Friday, October 9, 2015

Do Ghosts Exist?

Welcome to the second entry in our October mini-series on supernatural creatures. Seeing as it is almost Halloween, the timing seems appropriate. In this post, we will consider another question many teenagers and young adults have been asking recently. Do ghosts exist?

As was true of my last subject, this question has been asked for a long time and for similar reasons. Human beings have a natural urge to wonder what happens to us after death, and a desire to continue to exist in some form.

There is nothing really new about the Millennial fascination with the idea, except its inconsistency. We have an odd way of taking the claims of materialism at face value, believing “science” has all the answers (for my use of scare quotes around science, check out last week’s post). And yet, we are also very willing to believe in spiritual things. It is just that those things must not claim to be exclusive or too sure of themselves.

Approaching the Question

The logic of that type of thinking cannot hold together under scrutiny, but I have to move past it for now. Instead of explaining why ghosts cannot exist at all, I will be discussing the question from a purely biblical perspective. This is not the right place to do anything more. Suffice it to say that if the Bible says it cannot be so, then it cannot be so.

That seems overly simplistic to many people, a form of blind faith. I do not think so. The Bible has proven faithful, which is my reason for believing it. It, and it alone, has given consistent answers as to the nature of existence, human life, and historical events (most especially the resurrection of Jesus Christ). If anything disagrees with it, then I must choose between them, since a thing and its opposite cannot be true in the same way at the same time. And because I am satisfied by the Bible’s claims, I choose it and its teachings over any rival worldview.

That is the only way for me to be consistent. If you would like to debate the point, we can. I am just not getting into it here. It would take up too much space, and get us too far off track.

Ghosts in the Bible

With that said, many people claim that the Bible actually supports a belief in ghosts, and this is what I really want to focus on today. Does the Bible say ghosts exist? The answer is, “Yes and no.”

What? Did I not just say a thing and its opposite cannot be true in the same way at the same time? Then how can I say “Yes and no?” By admitting I am not talking about the same way. But before I get to that, let me quickly deal with two of the passages most often quoted as a biblical proof for the existence of ghosts.

Jesus and the Disciples

The first is Matthew 14:22-33, and the second is Luke 24:36-43. In both of these stories, Jesus’ disciples confuse Him for a ghost. And in both cases, their confusion is understandable. In the first, Jesus is walking on water, and in the second He is appearing to them after having died. However, in both, Jesus proves that He is a living, breathing, human being.

Still, many people claim, if the disciples could believe in ghosts, ghosts must exist, right? Wrong, and that is an important point. God’s people are not infallible, in thought or action. Only God is. The disciples were mistaken that Jesus was a ghost. It was an unenlightened thought on their part, and Jesus disabused them of it. The truth is that there are no ghosts of the sort they thought they were seeing.

Samuel at Endor

Which brings us back to “Yes and no,” and helps explain another biblical ghost story. In 1 Samuel 28:3-25, we find the story of the Witch of Endor. The great prophet Samuel had died at some point previous to this, and left the evil first king of Ancient Israel, Saul, without a way to know the will of God. It became a problem for Saul when his enemies, the Philistines, came against him for battle. So Saul sought out a medium in the hope that she could contact Samuel for him and tell him what God would not.

And when Saul went to the witch, Samuel did appear. He condemned Saul once again for seeking a way to work around God (which was the defining characteristic of his reign), and told him he would die in battle the following day.

This story is often used to prove the existence of ghosts, and in a way, it does. Certainly, we see that Samuel had a continued existence after death. However, what we do not see is the witch actually succeeding in bringing Samuel back to this world. Pay careful attention to verses 12-13. The witch was surprised to see Samuel. She did not expect to be successful. And though she saw him first, Saul was also able to see him soon enough. She did not have to act as the bridge between them, because Samuel and Saul spoke directly.

The old witch was a con artist. She told people that she could contact the dead, pretended to hear them, and then spoke for them to tell her victims whatever they wanted to hear, or whatever she wanted them hear. It was no different than the psychics of today. However, in this case, something did happen. A spirit really did appear, terrifying her. It was not supposed to happen. It was a miracle from God, which only happened because God allowed it, and which He used in His divine judgement of Saul. Samuel was not some disembodied spirit roaming the earth and haunting Saul. He was a living spirit sent by God in a one-time act to send the wicked king a powerful message.

This, then, leads us to the reason why I can have it both ways. Spirits do exist. The Bible says so repeatedly. Not just human spirits, but angelic ones as well, and the Spirit of God over all. We continue on after death. But we do not continue here.

Continuing after Death

The Bible is crystal clear on this. “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). When we die, we are judged. If we belong to Christ, then we go to be with Him. And we will not return, at least not until He does. Nor do we have any “unfinished business” to accomplish here. When Christians die, they really get to live. They have no reason or right to come back, until Jesus returns to establish His rule.

As for those who do not repent and accept God’s forgiveness, when they die, they are separated from all life. They continue to exist, but in the torment of total solitude. And it is a fate from which they cannot escape. They do not become ghosts, in the way we think of them, because they do not get to come back here or go anywhere else. They are trapped in the place they have chosen. Hell does not release its prisoners.

So yes, there are ghosts in the sense that there are spirits (ghost is derived from the same word as German geist, which means “spirit”). But no, there are not ghosts in the sense that there are human spirits wandering the earth in search of justice or to haunt the living. The dead don’t get to stick around.


There is, however, one last wrinkle to discuss. As I mentioned earlier, there are angelic spirits, as well. And not all of them are holy. Many are what the Bible calls demons, and there are many stories about demonic possession in the Bible. Most ghost stories are nothing more than fiction, most hauntings nothing but the wild imaginings of frightened people. However, I believe in at least the possibility of something like a haunting at the hands of the forces of Satan.

If this has happened anywhere in the world, it is not the presence of a dead human, but the presence of a very alive demon who wants people to think he was human. And in that case, it is just a game to him. The goal is to create fear that will keep people from finding peace, which is a very demonic pastime. But it is just that. There is much more evil in the world than what some think of as “hauntings.”


The true business of the darkness is to blot out the light. Wherever there is despair, wherever there is hatred, wherever there is ignorance, and wherever the darkness is loved for the chance to do evil, that is where the demons are most actively at work. If you want to be afraid of anything, fear that.

If you want to escape that fear, though, then you need to turn to Jesus. Nothing in this universe, physical or spiritual, living or dead, has power over Him. And nothing can overcome His love and promises to those who worship Him (John 10:28–30; Romans 8:35–39).

Really, the last thing you should be afraid of is the disembodied spirits of dead men, because they are not even around to do anything to you. But whatever nameless fears you have to keep you awake at night, you can be freed from them if you fix your eyes on the one who gave His life to save you. Only He can give you light and drive the ghosts away.

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