And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. (Matthew 14:26)
About two thousand years after Jesus walked on water, many people including Christian disciples can be afflicted with the fear of ghosts. As All Saints Day Evening, popularly abbreviated Hallowe’en, approaches, let’s think Biblically and soberly about that eerie topic
The materialist, one who believes that only physical things exist, typically expresses contempt for even the mention of an unseen, immaterial realm and anything that might be there. His sneering position is that ghosts don’t exist, period. As Christians thinking Biblically, we can’t establish a “theology of ghosts” based on the materialist’s myopic presuppositions.
Against the materialist we insist that there is indeed an unseen realm (what he might call the supernatural) and that God has revealed all we need to know about it for our present good.
At the other end of the spectrum is the superstitious person. He acknowledges the unseen realm, but lacks discernment about it. Events in his life coincide in an unusual way. He sees or experiences something very strange. He might attribute these things to divine intervention, to demonic mischief, or to the visitations of aliens from the Andromeda galaxy. He has no difficulty believing that the spirits of human beings who have passed away can appear at will and interact with those still in the flesh.
To help guide that person out of fear and ignorance, we might ask questions like,”Why are the activities commonly attributed to ghosts done by those ghosts?” Or, “If all who depart this earthly life go to a better place as is commonly believed, why would they want to keep hanging around in this worse place, apparently with nothing better to do than frighten those who are still here?”
Simply declaring to a materialistic or superstititous friend that he is fundamentally wrong will likely accomplish little. Asking him probing questions might be a little more fruitful. But ultimately, the application of the word of God in the power of the Spirit of God is the only hope for one lost in either materialism or superstition.
So exactly what as Bible believers can we say about ghosts? Let’s consider a few passages.
“There shall not be found among you anyone who [among other things] calls up the dead*. For all who do these things are an abomination to the LORD…” (condensed from Deuteronomy 18:10-12)
In Luke 16, Jesus tells of a rich man and Lazarus who begged at the rich man’s gate. Both men died. Lazarus went to the pace of comfort and bliss called “Abraham’s bosom” and the rich man to a dark place of torment called Hades. Much could be said about this passage, but for our purposes note this well: although the rich man desired that his brothers be warned about the misery that awaited them if they did not repent, he apparently was not able to warn them himself. He appealed to Abraham, asking him to send Lazarus to do the warning.
Abraham’s answer underscores the truth that God’s word is the most powerful persuader: “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.” (Luke 16:31)
On the other hand, the lot of believers who depart this earthly life is depicted by Lazarus’ afterlife and is expressed at 2 Corinthians 5:8. “We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” In Hebrews 12:23 departed saints are described as “the spirits of just men made perfect.”
Consider this: would a person perfected in holiness, enjoying unbroken and unhindered communion with God, the holy angels, and all the other saints in pure light have any interest in dealing with us who are as yet full of corruption and living in a fallen, corrupt realm? Would they even be able to do so?
In at least one extraordinary instance, two men who had departed this life appeared back on Earth for a very brief time. This was of course at the event known as the Transfiguration. Moses and Elijah appeared in glory on a mountain which Christ and three of His disciples had ascended. Matthew (ch. 17), Mark (ch. 9), and Luke (ch. 9) all record this amazing, singular event. It is very significant that all three inspired Gospel writers are careful to say that although Elijah and Moses were SEEN by the three sin-corrupted disciples, they SPOKE only with Jesus the sinless One, appearing temporarily in glory Himself.
So to sum up, the wicked dead cannot communicate with those on Earth. It is unlikely that the just, now perfected in spirit, have any desire to do so. Meanwhile God has commanded those on Earth not to make any attempt to communicate with the departed, and in at least one case we can read of the disastrous results of disobeying that command. (Cf. 1 Samuel 28:6ff and 1 Chronicles 10:13.)
Meanwhile, the word of God tells us that “…satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.” (2 Corinthians 11:14). It is reasonable to infer that he and his fallen angels, all who hate God and mankind, have the ability to impersonate the dead in their arsenal of deceit. With their superhuman knowledge and faculties, they are probably able to do so effectively. Preying upon susceptible minds and perhaps even with some limited ability to manipulate matter (as in the book of Job, strictly under God’s control) the evil one and his servants convince humans that they have seen, heard, or felt ghosts.
Jesus taught that the devil “…was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.” (John 8:44). That ancient serpent, arch criminal that he is, only seeks to kill and destroy, and to supplant faith with terror and confusion…to frighten God’s sheep.
Be a Christian ghostbuster. Cry it out loud with faith, “I ain’t ‘fraid o’ no ghost!”
Previously published elsewhere in two installments, May A.D. 2016