Spiritism and the Search for True Spirituality
ALL of us have spiritual as well as material needs. That is why so many ask such questions as, What is the purpose of life, why do people suffer, and what happens to us when we die? Many sincere people seek answers to these and similar questions at séances, where they consult mediums (also called channels), hoping to communicate with spirits of the dead. This practice is called spiritism.
Adherents of spiritism are found in many countries, and they gather in congregations and churches. In Brazil, for example, an estimated 4,000,000 spiritists follow the teachings codified by Hyppolyte Léon Denizard Rivail, a 19th-century French educator and philosopher who wrote under the name of Allan Kardec. Kardec first became interested in spiritistic phenomena in 1854. He later posed questions to mediums in many places and recorded the answers in The Book of Spirits, published in 1857. Two other works that he wrote are The Mediums’ Book and The Gospel According to Spiritism.
Spiritism has been associated with such religious practices as voodoo, witchcraft, magic, or Satanism. However, those who follow the teachings of Allan Kardec say that their beliefs are different. Their publications often quote the Bible, and they refer to Jesus as “the guide and example for all humanity.” They say that Jesus’ teachings are “the purest expression of divine law.” Allan Kardec viewed spiritist writings as the third revelation of God’s law to mankind, the first two being the teachings of Moses and those of Jesus.
Spiritism attracts many because it highlights neighbor love and charitable works. One spiritist belief is: “Without charity there is no salvation.” Many spiritists are active in social work, promoting hospitals, schools, and other institutions. Such efforts are commendable. How, though, do the beliefs of spiritists compare with Jesus’ teachings as recorded in the Bible? Let us take two examples: the hope for the dead and the reason for suffering.
What Hope for the Dead?
Many spiritists believe in reincarnation. One spiritist publication states: “Reincarnation is the only doctrine that measures up to our idea of divine justice; it is the only doctrine that can explain the future and strengthen our hopes.” Spiritists explain that at death the soul, or “incarnated spirit,” leaves the body—like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon. They believe that these spirits are later reincarnated as humans in order to purge sins committed in an earlier life. But there is no recollection of those earlier sins. “God considered it convenient that a veil be cast over the past,” says The Gospel According to Spiritism.
“To deny reincarnation is also to deny the words of Christ,” wrote Allan Kardec. However, Jesus never uttered the word “reincarnation” and never mentioned such a concept. (See “Does the Bible Teach Reincarnation?” on page 22.) Rather, Jesus taught the resurrection of the dead. During his earthly ministry, he resurrected three people—the son of a widow in Nain, the daughter of the presiding officer of a synagogue, and his close friend Lazarus. (Mark 5:22-24, 35-43; Luke 7:11-15; John 11:1-44) Let us consider one of those remarkable events and see what Jesus meant by “resurrection.”
The Resurrection of Lazarus
Jesus heard that his friend Lazarus was sick. Two days later, he told his disciples: “Lazarus our friend has gone to rest, but I am journeying there to awaken him from sleep.” The disciples did not understand what Jesus meant, so he said plainly: “Lazarus has died.” When Jesus finally came to Lazarus’ tomb, the man had been dead for four days. Still, Jesus ordered that the stone sealing the tomb’s entrance be taken away. Then he cried out: “Lazarus, come on out!” At that, something wonderful happened. “The man that had been dead came out with his feet and hands bound with wrappings, and his countenance was bound about with a cloth. Jesus said to them: ‘Loose him and let him go.’”—John 11:5, 6, 11-14, 43, 44.
Clearly, this was no reincarnation. Jesus said that the dead Lazarus was sleeping, unconscious. As the Bible expresses it, ‘his thoughts had perished.’ He was “conscious of nothing at all.” (Psalm 146:4; Ecclesiastes 9:5) The resurrected Lazarus was not a different person with a reincarnated spirit. He had the same personality, was of the same age, and had the same memories. He resumed his life where he had prematurely left it and returned to the loved ones who had mourned his death.—John 12:1, 2.
Later, Lazarus died again. So, what purpose did his resurrection serve? Along with the other resurrections Jesus performed, it reinforces our trust in God’s promise that His faithful servants will be raised from the dead in His due time. Those miracles of Jesus add powerful weight to his words: “I am the resurrection and the life. He that exercises faith in me, even though he dies, will come to life.”—John 11:25.
Regarding that future resurrection, Jesus said: “The hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear [my] voice and come out, those who did good things to a resurrection of life, those who practiced vile things to a resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:28, 29) As was the case with Lazarus, that will be a resurrection of dead people. It will not be a reuniting of conscious spirits with resurrected bodies that have decomposed and may even have been absorbed into other living organisms. Resurrecting the dead is well within the capacity of the Creator of heaven and earth, who is infinite in wisdom and power.
Does not the doctrine of the resurrection, as taught by Jesus Christ, reveal God’s deep love of humans as individuals? But what about the second question mentioned earlier?
What Is the Reason for Suffering?
Much human suffering comes about because of things that unwise, inexperienced, or even wicked people do. What, though, of tragic events that cannot be directly blamed on people? For example, why are there accidents and natural disasters? Why are some children born with congenital defects? Allan Kardec viewed such things as punishments. He wrote: “If we are being punished then wrong must have been committed. If that wrong is not of the present life then it must come from a past existence.” Spiritists are taught to pray: “Lord, You are all justice. The illness You saw fit to send me must be deserved . . . I accept it as an expiation for my past and as a test of my faith and submission to Your blessed will.”—The Gospel According to Spiritism.
Did Jesus teach such a thing? No. Jesus well knew the Bible statement: “Time and unforeseen occurrence befall them all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11) He knew that sometimes bad things just happen. They do not have to be a punishment for sins.
Consider this event in Jesus’ life: “As [Jesus] was passing along he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him: ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, so that he was born blind?’” The reply Jesus gave was most enlightening: “Neither this man sinned nor his parents, but it was in order that the works of God might be made manifest in his case. After he said these things, he spit on the ground and made a clay with the saliva, and put his clay upon the man’s eyes and said to him: ‘Go wash in the pool of Siloam.’ . . . And so he went off and washed, and came back seeing.”—John 9:1-3, 6, 7.
Jesus’ words showed that neither the man nor his parents were responsible for his congenital blindness. So Jesus gave no support to the idea that the man was being punished for sins committed in a previous life. True, Jesus knew that all humans inherit sin. But they inherit the sin of Adam, not sins they committed before they were born. Because of Adam’s sin, all humans are born physically imperfect, subject to sickness and death. (Job 14:4; Psalm 51:5; Romans 5:12; 9:11) In fact, that was a situation that Jesus had been sent to remedy. John the Baptizer said that Jesus was “the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!”—John 1:29.a
Notice, too, that Jesus did not say that God had deliberately caused the man to be born blind so that Jesus could come along and heal him some day. What a cruel, cynical act that would have been! Would that have brought praise to God? No. Rather, the miraculous cure of the blind man served to ‘make manifest the works of God.’ Like the many other cures Jesus performed, it reflected God’s sincere love for suffering mankind and confirmed the trustworthiness of His promise to bring an end to all human sickness and suffering in His due time.—Isaiah 33:24.
Is it not comforting to discover that instead of causing suffering, our heavenly Father gives “good things to those asking him”? (Matthew 7:11) What glory it will bring to the Most High when the eyes of the blind are opened, the ears of the deaf are unstopped, and the lame walk, jump, and run!—Isaiah 35:5, 6.
Satisfying Our Spiritual Needs
Jesus declared: “Man must live, not on bread alone, but on every utterance coming forth through Jehovah’s mouth.” (Matthew 4:4) Yes, our spiritual needs are satisfied when we read God’s Word, the Bible, and conduct our lives in harmony with it. Consulting spirit mediums does not truly satisfy our spiritual needs. Indeed, such a practice is explicitly condemned in what Allan Kardec referred to as the first revelation of God’s law.—Deuteronomy 18:10-13.
Many, including spiritists, recognize that God is the Supreme Being, eternal, infinitely perfect, kind, good, and just. But the Bible reveals much more. It discloses that he has a personal name, Jehovah, which we must honor as Jesus did. (Matthew 6:9; John 17:6) It portrays God as a real person with whom humans can enjoy a close relationship. (Romans 8:38, 39) Reading the Bible, we learn that God is merciful and that he “has not done to us even according to our sins; nor according to our errors has he brought upon us what we deserve.” (Psalm 103:10) Through his written Word, the Sovereign Lord Jehovah reveals his love, supremacy, and reasonableness. He is the One who guides and protects obedient humans. Getting to know Jehovah and his Son, Jesus Christ, “means everlasting life.”—John 17:3.
The Bible provides all the information that we need about God’s purposes, and it tells us what we must do if we wish to please him. A careful examination of the Bible provides true and satisfying answers to our questions. The Bible also gives us guidance as to what is right and wrong, and it provides a solid hope. It assures us that in the near future, God “will wipe out every tear from [mankind’s] eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things [will] have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3, 4) By means of Jesus Christ, Jehovah will free mankind from inherited sin and imperfection, and obedient humans will inherit eternal life on a paradise earth. At that time, both their physical and spiritual needs will be completely satisfied.—Psalm 37:10, 11, 29; Proverbs 2:21, 22; Matthew 5:5.
a For a discussion of how sin and death originated, see chapter 6 of the book Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
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DOES THE BIBLE TEACH REINCARNATION?
Is the doctrine of reincarnation supported by any Bible texts? Consider some of the scriptures that believers in this doctrine have used:
“For all, the Prophets and the Law, prophesied until John . . . He himself is ‘Elijah who is destined to come.’”—Matthew 11:13, 14.
Was John the Baptizer Elijah reborn? When asked: “Are you Elijah?” John clearly answered: “I am not.” (John 1:21) It had, however, been foretold that John would precede the Messiah “with Elijah’s spirit and power.” (Luke 1:17; Malachi 4:5, 6) In other words, John the Baptizer was Elijah in the sense that he carried out a work comparable to that of Elijah.
One of the apostles later wrote: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Peter 1:3, 4, Revised Standard Version; John 1:12, 13) Clearly, the rebirth that Jesus referred to was a spiritual experience that would occur while his followers were still alive, not a future reincarnation.
“When a man is dead, he lives forever: when my days of existence on Earth have finished, I will wait, seeing that I shall return again.”—A “Greek translation” of Job 14:14 quoted in The Gospel According to Spiritism.
The Revised Standard Version renders this verse: “If a man die, shall he live again? All the days of my service I would wait, till my release should come.” Read the context of that verse. You will see that the dead await in the grave for their “release.” (Job 14 Verse 13) While waiting, they are nonexistent. “A man that has died is utterly gone; and when a mortal is fallen, he is no more.”—Job 14:10, Bagster’s Septuagint version.
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The resurrection hope reveals God’s deep interest in us as individuals
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God will bring an end to all human suffering