(…continued) To say there is the possibility of supernatural occurrences is not yet to define what ghosts are. The usual notion is that ghosts are the spirits of dead people roaming about on the earth— like Lenora. But this is not what the Bible says happens to us when we die. The Bible speaks not of ongoing disembodied spirits floating around, but of the eventual resurrection of the body, soul, and spirit; all together (which sounds much more appealing to me).
As for ghosts, the devil could, perhaps, create the likeness of a dead person without the involvement of any dead person’s actual spirit. God could do this also, for some good purpose, if He would so choose; as we hear sometimes when people have dreams or visions of deceased loved ones warning them of impending danger or giving them a word of encouragement. I have read what appear to be credible accounts of such happenings. God, or the devil, would have the power to create such images or visions of people. Perhaps that is what the ghost of Samuel was. We can believe that ghost-like appearances may occur, without believing that everyone who dies immediately becomes a ghost. There is no Biblical foundation for thinking that.
So my answer to the confirmation student’s often-asked question about ghosts is: #1) to acknowledge and even emphasize, our belief in supernatural powers of good and evil. This natural world that we see around is not all there is: and, #2), to maintain a healthy skepticism about most of the stories and explanations of ghosts. The Bible just does not give us enough to go on, and neither does research or personal experience. But we do get enough brief glimpses of this supernatural world, and there is plenty in the Bible to affirm the presence of “unseen things above,” (and below), to keep us aware of the possibilities.
While the subject of ghosts is not of central importance to our faith, thoughts on these unseen beings, whatever they are, do teach us some things about God’s world.
First of all, the thought of ghosts can open minds to a wider reality. We live in a time when many people are eager to eliminate God from every aspect of life— keep God out of the schools, out of politics, out of conversations, and most of all, out of science. In such a world, even a good ghost story can be a reminder of the possibility of unseen realities that deserve our attention. “It’s a ghost,” the disciples cried out in fear when they saw Jesus out on the lake. They were spending time with Jesus, and when you do that, you will get your eyes opened in all kinds of ways to these unseen realities. The disciples saw Jesus walking on water, and knew that was something out of the ordinary. But they hadn’t seen anything yet.
Secondly, any Biblical interest in ghosts will lead us into what the Bible talks about much more, angels and demons; those other supernatural beings that appear hundreds of times in the Bible, far more than ghosts. And the Bible tells us these angels and demons are forces for good and evil that attempt to influence us all. This world is not, as we might like to think, a playground. Rather, according to the Bible, this world is a battleground, and we are in the midst of this battle between God and the devil, between right and wrong, between choosing to do evil, or, choosing to do good. We are in it, and we feel it— every day. We can feel the temptations to do wrong, and, we can feel the reminders and the nudges to do what is right, just as surely as Jesus himself was tempted by the devil and strengthened by the Holy Spirit. So perhaps when you are tempted to do something wrong, or, are inspired to do something good; perhaps then there is a demon whispering in your left ear, or an angel whispering in your right ear, as my mother used to tell me. There are unseen forces for good and evil that are seeking to influence your will and your choices; if not by whispering in your ear, then in other, very real ways.
I return now to the story I began with about the librarian who works in an old building said to be haunted by a ghost. When children ask him if this is true, he does NOT say: “Of course it isn’t true, we are living in the 21st century; how can you ask such a stupid question; everyone knows there is no such thing as ghosts.” He doesn’t say that. Rather, when asked if there is a ghost in that library he says quietly, “I don’t know.” Then adds, “But if you want my opinion on ghosts in general, I will tell you this—I believe in God, and if there are ghosts, I am not afraid of them, because God is stronger than any ghost.”
That is a good answer. It acknowledges the presence of the supernatural, perhaps sometimes in the form of ghosts, but certainly and most importantly, in the existence and power of God. It is to that supernatural being, who is our kind and heavenly Father, that we can turn to for comfort and protection and hope. As for the supernatural forces of evil, the devil and whatever assistants he has or methods they use, we need not fear them; but neither ought we fool with them.
Most Christians, in most times and places over the last 2,000 years, have had an awareness of the daily blessings and dangers of the supernatural. We would be wise to also be aware.
Ephesians 6:12a — For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, and against the world rulers of this present darkness.
I Peter 5:8-9a — Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith.
James 4:7 — Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Though hordes of devils fill the land, all threatening to devour us,
We tremble not, unmoved we stand, they cannot overpower us.
Let this world’s tyrant rage, in battle we’ll engage.
His might is doomed to fail; God’s judgement must prevail.
One little word subdues him.
–Martin Luther, A Mighty Fortress is Our God, verse 3.