"Is... Is that magic?" Alfred stammered.
Laylah's eyes flashed, but her tone remained gentle. "No. It's the opposite of magic. ...I merely proclaim God's will rather than trying to impose my own. That is why this is the opposite of magic."
I wrote earlier that a purely literary device (a.k.a. a gimmick) such as magic or aliens needn't encourage belief or experimentation. While there are aspects of the Harry Potter books I find troubling, magic isn't one of them.
But should Christians have magic in their stories? If the magic is based on reality, then like any other sin, it's fair game--if it doesn't encourage readers in a harmful direction. It can even serve as a warning against the counterfeit miracles of magic and bring out the dictinction between true miracles and false.
Even literary magic can have useful qualities. In the Chronicles of Narnia and Tolkien's Middle Earth Stories, witches are not positive characters, ordinary humans either can't work magic at all or make matters worse when they do, and most magic is limited to naturally magical creatures such as elves. There is magic, but it's off-limits to us readers.
So the options appear to be
1. Real magic (demonically based power) presented in a way that discourages imitation;
2. Divine gifting, which may be contrasted with 1) above, and which operates at God's direction, not ours, as in the quote at the beginning of this article; and
3. "Supernatural" magic, where the "magic" is actually another set of natural laws that can be made to supersede the usual ones. In this case, the "magic" is no more evil than regular science: it may be misused, but it is neutral, a mere tool.
I don't care for the last option as a rule, though it crops up a lot. It is basically the basis for Narnian magic, though "magic" there often (especially as an adjective) means "numinous." It is also (very roughly) the explanation for magic in my short story "At the Mountains of Lunacy" (coming February 2007 in Light at the Edge of Darkness), though the proper explanation is far more involved.
I reject the quasi-naturalistic form of magic because it reinforces the dangerous modern tendency to reduce everything to formulas. "If there are natural laws, there must be supernatural laws"--and if we can manipulate phsical laws via physical machines, why not manipulate supernatural laws via supernatural machines? A lot of writing about prayer, spiritual warfare, and prophecy is an attempt to build such machines so we can take control never promised to us--but all for the glory of God, of course!
This is what magic really is: an effort to impose our will rather than God's. There's a lot of it around, even outside of fiction. In real life especially, we should be sure what we do is the opposite of magic.
Tune in next time for "It's Life, Jim, But Not as We Know It":
"Greetings, Earthling! How would you like to play 'Probe the human' on my saucer?"
"You can't fool me. There are no aliens. You're probably just a demon or something."
"I've been called worse, Earthling. Why do you say there aren't any aliens?"
"Because in his new book, No, There Aren't Any Aliens, Idiot, Rev. Whimsy proves there aren't. See, I've got the 'For Dummies' edition and everything."
"I believe the reverend is singing a different tune these days."
"Because I let my apprentice do the probing. The reverend swears like a sailor when you get the probe crosswise..."