Is fire-walking a supernatural phenomenon?


Do these people have spiritual powers? Is it the power of their mind? Or, is it a trick?

Oh, those amazing feats!

Signs, wonder and miracles… what the world of supernatural claims is made of. But some would-be skeptics still sound the old empiricist maxim, “seeing is believing.” In other words, they demand experience. And, experience is powerful and persuasive.

But, contrary to this stock empiricist slogan, more fundamental to the human psyche is the maxim, “believing is seeing.” As more and more people study the effects that our beliefs have on how we perceive our experiences, they are forced to acknowledge that quite often we “see” what we expect to see—that is, we see what we believe.

Experiences are tricky things. They often come without interpretations—we supply those ourselves, or we allow others to supply them for us. "Why did that happen?" "What does it mean?" These questions manifest our desire for immediate understanding, and significant meaning. But if we are not careful, we may be led in very dangerous directions.

So, let's examine the wondrous feat of fire-walking. Is it as amazing as some would have us believe? Is it a supernatural or spiritual phenomenon? Is it the power of the mind?

The popular human potential speaker Anthony Robbins says you have it, that latent mental power. He even claims that you can awaken this “giant within” by developing your mental energies through such amazing acts as walking barefoot across a bed of hot coals. So, at his conferences, the conferees line-up to try their hands—or rather their feet, as the case may be—at fire-walking. Tony claims that if you focus your inherent mental powers, you will be enabled to trek the bed of hot coals without burn or blister.

And what could be more wondrous?

Well, perhaps a lesson in physics. Seriously.

Imagine. The scene is set. The temperature gauge rises to blistering-hot temperatures. The conferees are focusing their mental energies intently. Some are nevertheless nervous; others are quietly confident. But… off they go, traversing the bed of hot coals in their bare feet. And in a moment's flash, it's all over. They did it! Look Ma, no burns, no blisters… and no wonder, either.

Certainly, the coals are very hot indeed, there is no debating that. But the questions begin to arise when we find out that coals don't conduce heat very quickly. What I mean is that a bed of hot coals may be blisteringly hot, according to the temperature gauge; but unlike other substances that could be just as hot, coals don't quickly transfer their heat. So if you hurriedly scoot your feet across those coals (no standing around, of course), you won't get burned. And no wonder…

Now, think about your oven. Let's say you want to bake some cookies. You pre-heat the oven to around 375. After the oven is pre-heated, you can stick your hand into the oven for a few moments. But the air in that oven is about 375 ! So, why don't you get burned? Simply because air (like coals) is not a good conductor of heat. But, what if you were to touch the heating element (assuming you have an electric oven)? Maybe you know what would happen. Maybe you have touched it before, by accident, I hope. Or maybe you have simply touched one of the oven racks. Without a hot-pad, we are at the mercy of searing-hot metal. And wow, what a burn.

But where is all this leading us? Patience, patience. We'll get to the punch line soon enough. Just focus your mental energies a little longer.

So, I claim that hot coals are not as dangerous as one might think at first blush. I have also claimed that when compared to a 375 degree heating element, hot coals are not so hot (at least not at first touch, and especially not if they have a layer of ash on top of them and your feet are sweaty). So, where's my proof? I have no statistics for you. No pictures. No video. But I do recommend that you not try this at home!

All I ask is this. For those who think that fire-walking is such a great feat, line up a row of skillets set to about 375, and scoot those amazing tootsies across as fast as you can. But remember… the skillets better have a non-stick surface! But, then again, don't forget my previous plea: Please don't try this at home!

Spiritual powers, supernatural phenomena… certainly, they exist; but the common feat of fire-walking is not in that category. Rather, those who claim that fire-walking is a supernatural feat are peddling the merely mysterious as magnificently wondrous. But these people are simply deceivers (and they make a lot of money at it too!).

The power of the mind indeed… to see what we believe. Or, rather, to be deceived by what we believe.

Until next time, don't be taken captive through fine sounding argument and empty deceit (Colossians 2:8). And may our great and gracious heavenly Father richly bless you as you seek to bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ Jesus our Lord (2 Corinthians 10:5).

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Author: Kevin Bywater of Summit Ministries

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