Should You Believe in Ghosts?
Popular Culture and Ghosts
In today's Science-guided world that purports to be sophisticated and mature, there are literally millions of people who believe in ghosts. In the United States alone, a recent study indicates that 45% of Americans believe in ghosts or that people's spirits can return from the dead.
Many people have claimed to witness paranormal activities and there are those who actually hunt ghosts for a living or are considered paranormal experts. And it is interesting that the Travel Chanel on television has a show entitled: 'America's Most Haunted Places'.
Ghosts are depicted in all sorts of books and movies today such as older stories like 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens which included the spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge's old partner Jacob Marley who wandered the earth in chains because of the evil he'd done in life. This same story also included the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future.
There are cartoons and movies like 'Casper the Friendly Ghost', and a movie simply entitled 'Ghost'. There is also one named 'Ghost Busters'. And there are horror films such as 'A Nightmare on Elmstreet' with evil ghosts like Freddie Kruger. And what paranormal movie lover could forget 'Friday the 13th', a slasher film about a boy, Jason, who drowned due to the negligence of some teenage camp counselors. Years later he comes back to seek his revenge. It later had eleven sequels that could fill our nightmares for years to come.
Of course, there are other popular books and movies that we could name. However, these are a representation. But when it comes down to the facts, the truth is that all of these books and movies had one thing in common. The paranormal persons that were featured were once living people, who for one reason or another, were wandering this earth because of unfinished business or some job that they had to accomplish.
The question is, are ghosts real? Does the Bible accept the existence of these disembodied persons wandering the earth waiting to encounter the living? Let us take a look at the Scriptural evidence, or lack of it, for ghosts.
I. The Dead Have a Destination
1. Before Christ's Resurrection
The Bible doesn't teach that people stay on earth and haunt the living. Rather, throughout the Bible, we read that the dead go to a specific place outside this world, separated from those who remain living in their bodies on the earth.
Having come from a pagan world, no doubt there were many different beliefs amongst the common Israelite man or woman regarding an afterlife. And if you look to the New Testament you see people, such as the Sadducees who didn't believe in life after death at all.
However, the Old Testament seems to indicate, even as early as the book of Job, that there is an afterlife and a resurrection to come. Job, in his misery, proclaims his faith in 19:25-27 when he says:
"As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, And at the last, He will take His stand on the earth. "Even after my skin is destroyed, Yet from my flesh, I shall see God; Whom I myself shall behold, And whom my eyes will see and not another. My heart faints within me!"
After death and before the resurrection, the dead are said to go to a place called Sheol. Sheol simply means 'the place of the dead and many believed that Sheol was separated into two compartments: the place of the righteous dead and the place of the wicked. This appears to be Jesus' teaching when he talked about the rich man and Lazarus. We can read this story in Luke 16:19-31. Here is what Jesus said:
"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.
The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’
But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
We can glean several things from our Lord's story. We read of Jesus talking about Hades, which is the Greek equivalent of the Old Testament word for Sheol. Before Christ’s resurrection, this passage shows Hades to be divided into two realms: a place of comfort where Lazarus was, and a place of torment where the rich man was. The word which is rendered hell in some translations and found in verse 23 is not the word “Gehenna” ( a place of eternal torment) but “Hades” (a place of the dead). Scripture does teach a final destination that is eternal for both the righteous and the unrighteous. But Hades here is the place where those go after death and before the final judgment.
In Luke 23:43 Lazarus’s place of comfort is called Paradise. Between these two districts of Hades is “a great gulf fixed” (Luke 16:26) and a person on one side cannot pass to the other.
2. After Christ's Resurrection
After the resurrection of Jesus, during this time, called the Dispensation of Grace, in which we now live, there is a major change for those who know Christ as Savior. Rather than being in Hades, Paul tells us that if we are absent from the body, we are present with the Lord (II Corinthians 5:8). Jesus is now in Heaven, seated at the Father's right hand (Act 2:33; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 8:1).
So believers in our Lord are in Heaven with Christ and the Scripture tells us that the dead of this Dispensation will one day return with Christ and their bodies will be raised when the Lord returns for His people in an event theologians have called the Rapture of the Church (I Thessalonian 4:13-17). It is named this because 'rapture' means to be 'caught up' and Paul tells us that we will all be 'caught up' together, starting with dead believers first, then living believers, to meet the Lord in the air.
There is nothing in Scripture that says that the unsaved dead, after Christ's resurrection, stay around on the earth to haunt the living either. As far as we know their current status is Hades or Hell. Revelation 20:12-14 tells us what will happen before the final judgment of the unrighteous dead. It states:
"And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne. And there were open books, and one of them was the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their deeds, as recorded in the books. The sea gave up its dead, and Death and Hades gave up their dead, and each one was judged according to his deeds. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death—the lake of fire."
The word Hades here could simply be referring to the grave. But if we put all of this together with what Jesus said about the afterlife, we can surmise that the unrighteous dead are in a conscious place of torment before their final resurrection and judgment. And, no matter how you look at it, they aren't roaming the earth or haunting houses.
II. Scriptural Exceptions to the General Rule
To be fair, there were at least two times that the dead had interactions with the living in Scripture. One was with King Saul who used the Witch or Medium of Endor and called up Samuel's Spirit in order to talk with him (I Samuel 28). This was not something God sanctioned. As a matter of fact, the Old Testament law forbids such a thing from happening (Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 20:27). And the medium was undoubtedly associated with demons and Satanic activity in some way. However, the incident did occur and there is every biblical indication that it was really Samuel who was speaking. However, this isn't something normal that happened every day in the Bible and you can't make a point from it that ghosts were roaming the earth, either then or now.
The other reference to the dead speaking to an individual on this earth is when Moses and Elijah met with Jesus Christ during Christ's transfiguration ( Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, and Luke 9:28-36).
About a week after Jesus told his disciples that he would die, he took Peter, James, and John up on a mountain to pray. While there Jesus' personal appearance was changed into a glorified form. His clothing became dazzling white. After that Moses and Elijah appeared with our Lord and talked with him about Christ's death that was soon to take place.
Peter, not knowing what to say, suggested that they build three shelters for them. This is, no doubt, a reference to the Feast of Booths that the Israelites were to celebrate for seven days, according to the Law of Moses (Leviticus 23:34–42). While Peter was expressing a wish to stay in that place, a cloud enveloped them, and a voice said, “This is My Son, whom I have chosen, whom I love; listen to Him!" Then, the cloud lifted, and Moses and Elijah were gone. Jesus was left alone with his disciples.
This is a special, unrepeatable incident to show Jesus' close disciples who He really was. Moses and Elijah represented the Law and the Prophets who were pointing Peter, James, and John back to Christ.
Both of these incidents are clearly exceptions to the general rule of the Bible that the dead don't come back to do things among the living. They have other places that they go.
However, there are people who will tell us that they absolutely have been to a haunted house and have seen ghosts, or have had someone from the dead communicate with them in some way. Though some could be hallucinating, there is another explanation for these phenomena.
III. Satan and His Demons Deceive Mankind
Though Scripture doesn't speak of dead humans roaming the earth without physical bodies, it does, however, acknowledge the existence of spirits. There are good Spirits called angels who are messengers and servants of God. But there are also evil spirits called demons who are fallen angels that rebelled when Lucifer fell and became Satan. Satan and his demons are alive and well and doing their best to deceive mankind and to destroy the work of God on the earth. The Apostle Paul, in writing about some people who were claiming to be Apostles and trying to deceive the Corinthians, talked about this phenomena. He said:
"For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their actions." (II Corinthians 11:13-15).
Paul also talks about Christians being in spiritual warfare when he tells the believer:
"Put on the full armor of God, so that you can make your stand against the devils' schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world's darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore take up the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you will be able to stand your ground, and having done everything, to stand." (Ephesians 6:11-13).
The closest thing to a true haunting in the Bible was during Jesus' time when a legion of demons possessed a man and used him to haunt a graveyard. This was just a normal man and not a ghost. Nor were the beings possessing him ghosts. They were Satans' demons seeking to wreak havoc on the man and the people of the area (Mark 5:1-20).
We talk about incidents like this biblical account as being things of the past. However, as God is being taken out of our society today, spirituality is not lessening but increasing. Humans are created in God's image and search for things to fill the spiritual void in their life that is left when the Creator is removed. From tarot cards to horoscopes to mediums to seances and much more, people will seek out the supernatural. And Satan is more than willing to fill the gap with false religions and false spiritual experiences.
Even the seemingly good things that come from these miraculous events are Satan's way of deceiving humanity into replacing God and not bringing Him glory. For instance, sometimes you hear of mediums who are used by police to locate someone who has been lost or to help solve a murder. These are things that make these people seem legitimate. But they are actually persons who have powers from the Devil and not the God of the universe.
Of course, there are those out there who claim to be true mediums who are just faking it for the money or the fame. However, those with true abilities are not really speaking to the dead and have no true psychic power of their own. Rather, their power comes from demons or evil spirits from Satan.
And any ghostly activity, from the haunting of houses to people communicating with their dead relatives and finding out that they are doing all right in the afterlife, are not true communications with the dead but are also people talking to demons who are passing themselves off as that person they love. We must be careful that we, as God's children, are not deceived into trusting anyone or anything other than the Lord Himself and His Word.
Harry Houdini was a Hungarian-born American illusionist and stunt performer who was known for his great and sensational escape acts. He escaped easily from handcuffs, chains, ropes, straight jackets underwater and all sorts of things where you'd never expect him to get out of. Once he even allowed himself to be buried alive and just barely was able to claw himself to the surface, emerging in a state of near breakdown.
Before he died, Houdini told his wife that, if it were possible, he would find a way back. He even gave her a special code that only he and she would know for him to let her know that it was actually him speaking to her. The communication code from Him was the secret way a magician would pass information to his assistant during a mentalism act. The words which Bess should have gotten when she had deciphered the code from Harry were: "Rosabelle believe." Rosabelle was the name of the song that Bess had performed onstage when they first met.
So for ten years, his wife would try to contact Harry on the anniversary of his death. After ten years of seances, Bess never heard the code with the special phrase that it contained. Nor did she hear anything else. That last year, in 1936, on the roof of the Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood, California, Bess Houdini abandoned her quest and proclaimed one last time: "Good night Harry!"
But that hasn't stopped other people from trying to contact him from beyond the grave every year since the illusionist's death in 1926. Seances by true believers are held on October 31st in order to do this. And he never responds.
Our world is full of people looking for hope in an afterlife. They are searching for signs that this world isn't all that there is and that life continues even after our bodies no longer function. They'd like to think that Ghosts are with us and can tell us about life after death. And Satan is doing all that he can to make sure that they are fooled by his tricks, in order to keep them from the truth.
People are looking for what can only be found in a relationship with Jesus Christ. He is the one who died on the cross for our sins. Then He rose from the dead three days later and will one day return as King of Kings and Lords. And because of Him we too can live eternally. We will live, not as disembodied ghosts, but as Sons and daughters of the living God with new bodies that are like our Lord's glorious body.
We who know the Savior can help others by telling them that they too can have the hope of eternal life through Jesus. He is the answer to all of their spiritual needs. And He is the only hope beyond the grave.
Someone once said that if you had the cure for cancer, it would be immoral not to share it. Well, we have the cure for the eternal cancer of the soul- sin. And the name of the cure is Jesus! Let us not be afraid to speak His name to all that we meet. Because people ultimately don't need to call Ghostbusters for their problems. They need to call upon Jesus Christ!
© 2019 Jeff Shirley