GHOSTS? (Part Two)
(This discussion of ghosts and the Bible is a reply to some questions I received from members of my congregation. In Part One, I discussed what Scripture says about the possibility of ghosts and also the incident in I Samuel where the Witch of Endor appears to summon the spirit of Samuel. I know there are unChristians who read this blog and this discussion is sort of “inside baseball;” I’ll be back to posting more accessible stuff on Friday. In the meantime, comments from everyone – whether you agree or disagree – are welcome.)
God is also at work in the other Biblical “ghostly” appearance. At the Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus. Again, far from being an indication of what we think of when we talk about ghostly hauntings, the text makes it obvious that this is something exceptional.
Besides these two extraordinary, God-guided incidents, there is simply nothing else in the Bible that would support the existence of ghosts. God’s Word is consistent in teaching that after a person dies, they are gone from the body and from this world, residing somewhere in some state (where and in what state are beyond the scope of this topic) until the Last Day.
So what about those who see or hear or otherwise experience “ghosts?” If these phantasms are not the spirits of dead people, what are they?
There are several explanations that would be consistent with the witness of Scripture. First, it could be that those who witness such an apparition are simply mistaken. There might be natural phenomena that can explain what they see. Or perhaps they are grieving and miss a loved one so much that they experience his/her presence in some way.
There are those who believe that when folks become aware of the presence of a deceased loved one, God is somehow giving them a sign that the person they miss is safe with God. I would never say that God doesn’t do something or couldn’t do something, and that is certainly in line with something a loving, gracious God might do. This is particularly true when that presence is experienced in a dream, as there are many examples in Scripture of God communicating with people in their dreams.
A more disturbing possibility is that at least some so-called ghosts are demonic deceptions. We know from the witness of Scripture that Satan and his followers (demons or “fallen angels”) are liars. Their goal is to confuse and scare and cause people to distrust that God loves them or that God even exists. In 2 Corinthians 2:11, Paul encourages believers to forgive “in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.”
There are plenty of Scriptural warnings about these spiritual deceptions. For example:
1 Timothy 4:1
The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.
2 Corinthians 11:14-15
This does not surprise us. Even Satan changes himself to look like an angel of light, So it does not surprise us if Satan’s servants also make themselves look like servants who work for what is right. But in the end they will be punished for what they do.
2 Thessalonians 2:9-10
The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.
The reality is that there is a war going on between good and evil, between God and Satan. As God’s people in this spiritual conflict, it is important for us to dismiss anything of a spiritual nature that does not have the support of Scripture. I believe that Scripture teaches that “ghosts” are not of God (except for the two special occasions in the Bible).
We are clearly warned not to mess with the supernatural. For us, there is only danger:
When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery,interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the Lord your God. The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the Lord your God has not permitted you to do so. (Deuteronomy 18:9-14)
The real danger is to our relationship with the God who loves us and, because He wants only what is good for us, desires our complete trust. Like all of God’s “rules,” this one is for our benefit. When we run off after ghosts and fortune tellers and the like, that trust is eroded and we move farther away from God. Although we might enjoy being scared by fictional “ghost stories” in books and movies, we must be careful that we do not fall into the deception that such things are real or that they are in any way of God.
(All Scripture quotations are from the NIV.)