Giving Up the Ghost

I saw an article on the web yesterday listing the top ten haunted hotels in the United States. Apparently some people choose their vacation spot in the hopes of seeing a disembodied spirit.  

The Bible does not say much about the real possibility of the dead communicating with the living, beyond its very clear condemnation of those who attempt to make contact. The only biblical instance of such a thing taking place is found in 1 Samuel 28, where King Saul consults a medium in Endor after God stops communicating to him by the appointed means. Saul’s desperate attempt to seek advice from the dead prophet ends badly, when the ghost of the prophet actually appears and predicts Saul’s death. Reading the account, one gets the impression that Woman of Endor, who claimed to have the power to make contact, is as surprised as anyone to find that she is actually able to do so.

In the New Testament we are told that the disciples were terrified when they saw Jesus walking towards them on the stormy waters. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear (Mark 14:27). They drew the same conclusion when they first encountered Jesus after the resurrection. Luke 24:37-39 says, “They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” Some see in Jesus’ words an admission that ghosts do exist.

As an interesting footnote, the Bible translator J. B. Phillips claimed to have seen the ghost of C. S. Lewis twice. While I have yet to meet a Christian who claims to have seen a ghost, I do know many who are convinced that God allows the dead to participate in the major events of their lives. It is not unusual at a wedding, anniversary or graduation party, to hear someone remark that a deceased loved one, whose presence is sorely missed by all present, must be “looking down from heaven and smiling.” I have heard other Christians explain their good fortune by their conviction that a departed parent or grandparent “must be watching over” them.

Suppose for a moment that the dead really did have the capacity to monitor our daily lives. Why would they want to? If a thousand years by our time is like one day in heaven, the time differential alone would make our daily affairs hardly worth a passing glance. And even if they could watch, it seems to me that the spectacle unfolding before them below would either be too depressing or too tedious to bear. Surely, the saints in glory have better things to do.

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Published by

John Koessler

John Koessler serves as professor and chair of the pastoral studies department at Moody Bible Institute. His most recent book is The Radical Pursuit of Rest published by InterVarsity Press.

One thought on “Giving Up the Ghost”

  1. I do believe that non human spirits manifest themselves in various forms.

    I believe it is dangerous for humans to pursue these spirits for the sake of their own ignorant curiosity, or to seek spme form of spiritual power without the guidance and protection of the Holy Spirit.

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