Mournful wailing wafted across the jagged rocks to the watchers waiting on shore. Her children at her side, a young mother pleaded into the wind, willing her voice to be carried to her missing husband. “Why did you run away from us? You left without even one word! We don’t know where you have gone. . .” Lost on a lone fishing outing the day before, Avi left only one tangible clue: his discharged spear gun lying on exposed reef near the shore.
Avi’s wife is not alone in her search for answers; the entire village echoes with unanswered questions. “Didn’t you notice that Avi has not been his normal self the last few days?” “Do you think a witchdoctor put a curse on him?” “Did you hear someone speaking curses over the reef the other day?” As a result, the family has contacted a “clever” (witchdoctor) to figure out who worked the black magic on Avi that caused his death and where they will find his missing body.
As outsiders in an animistic culture, we easily dismiss the thought of sorcery in cases like Avi’s death. To us it seems obvious that he met with some accident on the reef that day and died of natural causes. Why do our ni-Vanuatu friends need to assign a dark spiritual reason to such an event, tragic as it is? Can’t they accept that sometimes God allows such things to happen?
As Steve and I have discussed this situation, a few thoughts have surfaced:
1. Even if black magic was involved in Avi’s death, giving credit to the “clever” only opens a Pandora’s box of further trouble. But in spite of this, the possibility of black magic must not be flippantly rejected. Fear of God must outdo fear of the devil even as we recognise the reality of demonic powers
2. Seriously considering the possibility of Satanic involvement in such events raises our credibility among the people while intensifying our prayers. They know that spiritual forces are at war, and we know that without prayer we have no power against hosts of wickedness in high places. Our job is to remind our friends of Who has already won and how that knowledge affects our responses.
3. As Christ’s ambassadors we must point people away from the clever and his black magic and towards the loving sovereignty of God. Believing in the sovereignty of God means more than mental assent that God rules. It means bowing to God’s right to be inscrutable—accepting that God never has to explain Himself to His creatures.
4. In our home culture context we also deny God the right to be inscrutable by tirelessly seeking credible solutions to our personal hard questions. Ever had a long-term undiagnosed illness or had a loved one snatched prematurely out of this life into the next? Animistic thinking lays the blame for negative circumstances at the feet of evil spirits; secular thinking seeks a scientific answer. Minds saturated by the Bible should be humbled by the sovereign infinity of God—“how unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” Romans 11:33