Do ghosts exist?
That was the question in the Thir.st office the other day. An intern had shared about his experiences of waking up with inexplicable scratches on his back for almost a whole year. We ruled out a number of logical explanations for the scratches and wondered if these disturbances could be spiritual in nature. (Final answer: No, it was just faulty bedsprings.)
That got us talking about things like deliverance and spiritual open doorways. As more of us began sharing about our own experiences with the supernatural, it became clear that these encounters weren’t as rare as they seemed.
One often felt a heavy presence in a certain spot of the house at night, while another owned pets that had gone crazy and died on the same night.
Even our editor shared that the alarms would trip with the security feeds showing a dark figure passing through, upon which someone then suggested it could’ve been the ghost of a fallen Japanese soldier from WWII.
Could that really be true? Can the soul of a dead person hang around on Earth to haunt the living?
I’d wager the vast majority of us have had such experiences. I’ve personally heard rows of padlocks whirring in my army bunk at night before, and I’ve seen a ghostly white woman approach me as I rested in an abandoned room at an Air Force base.
Are experiences like these really the products of ghosts – that is, dead people?
It’s something we don’t have to avoid talking about, because the last thing we want to do in our lives is cede ground to fear, especially unfounded fears. Ideally, we want a life lived in the perfect love that casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).
So just to spare you the suspense and state it upfront: From our reading of Scripture, dead people do not come back to haunt the living. It’s a commonly-held belief, but it’s a myth that needs to be debunked.
What is real, however, is the presence of evil spirits in this world.
The best question to always start with: What does the Bible say about this?
A helpful starting point to our discussion is, “What happens to our soul when we die?” Some people believe the soul sleeps, pointing to examples like Lazarus (John 11:11), or the dead girl who Jesus raised to life (Mark 5:35). They were all “asleep” before being resurrected.
While that view of the afterlife may make for a compelling initial reading, I don’t buy it. Instead, I agree with John Piper that sleep as mentioned in the Bible is “simply a description of death by a softer picture of what it actually looks like“.
Piper picked two Scriptures that seal the deal for me. The first comes from Paul’s famous words in Philippians 1:21-23, “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me. Yet which I shall choose, I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”
“Be with Christ.” That to me, connotes a sense of being present — of being fully conscious of where one is and with whom. Piper himself writes that Paul “calls it ‘gain’, not because he is going to go unconscious and have zero experience for another thousand years, but because he goes into the presence of Christ”.
The departed, be they kindly or evil in life, do not come and go as they please in death.
The second example Piper offers is also the story I had been thinking about: Lazarus (different from the one in the Gospel of John) and the rich man. Both men died, and were transported to their separate lots in the afterlife — fully conscious, fully present.
What really stands out to me are the great spiritual boundaries in effect. We read of “a great chasm … set in place” (Luke 16:26) which at least suggests to me that a soul’s freedom of movement is not something that happens across the afterlife to earth, or vice versa.
What I am saying is that the departed, be they kindly or evil in life, do not come and go as they please in death.
The Word says that “each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12), which leads me to believe that upon death, we have an infinitely more important and pressing thing to do than to hang around and guilt-trip relatives or haunt army camps.
Trauma, injustice or pain are not strong enough to keep one’s soul lingering on earth after death.
So that’s strike one against the notion of lingering souls.
As I chatted with our editor about this, just for discussion’s sake, he brought up the example of Saul and the Witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28). TL;DR: Saul was in trouble, desperate and got a witch to summon the spirit of Samuel.
For some, there may be a troubling implication here in that, if folks from heaven can be summoned up, who’s to say folks from hell can’t? Was the spirit of Samuel a demon or the prophet’s ghost himself?
But given that everything the spirit of Samuel told Saul (1 Sam 28:16-19) actually came to pass, there is little reason to think the familiar was in fact a disguised demon. Here is the Benson commentary on verse 19:
“Now as no evil spirit or impostor of any kind could possibly know these particulars, which were all exactly accomplished next day, nor even Samuel himself, unless he had been divinely inspired with the knowledge of them, it is surprising that any person should imagine that this appearance of Samuel was either a human or diabolical imposture; for it is evident it could only proceed from the omniscient God.”
I believe that this episode was a one-off sanctioned by the Most High God, and had little or nothing to do with the witch’s powers. I believe only God has the ability, if He so wishes, to transport souls from the afterlife to the earth.
The example I’m thinking of here is Moses and Elijah – one long dead, the other many centuries after he’d been taken up into the heavens – appearing momentarily before Jesus to Peter, James and John before vanishing again (Matthew 17:3, 8).
As I read this chapter I wasn’t scared. Instead imagining what this holy manifestation must have been like produced a good kind of fear in me — reverential awe at an awesome God.
“As the cloud fades and vanishes, so he who goes down to Sheol does not come up; he returns no more to his house, nor does his place know him anymore.” (Job 7:9-10)
Ghosts do not exist, but evil spirits do.
The Adversary is out to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10); his fellow fallen angels have the same agenda. So I wouldn’t put it past demonic spirits to ride on ghost stories, myths or spooky traditions in order to perpetuate a culture of fear.
Nor would I discount them from impersonating people, even loved ones to wreak havoc and bring maximum fear to the lives of people. Remember, “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).
Sounds pretty bad, right? Well, the good news is that we are not at the mercy of the demonic forces — not when we have Jesus on our side. If you believe in Jesus, you are not a helpless protagonist in a horror film. Instead we are adopted as sons and daughters of the Most High God (Galatians 3:26).
We are priests and kings (Revelations 1:6)! That means we can appropriate the Blood of Jesus and cast out that which defiles and disturbs, in the name of Jesus.
God through His Son Jesus, has given us the “authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy” (Luke 10:19). What a relief to know we have this powerful promise that nothing will harm us — one guaranteed by the Undefeated King.
Continue to exercise your authority as a king from the Kingdom in your home, in Jesus’ Name. A house that is often tidied and cleaned up is a clean house.
If you have a lot of fear in your life, it’s likely because you’ve been feeding it.
Here are some ways we feed fear: Ungodly beliefs, like being afraid of the ghosts of loved ones. Open doorways, like a passion for horror and gore films. Things like charms you’ve kept around for “good luck”. Persistent defilement through religious artefacts within your home.
These “little things” slowly widen the holes for dirty water to leak through, so that before you know it, you’re swimming in a pool of snakes.
The answer is that we need to guard what we let in through the doors of our minds and houses, and we need to strive to abide in Jesus. You fill your house with bad things, you get a bad house. You fill your house with good things, you get a good one.
Continue to exercise your authority as a king from the Kingdom in your home, in Jesus’ Name. A house that is often tidied and cleaned up, is a clean house.
The next time you ever feel fear, remember that you are a child of God – Your Father runs the universe.
Remember Paul’s counsel: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me — put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9).
The God of peace with us. That’s a pretty awesome promise to think about! So the next time you ever feel fear – maybe the next time you encounter some of the eerie experiences we started this story with – remember that you are a child of God. Your Father runs the universe.
“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!'” (Romans 8:15)
You can trust in the unfailing protection and love of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit within you will never lose to anything (1 John 4:4).