Saint Paul exhorts us not to be led astray by “an empty, seductive philosophy according to the tradition of men.” Such traditions promise to unlock for us the “elemental powers of the world,” but Paul warns us that they do not reveal to us the true nature of the world we live in, which can only be found in Christ (Col 2:8). Both in Paul’s time and in our own day, there are many systems of knowledge that claim to unlock “the elemental powers of the world.” Those who claim to be initiated into magic and the occult claim to harness and manipulate the “elemental powers of the world” for their own purposes. From its earliest days, Christianity has rejected all such magic as opposed to the logic of the love that Christ reveals. In Acts 8, Simon Peter rebukes Simon the Magician who thinks that he can purchase from Peter the secret to “controlling” the Holy Spirit. In Canto 19 of his Inferno, Dante makes reference to what Christians believed happened next after the scene that we read about in the Acts of the Apostles. Simon the Magician, wanting to outdo Simon Peter through magic, returns to him flying with the help of elemental spirits. But Simon Peter prays and Simon the Magician crashes, and, in Dante’s version, descends into hell, where he languishes upside down, in a perpetual crash from the elemental power that the magician claimed to control.
Today, the temptation of magic does not compete with Christianity in quite so direct a manner as it did in the days when Christianity was first being proclaimed. But the temptation to “cut a deal” with “hidden powers” instead of seeking our life in Jesus Christ continues to exercise a potent influence over many people. Many people approach sexuality and romance in this “magical” way, imagining that having this or that experience with this or that person will change everything and make their life into some sort of a revelation of something hidden deep within the “elemental powers of the world.” This type of thinking pervades many movies, songs, and TV shows that might seem otherwise harmless. But they hold up before us false gods, false ways of living, and ideologies that promise the world, but only offer chains. It is no surprise that what these ideologies claim to offer often go by the name of “love,” since God is Love. But it is ultimately a defective love, just as the ideology itself makes for an ultimately cruel god.
The truth of the world is revealed in the flesh of Jesus Christ, “for in him dwells the whole fullness of the deity bodily” (Col 2:9). It is Christ “who is the head of every principality and power” (Col 2:10) and who reveals to us that true Love that creates, redeems, and sustains the world through his life, death, and resurrection. There are false loves as there are false gods. Let us not try to cut deals with the “elemental powers of the world” in pursuit of some selfish advantage, but let us follow the path of the “Lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev 13:8), for he is the true God who reveals to us true life and true love and shares this fullness with us (Col 2:10).