People are fascinated by ghosts and everyone has a ghost story. Ghosts remain one of the most popular topics for the television and film industry, including the SyFy Channel’s “Ghost Hunters” which chronicles the adventures of two real-life “ghostbusters.” What should Christians think about ghosts? Are ghosts real?
Certain presuppositions are necessary for a Christian to process the existence of ghosts. The philosophy of epistemology is the field of study that is interested in the possibility of human knowledge. How do we know what we know? Does truth exist? What is the foundation for what we have come to know and believe? The God of the Bible is a self-revealing God who has provided one of his greatest displays of grace by giving us a revelation of not only his existence, but also of his character, his intentions, and his purposes for the created world. For Christians, we can understand the truthfulness of the world only because we have been introduced to the God who created it, and then revealed it to us.
In light of this, Christians are reminded of the command in Proverbs 3:5 to trust in the Lord with all our hearts and do not lean on our own understanding. Although we typically read this beloved Proverb when we are suffering or persecuted, it is an equally powerful reminder of our tendency to substitute our own subjective experiences for the truthfulness of God’s word. The former is not unimportant, but its boundaries are limited by the latter.
As with most things, when discussing ghosts we need to begin by defining our terms. What do we mean by “ghost?” It seems the word is most commonly used to describe the disembodied spirit of a human who has passed away but returned to the earth for some purpose. The word might also be used to simply describe the presence of a supernatural being on earth. In this sense – that of the reality of a supernatural presence on earth – we can and should affirm the reality of ghosts, although we should call them by another name which we will address below. In the sense that a ghost is the spirit of a deceased human who has come back or been exiled on earth, we must dismiss the possibility as wholly unbiblical.
The Bible provides a consistent and simple pattern for the moments after a person’s death. Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Death is followed by judgment, which in turn ushers the spirit of a person into their eternal abode, that being heaven or hell. Jesus says, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Luke 16 records the immediate arrival of the rich man into the “torment” of hades and Lazarus into the comfort of Abraham’s side. Paul is confident in 2nd Corinthians 5:8 that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” The thief was promised a destination of paradise “today” by the Lord Jesus. The long list of passages overwhelmingly provides a clear picture of what happens at death – we are judged and we are placed in an eternal home.
This is significant because Scripture never provides the possibility of a human spirit breaking the boundary of their eternal destination for any purpose, and certainly not for “haunting” a particular person or place. Consider the implications of this kind of ghostly presence. For those who are separated from God in hell, the ability to break from the confines of eternal judgment in order to roam the earth would be a welcomed relief from the darkness, solitude, and torment of their unbelief. However, the devastating reality for denying Christ is the inability to find rest from “the smoke of their torment.” (Revelation 14:11). Likewise, a soul who has a desire to return to earth for a positive purpose will be denied. For example, the rich man in Luke 16 sought to issue a warning to his family of the reality of his horrific condition. He wished to go and proclaim the good news of Christ or even send Lazarus, which he suggests to God in Luke 16:27-28. But again, even for the purpose of “ghostly evangelism,” the boundaries of eternity are locked.
Friend, do you see why the Great Commission is so urgent? We have but one life to live on this cursed earth and one opportunity to make Jesus known to the nations.
This still leaves an unanswered question. How do we explain the supernatural experiences and apparent “hauntings” that so many people have encountered? Should we believe that every person who has ever witnessed the appearing of a supernatural being is delusional? From the very first “ghost sighting” until now, was every occurrence just a mistake? Were they just “seeing things?”
No, certainly not. To be sure, I think many, and let me repeat that – many – experiences are a misunderstanding or fabrication. But that can not be the sole explanation for the thousands and thousands of supernatural sightings over the years. How do we respond?
Remember, the issue is not the reality of supernatural beings. So far we have simply ruled out the possibility of human spirits returning to earth after death. We learn of spirit beings from Scripture who can have the ability to interact with humans, sometimes even in physical form, while we are on earth. These are called angels and demons. Angels are righteous and holy, faithful in serving God by serving the saints on earth. Demons are probably fallen angels who have rebelled against God and are seeking to harm and deceive all of God’s children. Deception is the key word. Demons will do anything in their power to deceive God’s people and lead them away from the truth.
It is impossible to believe the narrative of the Bible without believing in angels and demons. To deny the reality of a demonic presence on earth is to deny the “ruler of this age,” who is Satan, the ultimate deceiver. It is because of his deception that the earth is still today under a curse of sin, and it is because of that curse that Jesus Christ was placed on a cross. The hateful waging of war continues by the “father of lies,” despite the deathblow given to Satan on the cross. It is on this battleground of deception by the evil supernatural forces of the world that the experiences which are often known as ” seeing ghosts” will occur.
What about “friendly ghosts” who seek no harm and seem to just mind their own business? What about mediums who get in touch with family members for good purposes? Listen carefully to 2nd Corinthians 11:14-15 – “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.” What we must never forget is how demons seek to deceive Christians and will do that by any means necessary, even by revealing potentially true information. Yet, in the hands of the evil one, even true or partially true information can lead to deadly results.
What can we conclude?
- Human spirits cannot cross the boundaries of their eternal destination in order to return to earth. In this sense, there are no such things as ghosts.
- Supernatural beings – angels and demons – are very much real and have the ability to intersect with humanity.
- Demons are motivated by deception and will disguise themselves as “servants of righteousness” in order to lead people astray.
- God, in his great sovereignty and power, limits the ability of evil spirits to harm Christians and has dispatched angels to fight for and serve humanity.
I want to address a couple of other items from Scripture, including the witch of Endor from 1 Samuel 28, but due to the length of this article, I will address that another time, along with some personal application we can draw from these things for spiritual growth.