"How can the dead communicate with us?" Pastor Riggs repeated as he looked off into the night sky studded with stars.
After a long minute, he looked back at me. "That's another really good question, Jay. Maybe the best way to look at it is to go right back to the first mention of death in Scripture." He turned back practically to the front cover of his Bible. "God warned about death right away in Genesis 2 so we could avoid it." He ran his finger down the page.
I turned to Genesis 2 in my Bible also.
Pastor Riggs looked up. "God gave Adam and Eve a luxurious estate to live in. But, remember our earlier discussion about Satan?"
"Again, in a nutshell, long before Adam and Eve, Satan accused God of being a tyrant. Accused Him of not allowing freedom. Then Satan started campaigning among the hosts of angels God had created."
"God knew Satan was wrong. But God is ultimately fair. He doesn't force. He allowed the angels to look at the evidence and make their own choice. That was the price of freedom."
God doesn't force. That thought hit home with me. God respects our freedom. In a small way, I thought, like I respected Keyli's. It cost me. But it was the right thing to do.
"Eventually," Pastor Riggs continued, "two-thirds of the angels were loyal to God. But a third of heaven's angels chose to believe Satan. So sin and suffering would not live on and on forever, God exiled Satan from heaven."
"When God created Adam and Eve, Satan wanted to alienate them from God too, to get them to honor him. But God wouldn't allow Satan free reign to tempt them with his lies. Satan could only come to one single tree to try to convince humans that his way was better than God's. Adam and Eve could happily eat from any of the plants and bushes and trees all over that estate except for that one. And God warned them to stay away from that one to avoid death. Well, here, why don't you read verse 17."
"But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die," I read.
"So what happened?" Pastor Riggs went on. "We don't know whether it was three days, a couple years, or a century, but a few verses later Eve is standing at the one tree she was warned to avoid. And there she is, talking to a snake in that tree. In chapter 3, verse 1, the snake says, 'Hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?' Eve says they can eat from all but one. And the serpent responds in verses 4 and 5: 'Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.'"
"God said, 'You'll die if you eat of that tree.' The serpent said, 'You won't die. Furthermore, you can't trust God.' But just a minute. Who was the serpent?"
Remembering back to the earlier study, I replied, "Satan... in disguise of course."
"And what is Satan's purpose for humans?"
"He's trying to get us to go along with him. Trying to hurt God by destroying the people God loves."
"Exactly. And how does he do that?"
"Right. Take a look at John 8:44."
We each found it. When I first started studying with Pastor Riggs, it took me forever to find texts in the Bible. But I'd gotten well acquainted with Scripture over the last few months. I found John 8 nearly as quickly as he.
"Jesus is speaking here. What does He say about the devil?" he asked.
I looked at the context then read through the verse. "That he was 'a murderer from the beginning,' had 'no truth in him,' and 'he is a liar, and the father of it.'"
"So," Pastor Riggs continued, "God said, 'You'll die if you eat of that tree.' Satan said, 'You won't die.' Would you agree that the two statements conflict?"
"And the two who made the statements were God and the devil and, according to Jesus, the devil is a liar?"
"So who should Eve believe?"
"God, of course."
"So, would you say what the devil said was a lie?"
"There's something else interesting about this encounter. When was the last time you visited with a snake?"
"Can't say I ever have."
"Nor me. Snakes don't talk. Right?"
"But the snake in the Garden of Eden did. Satan spoke through the medium of a snake."
It all started coming together in my mind. "Wow! I think I'm getting the picture." I swallowed hard. "Millions believe Satan's lie -- that we don't die. Eastern religions, New Age, even a lot of Christians. They say we live on immediately after death, in one form or another."
"You hit the nail on the head," Pastor Riggs responded. "Many people think that if something is supernatural, it has to be from God. But Jesus talked about that. Look at Mark 13:22. Jesus is talking there about what will happen as it gets close to the time when He will come back to this earth."
"For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect," I read.
"Later," Pastor Riggs said, "Paul talked about the same thing. Look at 2. Thessalonians 2:9 and 10. What kinds of things does Satan do?"
"Interesting. Satan works with power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness."
"Satan can do some miracles," Pastor Riggs said, "and speaking through mediums is one of his miracles."
My eyes popped open wider. My eyebrows raised. "Great. God does miracles and Satan does miracles. How do I know which is which?"
"You're getting to the crux of the matter, Jay. John addressed that in one of his letters to the early church -- in 1.John." He turned pages. "Here. Chapter 4. Look at verse 1 -- 'Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.' But he doesn't stop there. Verse 2 -- 'Hereby know ye the Spirit of God:' In other words, here's how to know. Read verses 2 and 3."
"Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist ...." I read parts of the text silently again. "So, what's it mean to confess that Jesus Christ came in the flesh?"
"Jesus claimed to be God," Pastor Riggs said. "He claimed to fulfill the prophecies that God would become human and pay the price for all humans so they could be reunited with God. In John's day, some began saying Jesus was a good man but not God. Some said He was God but He wasn't really human. Various theories spread. But John says, if a teacher doesn't accept Jesus for who Scripture says He is, that teacher is not from God. Doesn't matter what else they say. Doesn't matter if they perform miracles. Doesn't matter if they tell you things you thought nobody else knew. Doesn't matter if things they tell you about the future happen. If they say Jesus is other than what Scripture says He is, they have a spirit other than God's." Pastor Riggs let silence hang then broke it with, "Have you heard that Jesus was just a good man? A great teacher but not God?"
"I certainly have!"
"Have you heard that Jesus is one of many gods?"
"Have you heard that humans can become gods?"
"Yes." A thought surprised me. "Hey! That was one of Satan's lies in the Garden of Eden, wasn't it? 'Ye shall be as gods.'"
"That's right, Jay. And Satan's deceiving a lot of people with it."
I shook my head, pondering the lies I'd believed.
Pastor Riggs added another question. "Have you heard that you can work your way to higher planes by your own actions?"
"Yes! And I've told a lot of others."
"When the angel announced Jesus' birth to Joseph, he said, 'Thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins' (Matthew 1:21). And, why don't you read what Peter said in Acts 4:12?"
While I was finding the text, he explained, "Peter and John were arrested for preaching about Jesus. The words in Acts 4:12 are part of Peter's comments to the very people who had them arrested."
"Neither is there salvation in any other:" I read, "for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."
"Isaiah," Pastor Riggs said, "says ALL our righteousness is as filthy rags -- bloody, putrid, stinking rags [Isaiah 64:6]. Not just one or two good things we do are worthless. All our righteousness. Every good thing you have ever done in all your life, every good thing I've done since I was born, when we list them all, it's like a stack of dirty, stinking rags."
"I can't save myself from Satan's control," Pastor Riggs continued. "The human race, through Adam and Eve, gave control over to Satan. And Satan's a deceiver. He's smarter than I am. I will forever be under Satan's control until I accept Jesus for who He is -- God who became human so He can be my Saviour."
"Do you see why Satan wants you to believe Jesus isn't everything the Bible says He is?"
"Yeah." I sighed. "If I don't choose to accept Jesus as Saviour, I'm going along with the devil."
Pastor Riggs let that sink in. Finally, he broke the silence. "Let's look at a couple more verses -- start with Isaiah 8:19."
I turned to it and read -- "And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter...." I looked up at Pastor Riggs. "Familiar spirits, wizards -- aren't those people who communicate with the dead? People who get communication from someplace other than this world?"
I went on reading. "Should not a people seek unto cheir God? for the living to the dead?"
"Why would the living ask questions of the dead? Shouldn't we seek God for answers?" Pastor Riggs paused.
"What about King Saul?" I asked. "When he wanted to talk to the dead prophet Samuel?"
We read the story in 1.Samuel 28. "Notice verse 6," Pastor Riggs said. "The story starts out saying the Lord doesn't answer Saul anymore. So whatever happened, it wasn't from the Lord."
"It was a seance," I concluded, The story reminded me of the voices I heard in a dark basement.
We turned back to Isaiah 8. "Go ahead and read verse 20," Pastor Riggs said.
"To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them."
"How do you interpret that?" he asked.
"Well," I said "looks to me like it's saying the same thing as the verses in 1.John. Look to God for answers. Don't go searching for answers among those He's told you will deceive you. In a sense, it's saying... the Bible is the standard."
"Exactly. Solomon said, 'There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death' (Proverbs 16:25). Just because something seems right, doesn't mean it is."
Silence weighed heavy. Finally my words poured over despair. "Do you realize what you're telling me?"
"I realize what I'm saying. What are you hearing?"
"Th-th-that..." The words were too heavy to enunciate. The night seemed to close in around me. I breathed deeply and sighed several times, trying to relax. "Th-th-that in my search for truth, I found deception?" Not even a breeze whispered into the long silence.
"I thought I was serving God. More than twenty years." I shook my head and sighed deeply. "Are you telling me I've been serving the devil?"
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