Worship with the Lion 1 Into the Wardrobe: Why We Like “Magic Thinking”

by Rev. Doug Gray

Welcome to Narnia! Narnia is a magic place with animals that talk and a story that draws us in. Narnia is a place where it feels like anything can happen. It’s a fabulous thought—isn’t it?—that we might open a wardrobe and find ourselves in a place like Narnia. It fires our imagination. We begin to think, “What if?” Perhaps we begin to let go of the rules of our world, to try to understand the way this other world works. If the author is a good one, by the time she or he is done, we will understand ourselves and our world a bit better. Magic is just one tool for C.S. Lewis to help us understand there are different rules.

The Bible makes a very clear distinction between faith-thinking and magic-thinking. Faith-thinking is about a relationship with God through Jesus. Because of their trust-relationship with God, some people discover they have power beyond what people in this world expect. I have met some people who have been healed in ways that shouldn’t have happened. One of my grandfathers talked about praying that God would take away his craving for nicotine, and it was gone…and never came back. Faith trusts that God listens when we ask, and will give us what we need. It’s not magic. It’s faith.

Magic-thinking in this world is the idea that someone can make the universe do what they want with a motion or a word. When I was a boy, I remember being really bored sitting at stop lights. I thought I could make the light change. I would wind up and throw my hand at the light and say, “Change!” Or I would really want the elevator to come, and I would try to predict which door would open. It didn’t really work for me. The lights were on timers and the elevators came when they were ready. That’s the way Simon Magus is thinking in our passage for today—he tries to buy the power of the Holy Spirit so that he can make money giving people the power of God. He thinks the Holy Spirit is magic, and he’s wrong. This kind of magic-thinking believes we can tell the universe, to tell God what to do.

Some people try to use that kind of thinking in the guise of faith. If you say this special prayer, then you’ll get whatever you want. If you start this program in your church, then you will have an amazing Sunday School. If you read this book, then you will unlock the power of God. It’s really just another way to try to make God do what we want God to do. We like magic-thinking because we like the idea of being in control.

Faith recognizes that God is in control. Faith understands that we can’t make God do anything, but that when we walk with God, good things will come. Growing in faith is learning to trust that Jesus is who he says he is, and can change things in ways we will find amazing. But we can’t make it happen—only be in the place with the One who can make it happen. In fact, the challenge of Impact Squantum and the visioning process we have been working together is that we are having to learn about our life with God, having to learn more how to really trust God with the very practical pieces of our lives. It’s one thing to say, “I believe in God,” and it’s another to trust God with our finances.

Some people think of the Bible as another fantasy book, in which things happen that don’t happen in the real world. To this way of thinking, Simon Magus and Simon Peter would both be demented—Simon Magus thinking that there’s magic, and Simon Peter that there’s a Holy Spirit. Magic doesn’t work, not really. But we are drawn to worlds of imagination like Narnia, because we are seeking something more—the possibility of relationship beyond what we can see and touch, and yet somehow part of them too. What if Jesus didn’t just die long ago, but lives with us all the time? If only we could imagine the reality of Jesus that could change all of reality… Not magic…faith.