenings have been so well attested to that there is little room for doubt.
Many people consider manifestations of this kind to be evidence that death does not end conscious existence. Some believe that departed spirits are trying in some way to get the attention of the living and to communicate with them.
But one might ask: If these are truly deceased loved ones who are trying to get in touch with the living, why do their manifestations generally frighten observers? What, really, is behind such things?
The Bible clearly shows that death ends all conscious existence. (Ecclesiastes 9:5) Hence, there must be other forces responsible for things that are often attributed to the spirits of the dead. What might those forces be? Could they be intelligent? If so, could they be guilty of perpetrating a masterful deception on humankind?
Surely we do not want to be deceived. To be deceived would mean loss to us and, perhaps, cause us even to come into a position of grave danger. That is why we have good reason to examine the available evidence, reasoning on it, to be sure that we have not fallen victim to a masterful deception. We should be willing to go back as far as possible in human history in an effort to get at the truth of the matter.
The Bible enables us to do that. It takes us back to the time when the first human pair came into existence. In the third chapter of Genesis the Bible relates a conversation that may sound unbelievable to many today. Yet it is not fiction. This conversation provides a clue as to whether a masterful deceiver is at work in human affairs.
THE START OF DECEPTION
One day, while not in the company of her husband, the first woman, Eve, heard a voice. From all appearances it was the voice of a serpent. Regarding the conversation, the Bible reports:
“Now the serpent proved to be the most cautious of all the wild beasts of the field that Jehovah God had made. So it began to say to the woman: ‘Is it really so that God said you must not eat from every tree of the garden?’ At this the woman said to the serpent: ‘Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat. But as for eating of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, God has said, “You must not eat from it, no, you must not touch it that you do not die.”’ At this the serpent said to the woman: ‘You positively will not die. For God knows that in the very day of your eating from it your eyes are bound to be opened and you are bound to be like God, knowing good and bad.’ Consequently the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was something to be longed for to the eyes, yes, the tree was desirable to look upon.”—Genesis 3:1-6.
The message transmitted by the serpent was a lie. That lie was the first one on record. Accordingly, its source must be the originator or father of lies. Since the lie led to death-dealing consequences, the liar was also a murderer. Obviously this liar was not the literal serpent, a creature that is not endowed with the power of speech. But there must have been someone behind the serpent, someone who, by what might be called ventriloquism, made it appear that the serpent was talking. That should not seem so strange to us in this twentieth century when a cone in the speaker of a radio or a television set can be made to vibrate in such a way as to reproduce the human voice. But who was the speaker behind the serpent?
AN INVISIBLE DECEIVER
He is identified by Jesus Christ, who himself had come from the heavens and knew what went on in the invisible realm. (John 3:13; 8:58) When certain religious leaders were seeking to kill him, Jesus said to them: “You are from your father the Devil, and you wish to do the desires of your father. That one was a manslayer when he began, and he did not stand fast in the truth, because truth is not in him. When he speaks the lie, he speaks according to his own disposition, because he is a liar and the father of the lie.”—John 8:44.
Being a liar and a manslayer, the Devil is obviously someone who possesses intelligence. This gives rise to the question, How did he come into existence?
The Bible reveals that even before the earth came to be, invisible, spirit persons were enjoying life. Job 38:7 speaks of these spirit persons, “sons of God,” as “shouting in applause” when the earth was created. As “sons of God,” they received their life from him.—Psalm 90:2.
Hence, the one who deceived Eve by means of the serpent must have been one of these spirit sons, one of God’s intelligent creatures. In contradicting God’s warning about the tree of the knowledge of good and bad, this one slandered his Creator, making God appear to be a liar. He is therefore rightly called the “Devil,” as that word is drawn from the Greek term di·aʹbo·los, meaning “false accuser, misrepresenter, slanderer.” By his course of action this creature set himself in resistance to God and thereby made himself Satan (Hebrew, sa·tanʹ; Greek, sa·ta·nasʹ), which means “resister.”
Jehovah God cannot be blamed for what this creature did. “Perfect is his activity,” says the Bible concerning God, “for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness, with whom there is no injustice; righteous and upright is he.” (Deuteronomy 32:4) He created his intelligent sons, spirit and human, with the capacity of free will. He did not force them to serve him but wanted them to do so willingly, out of love. He endowed them with the capacity to develop ever greater love for him as their God and Father.
The spirit creature who made himself a resister and a slanderer of God, however, did not choose to perfect his love for his Creator. He allowed selfish ambitions to take root in his heart. (Compare 1 Timothy 3:6.) This is reflected in the conduct of the “king of Tyre” over whom a dirge was rendered in the prophecy of Ezekiel. In the dirge, it is said to the king of Tyre who turned traitor to the kingdom of Israel:
“You are sealing up a pattern, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. In Eden, the garden of God, you proved to be. . . . You are the anointed cherub that is covering, and I have set you. On the holy mountain of God you proved to be. In the midst of fiery stones you walked about. You were faultless in your ways from the day of your being created until unrighteousness was found in you. . . . Your heart became haughty because of your beauty. You brought your wisdom to ruin on account of your beaming splendor.”—Ezekiel 28:12-17.
The rebellious spirit son of God, similar to the traitorous “king of Tyre,” thought too highly of himself. Pride caused him to want to control the human race, and he sought to gain his ends through deception. To this day the majority of humankind are still victims of this deception. By refusing to do God’s will as set forth in his Word, the Bible, they actually align themselves with Satan. In so doing, they accept the same lie that Eve did, namely, that choosing to act contrary to God’s will can bring real gain.
Since God’s Word condemns communication with the dead, those who try to speak with the dead put themselves on Satan’s side. While they may think that they are talking with the dead, they have become the victims of a hoax. Just as Satan made it appear to Eve that a serpent was talking, so he can just as easily make it appear that the dead are talking through mediums. Does this mean that Satan is directly responsible for all the strange phenomena that are often attributed to the spirits of the dead? Or, are others also involved?
OTHER INVISIBLE DECEIVERS
The Bible reveals that Satan is not the only rebellious spirit creature. Revelation 12:3, 4, 9 shows that there are others. In this Scripture passage Satan the Devil is symbolically depicted as a “great fiery-colored dragon” having a “tail” that “drags a third of the stars of heaven.” Yes, Satan was able to use his influence, like a tail, to get other “stars,” spirit sons of God, to join him in a rebellious course. (Compare Job 38:7, where spirit sons of God are called “morning stars.”) This happened before the global deluge in the days of Noah. Numerous angels, contrary to God’s purpose, “forsook their own proper dwelling place” in the heavens, materialized human bodies, lived as husbands with women and fathered hybrid offspring known as Nephilim. Of this, we are told:
“Now it came about that when men started to grow in numbers on the surface of the ground and daughters were born to them, then the sons of the true God began to notice the daughters of men, that they were good-looking; and they went taking wives for themselves, namely, all whom they chose. . . . The Nephilim proved to be in the earth in those days, and also after that, when the sons of the true God continued to have relations with the daughters of men and they bore sons to them, they were the mighty ones who were of old, the men of fame.”—Genesis 6:1-4.
During the Flood these sons of God lost their wives and their hybrid offspring. They themselves had to dematerialize. Respecting what happened to them thereafter, the Bible reports: “God did not hold back from punishing the angels that sinned, but, by throwing them into Tartarus, delivered them to pits of dense darkness to be reserved for judgment.” (2 Peter 2:4) And at Jude 6 it adds: “The angels that did not keep their original position but forsook their own proper dwelling place he has reserved with eternal bonds under dense darkness for the judgment of the great day.”
As these descriptions relate to spirit creatures, it is evident that the “pits of dense darkness” and “eternal bonds” are not literal. These expressions simply convey to us a picture of restraint, a condition of debasement separated from all divine enlightenment.
There is no Scriptural basis for concluding that these disobedient angels are in a place like the mythological Tartarus of Homer’s Iliad, that is, in the lowest prison where Cronus and the other Titan spirits were said to be confined. The apostle Peter did not believe in any such mythological gods. So there is no reason to conclude that his use of the Greek expression ‘throwing into Tartarus’ even hinted at the existence of the mythological place referred to by Homer some nine centuries earlier. In fact, in Greek the expression ‘throwing into Tartarus’ is only one word, a verb, tar·ta·roʹo. It is also used to mean debasing to the lowest degree.
To illustrate, the English word “debase” contains the noun “base.” Yet our use of the word does not mean that a literal base in some geographical location is involved in the act of debasement. Likewise the Greek verb rendered ‘throwing into Tartarus’ need not be viewed as suggesting the existence of an actual place, but as suggesting a condition.
At 1 Peter 3:19, 20 the debased spirit creatures are referred to as “spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient when the patience of God was waiting in Noah’s days, while the ark was being constructed.” Thus the Bible makes it plain that after the Flood the “angels that sinned” came under a form of restraint. There is no Biblical indication that they were able to materialize and take up visible activity on earth after the Flood. So it logically follows that the restraint under which they came made it impossible for them to take on flesh again.
BEWARE OF DEMON INFLUENCE
It should be noted, however, that the disobedient angels, who now came to be known as demons, had a strong desire to be in close association with humans. They were willing to abandon their heavenly position for the pleasure of living as husbands with women. Scriptural evidence shows that, though restrained from such physical contact now, they have not changed their desires. They seek every means open to them to be in touch with humans and even to control them. Jesus Christ referred to this, using figurative speech in saying:
“When an unclean spirit comes out of a man, it passes through parched places in search of a resting-place, and finds none. Then it says, ‘I will go back to my house out of which I moved’; and on arriving it finds it unoccupied but swept clean and adorned. Then it goes its way and takes along with it seven different spirits more wicked than itself, and, after getting inside, they dwell there; and the final circumstances of that man become worse than the first.”—Matthew 12:43-45.
It is vital therefore to be on guard lest a person yield himself to demon influence. He may be very uncertain about himself and his future. He may desperately want some assurance that things will go well for him. Or he may find a certain fascination in the weird and frightening manifestations of occult practices. He may hear about someone who reportedly can accurately predict the future. Or he may learn about the various means of divination used—Ouija boards, ESP (extrasensory perception), patterns of tea leaves in cups, oil configurations on water, divining rods, pendulums, the position and movement of stars and planets (astrology), the howling of dogs, the flight of birds, the movement of snakes, crystal-ball gazing and the like. His situation may appear so desperate or his fascination be so great that he may decide to consult a fortune-teller or a medium or to resort to some form of divination. He might be willing to try anything just once.
Is that wise? Definitely not. His curiosity can lead to his coming under demon control. Rather than such a course’s bringing him relief and comfort, his situation may only worsen. Supernatural disturbances may rob him of sleep and fill even daylight hours with dread. He may begin to hear strange voices, suggesting that he kill himself or someone else.
Is it not wise therefore to avoid such a risk and to shun all forms of divination? Jehovah God does not view this matter lightly. To protect the Israelites from being deceived and harmed by wicked spirits, he made the practice of divination a capital offense, saying in the Law: “As for a man or woman in whom there proves to be a mediumistic spirit or spirit of prediction, they should be put to death without fail.”—Leviticus 20:27.
God’s view of spirit mediums, sorcerers and divination has not changed. A divine decree still stands against all practicers of spiritism.—Revelation 21:8.
Therefore exert yourself to resist being deceived by wicked spirit creatures. Should you ever hear a strange voice, perhaps suggesting that it is that of a deceased friend or relative, do not pay any attention. Call upon the name of the true God, Jehovah, to help you to resist coming under demon influence. As God’s own Son advised, make your prayerful petition: ‘Deliver me from the wicked one.’ (Matthew 6:13) As to items associated with divination, imitate the example of those who accepted true worship in ancient Ephesus. “Quite a number of those who practiced magical arts [there] brought their books together and burned them up before everybody.” Expensive as these items were, they did not hold back from destroying them.—Acts 19:19.
In view of this example, do you think that it would be right to associate deliberately with those known to dabble in the occult and to accept gifts from them? Might they not become the instrumentalities by means of which you could come under demon influence?
Our recognizing that wicked spirits are often responsible for causing people to see or hear weird and frightening manifestations—voices, rappings and shadowy figures for which there are no apparent causes—is a major factor in safeguarding us from being deceived. This knowledge will free us from fearing the dead and from engaging in valueless rites in their behalf. It will also help to prevent our being victimized by wicked spirits.
But if we are to be protected from every aspect of the deception that Satan and his demons have perpetrated in connection with the dead, we must believe and act in harmony with the entire Bible. This is because all of it is the inspired Word of God.