Last Friday we held our usual monthly services at the nursing-homes. During the morning, I phoned the nursing-homes to make sure they were expecting us. Since last month a new matron had been appointed. She came to the phone; I explained who we are; she assured me that everything would be ready for us when we arrived. Then she hesitated. “There is something else you might be able to help us with,” she said. “There have been some very strange incidents at the home recently. Could you spare a few minutes to talk? I’d like to have your input”.
“Of course,” I said. “What sort of strange incidents are these?”
So she began to explain to me that a few days earlier, one of the staff had heard a loud groaning coming from one of the rooms. She’d assumed it was one of the patients in pain but when she went to the room, it was empty. But since then, this groaning has been heard all over the home. All the staff have heard it. And at nights, staff have heard crying though all the patients have been asleep.
“And you think these things might be supernatural?” I asked? “Well, yes” she answered.
I didn’t ask what sort of help she was hoping I might give. I guess she thought I might exorcise evil spirits from the building or lay an unhappy ghost to rest. Ministers, priests, charismatic healers – people think of us as all being more or less the same: witchdoctors called in when there’s some ‘spiritual’ problem to be solved.
Well, I strolled round the nursing-home after our service and was taken into the room where the ‘groaning’ began. Looking around the room, I made some suggestions. “Why not have the central heating system checked? Pipes can often make strange groaning noises”. I leaned out of the open window. The home is surrounded by a pleasant walled garden. Plenty of bushes and trees. “I suppose the crying noises might just be cats? Wailing cats can sound just like somebody crying”.
Clearly she was disappointed. This wasn’t the sort of counsel she was expecting or wanting. “Well, do you think it would help if we had the home blessed?” she asked. “No, I don’t think so,” I answered. “A building is just a building isn’t it? But if any of the staff are frightened or worried, perhaps it would help if I were to talk with them? You know, if a person is right with God, they have no need to fear evil spirits or anything else. So really perhaps that’s the most helpful thing I could do – to explain the way to be right with God”.
“Oh no, no. None of us are frightened,” she assured me. “It’s just very strange…”
Later on talking to the (male) staff-nurse, I made the same suggestions. He was more forthright than the matron had been. “You mean you don’t believe us!” he said. He was clearly affronted. “Well, I believe you’ve heard something,” I answered. “But I think I’d look first for a natural explanation”.
It’s not the first time I’ve been consulted about mysterious phenomena. Before now, a man has asked me to remove the curse from a ring which had been passed down through his family. Apparently, it had brought tragedy to each person in turn who had inherited it. Again he seemed puzzled when I told him that a bit of metal has no power to do anything, good or evil.
Isn’t it odd? We Bible-believing Christians are often accused of being naive and superstitious. Yet so often we’re the ones who talk in common-sense, scientific terms, while worldly people are looking for paranormal explanations for events.
Why are people so fascinated by the ‘paranormal’? Human beings have been created with an inescapable sense that there is more to the world than just the things we can see and touch. “He has put eternity into Man’s heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Man, created by God, feels the need for some force, some person, something bigger than himself to give meaning to a meaningless world. The enlightened philosophers and scientists of Athens – the Stoics and Epicureans – dismissed the traditional gods and goddesses their forefathers had worshipped. But they were never satisfied with their rationalism. They had to find something to fill the vacuum – something to worship. So they built an altar to “the unknown god” (Acts 17: 22). It’s no different today. The people of our society reject the God who is there – the one, infinite, personal, almighty Creator. But they can’t bear the thought that there’s nothing beyond the here-and-now, material world. They can’t believe that life is meaningless, dictated by Chance, coming from nothing and going nowhere. So they talk of ghosts and aliens, Ying and Yang, earth-powers and witchcraft, magic crystals and ouija boards. They’re fascinated by anything that hints of the mysterious and supernatural. G K Chesterton long ago observed that when people turn away from God, they don’t believe in nothing; they believe in anything.
It’s not only poorly educated, gullible people. Lawyers, business-men, politicians can all be vulnerable to the pull of superstition. I’ve told you before about the Prime Minister and his wife. The Times reported what they did on their summer holidays at the luxurious Maroma Hotel on Mexico’s Caribbean coast. We’re told that the Blairs visited a ‘Temazcal’, a steam bath enclosed in a brick pyramid. It was dusk and they had stripped down to their swimming costumes. Inside, they met Nancy Aguilar, a new-age therapist. She told them that the pyramid was a Mayan womb in which they would be reborn. The Blairs saw the shapes of animals in the steam and experienced ‘inner-feelings and visions’. They smeared each other with melon, papaya and mud from the jungle, and then let out a primal scream of purifying agony.
When the Blairs moved into Downing Street, a feng shui expert rearranged the furniture at Number 10. Cherie wears a ‘magic pendant’ known as the BioElectric Shield, which is filled with ‘a matrix of specially cut quartz crystals’ that surround the wearer with ‘a cocoon of energy’ and ward off evil forces. (It was given to her by Hillary Clinton) Then there have been inflatable Flowtron trousers, auricular therapy and acupuncture pins in the ear.
The prophet Isaiah looked with contempt at the false religions and superstitions of his day. The Babylonians were obsessed with their idols and magic rituals. Isaiah challenged them in the name of Jehovah to predict the future – he knew they couldn’t. He challenged them to do something, anything. He knew nothing would happen!
“Set forth your case… bring your proofs.. Let them bring them (the idols) and tell us what is to happen… Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods; do something – good or bad – that we may be dismayed and terrified! Behold you are nothing, and your work is less than nothing!” (Isaiah 41:21-24)
Demonic powers are real but they cannot predict the future. Nor can they bend the laws of nature which God imposes. Demons can attack human minds and spirits, but they cannot make one apple fall upwards! Witches and wizards, mediums and New Age gurus are all fakes and frauds.
So while others worship or dread unseen forces, God’s people have nothing to fear. I could sleep happily in a graveyard, a witchdoctor’s hut or a haunted nursing-home!
Fear him ye saints and you shall then, Have nothing else to fear; Make but His service your delight, Your wants shall be His care.
And let’s shout it aloud to the poor, deluded men and women around us:
Jesus the name high over all, In hell or earth or sky; Angels and men before it fall And devils fear and fly!