Scripture Reference: Genesis 3, Deuteronomy 18:9, Isaiah 8:18, 2 Corinthians 11:13, Hebrews 9:27
Dancing In The LightDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | November 1, 1987
Selected highlights from this sermon
One of the central features of the New Age Movement is the pantheistic concept of reincarnation. They believe that a person’s soul migrates into another body—no one really dies. Over time, we supposedly move up the ladder of enlightenment by seeking out supernatural knowledge about past lives through people called mediums.
Beware of reincarnation and its accompanying activities—the Scriptures tell us that we are appointed to die once and face judgment.
She is better known today, not just as an actress, but as a spiritual leader, and during the past few weeks I’ve been reading some of her books that discuss her fascination with the east, her belief in reincarnation and all of the other things that are related to that particular philosophy. At first she was skeptical, she says, but the evidence became so overwhelming that she agreed eventually to go to those who had contact with the dead, and there she discovered that at one time she was a princess in Atlantis. She was an Inca in Peru, and was, of all things, a child reared by elephants in previous existences.
Shirley says the advantage of incarnation is very clear. First of all, there is no death because what happens is you keep going around and around until you get it right. Secondly, she says it also answers the problem of evil. All of us are mystified as to why God allows evil to take place in the world, and now she says she has found the answer to that because everything that happens is part of a cause-effect relationship in the universe.
In order for us to understand the doctrine of incarnation, or reincarnation I should say, what we need to do is to get a hold of three pieces of this puzzle. And what I’d like to do is to give you those pieces, discuss some of the implications and the evidence, and then we’ll see what the Bible has to say about this theory.
First of all, to understand reincarnation you must understand pantheism. We talked about this last week. Theism says that there is a God who is personal, independent of the universe, the creator of the universe. Atheism says there is no God. The final reality is matter. All that there is is what can be quantified as matter and energy. Pantheism says that the universe is primarily a spiritual place, but God is all and all is God. God is everything that exists.
So the universe is one great big unity, and problems develop when we don’t realize that unity and when we begin to make distinctions. Everything should blend into the eternal one. And along with pantheism comes the belief that we are God because we are an extension of God and we are God. To quote Shirley MacLaine, “If everyone was taught one basic spiritual law, your whole world would be a happier, healthy place. And that law is this: Everyone is God, everyone.”
So first of all, there is pantheism. There’s a second piece to the puzzle, and that is the transmigration of souls. The belief is that regardless of where your soul comes from, came from, regardless of its origin, your soul continually is in a state of evolution. Just as there is evolution in the physical world, so there is a spiritual evolution where we keep going around and around and around. Shirley MacLaine says it’s like show business. You keep doing it until you get it right. So she says, “Some may go around thirty times, fifty times, or even thousands of times, so there are these bodies that are available, and one soul is then transferred to another body in a future existence.
One part of the doctrine of reincarnation that is not stressed for Western audiences is the fact that you cannot only evolve, but you can also devolve. So if you misbehave in this life, you may turn up as a spider or a frog in the next, but nonetheless the upbeat mood of the New Age Movement is that everybody is evolving but they are always evolving in a better direction. Because we are God, and God is both good and evil, good and evil exist within us, and the evil is being eradicated as we move on from one existence to the other.
There’s a third piece in this puzzle. The first piece is pantheism. The second piece is the transmigration of souls. And the third piece is karma. Karma says that there is in the universe an unbreakable law of cause and effect, so that whatever happens to me in this life happens because of the way in which I acted in the previous existence. Karma is not God. It is not personal. It is an impersonal law built right into the fabric of things that means that whenever I misbehave, I pay. And whenever I do well, I get some breaks in a future life.
The best way to understand the doctrine of reincarnation is to think about India’s cast system. You have the Brahmin that is the highest cast, and of course, on the bottom rung of the ladder are all of the untouchables. Untouchables are not to be touched, indeed. They are not to be communicated with. They are to be shunned. They are to be shown no particular outbursts of love and mercy. And what is happening is the people who fit into these different pasts are simply living out their karma. They are getting their just desserts, considering their previous existences.
A friend of mine goes to India several times a year and he said that there are wealthy businessmen worth not only millions, but billions of dollars. And he says they will walk out of an opulent hotel, walk down the street past all the people who are dying of starvation, all of the diseased children, and they will not have so much as one single twinge of conscience. And the reason is because everyone is living out his karma. In fact, they would not want to be generous because to be generous would be to break faith with karma. Karma is working out its purposes with perfect, meticulous justice, so you would not want to be generous with someone who needed your help because you might be upsetting the delicate balance of justice.
Now, says Shirley MacLaine, she finds this theory of why things happen to people, either good or bad, much more believable and acceptable than Christianity. So when you see someone who is deformed, someone who is born with certain defects, you go to them and you say, “I want you to know that you are getting exactly what you deserve because in some previous existence that you know very little about, indeed nothing about, you sinned. There is no such thing as injustice in the universe. There is only justice. Everyone gets precisely what he has coming to him.”
Now I want you to think with me of a child who has been abused by his parents, the little boy, maybe at the age of two, burned with cigarette butts by an angry, irrational father. Perhaps a one-year old child with broken bones because of the way in which an irrational mother has treated him. He grows up rejected and hurt and alienated in his body and in his spirit. How would you like to go to that person and say, “Look, you are not the victim of injustice. You got exactly what you had coming to you. You see, in some previous existence that you know nothing about, that was kept from you by what is called the veil of forgetfulness, but there in some previous existence you were some awful person. Therefore, you are not the victim of injustice. There is no injustice. You are getting exactly what you deserve.”
Do you think that that is more acceptable than the Christian’s position? I’ll let you decide.
There are some other interesting implications. Shirley said that she discovered that in a previous existence she was at least on two occasions a man, and so she theorizes that possibly this is a metaphysical explanation for homosexuality. She said what happened is homosexuals in this life are men who were women in a previous existence and they are having difficulty, she says, in making the transition. As a matter of fact, Miss MacLaine had an interesting love relationship with a Russian man. And she theorizes that the reason that she loved him so deeply the minute she met him is that probably in a previous existence this man was her son, and that’s why she felt attracted to him right from the beginning. The implications of this for incest and other kinds of sexual relationships staggers the imagination.
Now, the question, of course, what is the evidence for this? Is there some good reason to believe that we had a previous existence? The answer that is given by Shirley MacLaine is her experiences in which she went to channelers who were able to communicate with entities that existed in previous lives, and so in this way she was able to find out who she was and what her past experiences really were.
To illustrate I think I have to tell you about another Shirley with whom I was riding on the airplane one day. And she said that she believed in reincarnation. And I asked her why and she said, “As a child I always was dreaming about a certain place in Vermont.” She said, “I knew exactly what house I had come from, I knew the family.” And she said, “Many years later on a vacation we came across the place that I had dreamt about as a child, a place that no member of our family had ever visited before.” So she said, “You see, I know now who I was in the eighteenth century.” She proceeded to give me the name of the person that she used to be.
I might say that there are other ways to interpret that data for this reason. Not only is it true that some of these people have precognition (They remember who they were in some previous existence), but many of these people also find that they know present realities. They know houses that exist today that they have never visited. They know people whom they have never met who are living today, and it’s not possible to believe that that person who has this special knowledge is also someone who is presently alive, unless they are two people.
Now, as always, what we must do is to ask the question, “Where did this idea arise? Is it new? Did it arise in India?” Well, turn with me to Genesis, chapter 3, where a lot of things had their beginning.
Genesis, chapter 3: In the garden of Eden, Satan is tempting Adam and Eve to sin, and you’ll notice what the text says. After Eve points out that she should not eat the fruit of the tree lest they die, it says in verse 4, “And the serpent said to the woman, “You surely shall not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Last week I pointed out that the bottom line that we are God originated here. This week I point out the notion that we will not die, that we keep going around in a cycle of existences and we will not die, also interestingly had its origin in Eden. But, you see, because our body dies, and nobody can dispute that, the idea arose that the soul goes on in a continual migration in that continual cycle, and there is no such thing as an abrupt change in one’s existence. There is no God who judges you. You keep going around and around and around and around until you finally get it right. Everyone wins. Hitler will win, Gaddafi will win, Stalin will win. They may need a little more time than the rest of us, but everyone wins.
Eventually, as you get on the cycle, you keep going and going, and you go around as many times as you have to go around until you finally arrive. You do it by yourself. No God, no judgment, no death. To quote the words of Terry Cole-Whittaker: “When we enter the New Age, the first thing that disappears is death, and we discover that there is no death, only life.”
Now, I have to ask this question. What does God think of the idea of pursuing previous existences? What does He think of channelers? Who are these entities that Shirley MacLaine talks about that accompany her in various experiences?
Turn with me to Deuteronomy, chapter 18. Deuteronomy, chapter 18 where God has some pointed things to say about pursuing experiences that will enable us to get a handle on so-called spiritual reality. Deuteronomy 18:9: “When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination (That’s to tell the future by occult means), one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens (There are people who want to have their dreams interpreted), or a sorcerer (who has supernatural power over other people), or one who casts a spell (There have been parents who have been known to do that for their children), or a medium (Today they are called channelers), or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For whoever does these things is detestable to the Lord,” says the Bible.
Turn to Isaiah, chapter 8. You’ll notice here there is another reference about consulting the dead. Isaiah 8:19: “And when they say to you, ‘Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter,’ should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living?” And the answer obviously is “No, they should not.” You say, “Well, what is going on then?”
If you don’t believe that Shirley Maclaine is in contact with previous existences that she has had, who is she in contact with? Well, let me explain to you what really happens. When you go to a channeller, a medium, there are spirits in the world, evil spirits, demons, who know the person who speaks through the vocal cords of the medium, so they give enough information and people say to themselves, “You know that person must be authentic because they knew facts about me that no other person would have known.” What they don’t realize is that they are speaking to spirits. You see, what spirits can do is they can imitate a person. They can imitate a person’s voice, and they know enough about certain people that they can give information that makes them appear to be whatever the people may want to believe about them. If they believe that this is another personality of a person, they can mislead people to believe that. Spirits also, however, can impersonate individuals physically through apparitions. If a person is possessed with spirits and dies, some of those spirits may actually stay in the location of where the death occurred.
A year ago exactly this month I was in Banff, Alberta at the hotel there, a beautiful hotel in Banff, and we were given information from the tourist service as you often do when you get to hotels. And in it there was an article that had just been written about this hotel in a Calgary newspaper and they included it in our folder. And in this article it said that there were two ghosts in this hotel, one on the top floor and one in a dining room. Well, I didn’t pay too much attention to it, but during the week that I was there, there was a young woman who asked that some of us who were there, she wondered whether we would want a tour of the hotel so we said, “Sure.”
Because it had many interesting artifacts from all over the world.
Then she took us to a dining room and she said, “Do you see these stairs that come down here (marble stairs)?” We said yes. She said no one is allowed to walk on them. They were all filled. Every step was filled with potted plants so there could be no walking on the stairs. She said, “What happened is this, when this hotel was built,” she said, “there was a wedding that took place here, and the bride stumbled down these stairs and killed herself and died right at the foot of the stairs.” And she said, “The ghost of this young woman comes periodically here, and manifests herself so she said, “We are not allowed to walk on the stairs.”
I said to this young woman, “Do you really believe the story?” “Oh yes,” she said, “there’s no question about it.” She said, “You can ask the people that work here in the dining hall because we have a visitation by this ghost approximately once a week. And a lot of people have seen it and verified it.”
I said to her, “Do you actually believe that this is the spirit of this young woman?” And she said, “Oh yes.” She said, “It’s the spirit of the woman who died, having fallen down the stairs.” I looked at this young woman. I said as sweetly as I was able to, and you know there are times when I can say things sweetly. (laughter) I said, “I want to tell you something. Would you like a New Testament interpretation as to what is happening here in the dining room?” And she said, “Sure.” And I said, “I want to tell you that that is not the spirit of this dead girl. This dead girl’s spirit has never returned to this hotel, not even once.” But I said, “That young woman who died at the bottom of the stairs probably was into occult phenomena. She had a spirit, an evil spirit, that now resides precisely where the death took place, and sometimes manifests itself so that it can but seen.” But I said, “It’s not a ghost. It’s a wicked, evil spirit called a demon in the Old Testament.”
She looked at me and said, “Oh, you know I like my explanation better, because I prefer the word ghost to the word demon because,” she said, “it’s a friendly ghost that is here.”
A few moments ago I told you about a woman I was riding with on an airplane who told me she was into reincarnation, and I gave her the explanation I’m giving you today, not transmigration of souls, but transmigration of demons. “Oh,” she said to me, “no, this couldn’t be demonic. I am in contact with spirits all the time,” but she said, “I have only good spirits that I communicate with.” I said, “Well, that’s interesting.” I said, “How do you tell the difference between good spirits and bad spirits?” And she said, “There are two different kinds, and I have communication only with the spirits that come to me in light.” She said, “Those spirits that are not light I have nothing to do with.”
You’ll notice that in the New Age Movement one of the key words is light. You walk in the light. You receive light. Shirley MacLaine dances in the light. And then when you die, the New Agers say, you see a bubble of light.
To get a better interpretation of this, I’d like you to turn to 2 Corinthians, a book in the New Testament. Second Corinthians 11:13, 2 Corinthians 11:13. Paul is talking about false prophets and apostles. Second Corinthians 11:13, “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their deeds.” Shirley MacLaine says that these entities are becoming her companions. These entities are demons. They are angels of light, but it is satanic light.
You know I’ve never thought that ambiguity was a virtue. I think it is possibly a virtue for politicians, but not for ministers. But I want to speak plainly so that no one misunderstands. Have you ever heard a sermon where you go home and you say, “I don’t know exactly what it is that the preacher believes.” I want to make sure that you will not have that difficulty after this morning’s service is over. So if I may say it in one single, clear, unambiguous sentence it is this: If you dance in the light with Shirley MacLaine, you are dancing in darkness on the precipice of hell. You are in communication with evil spirits, and friendly ghosts are disguised evil spirits to deceive people to get involved in the occult.
Now, what does the Bible have to say about death? I’ve been asking you to turn to a lot of passages. Just one more today: Hebrews, chapter 9. Hebrews, chapter 9. Notice how the Bible speaks directly against reincarnation. You don’t see it going around and around and around until you get it right. Notice what is says in Hebrews 9:27, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes the judgment…” Notice that you die once. Your soul is separated from your body, but your body is later resurrected so that you again become a unity. You will never become another person. Nobody has ever spoken to a dead person. No one has ever spoken to your grandmother. No one has ever spoken to your uncle. Not one has ever spoken to Houdini. (laughter) You die once and after that comes judgment.
Now, my friend, I’m glad that it’s that way. I’m afraid of karma, that impersonal force that I cannot appeal to, that law that no one knows anything about. That you could have no one come before to try to change karma’s mind, because karma is an impersonal force that relentlessly grinds out its justice in frightening ways. And I am glad that there’s a personal God. What that means is that there is injustice in the world, and I can say to that child who has been abused, “You have been dealt an injustice. It isn’t right that you suffer like this.”
There is a day coming when God is going to judge the world. And when God judges the world, everyone will be brought to account. No one will get by with anything. I’m also glad for this reason, that the grace of God can interrupt that harsh cause/effect relationship called karma. The Bible does say that whatever your sow you reap. And that certainly is true, by and large in this life. But thank God that there is a way by which that awful cycle can be broken and smashed. The New Testament calls it grace.
Many years ago there was a fellow by the name of John Newton. He was brought up in a Christian home, but at the age of six he was orphaned so he was brought up by a relative who greatly misused this boy. Beat him, whipped him, made life so miserable, wouldn’t feed him. So when John Newton was old enough, he joined the Navy and went to Africa with the full intention, he says, of sinning to his fill. When he was in Africa he came under the authority of a slave driver, and there was a woman in charge of the entire harem who looked upon this boy as a dog. She would throw his food on the floor and he would have to eat it off the floor. He was beaten and he was whipped, and finally, because he was treated so cruelly, he lit a fire along the coast, hoping to attract the attention of a ship to get back to England, and he did. The ship master was angry with him for lighting a fire to attract attention, because the ship master has hoped that this person would have ivy or something that could be bartered. But now there was simply this young slave boy, but he took him along with anyway.
This boy by now was bitter, harsh, and wicked. He did everything on the boat that one could possibly do to make things difficult. One day he took all of the casks of rum and opened them up and gave everybody enough to drink. And the captain of the ship was incredibly angry, took him and threw him overboard, and he was actually saved when someone threw him a harpoon that created such a wound in his body that for the rest of his life he said he could put his fist right into the wound.
When the ship was on its way to England he was there in the hold of the ship when a great storm came, and all of the slaves had to try to bail the thing out. And then he remembered what his mother and father had taught him. He cried up to God and he was saved.
Now what about that man’s karma? We could look at him and say, “Well, you know the fact that he was mistreated, he was like a dog, he had it coming.” In some previous existence he had misbehaved, an existence that he could not remember. What about his future, so far as karma is concerned? Karma would say, “He was wicked in this life. He responded wrongly to those who were in authority. Probably in the next life it’s going to be just as difficult as it was in this life.” Isn’t that depressing?
But you know, because he cried up to a personal God who had mercy upon him, John Newton was converted and he wrote the wonderful words that we have all enjoyed singing so many, many times. He became a minister, and wrote:
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch; like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
We have already come.
‘Twas grace that led me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun.
Grace interrupting the cause/effect, grace coming down and saving a sinner and making him a new person! I’m glad it’s theism, not pantheism. I’m glad it’s resurrection, not transmigration of souls. And I’m glad it’s grace, not karma.
The grace of God. My friend, have you accepted that grace?
Some time ago I had lunch with a man who believed in reincarnation, and he said, “I do not want to accept the grace of God, because I want to fully and finally and totally bear my own guilt and sin. And I thought to myself, “I personally don’t want to do that.” I don’t. I’m glad for grace, the grace of God.
Have you received Christ as Savior, the Christ that changed the life of John Newton? Have you given up your attempts to save yourself and say, “In this moment I receive the grace of God that saves.”
Our Father, we ask that in these moments You will enable us to appreciate the wonder of grace. And we pray today for those who may be here who have never received you as Savior, they’ve never believed on You. They do not know the God of John Newton. We pray that in desperation, they may cry up to a Savior qualified to forgive them, welcome them, receive them, cleanse them, and break that awful cycle of cause and effect. Do that for us, Father, we pray in Jesus’ name, amen.