Tue January 23rd, 2018
Traditionally, ghost stories are a popular pastime in England. Literature is full of them, the movies are fixated on them, there are ghost walks in our cities and we all have friends who can tell a family story that may even involve their own experience.
Our culture tells us that when people die they may return to haunt us, perhaps because they had a brutal death or have unfinished business, or because of some mess up in the spirit world. This is reinforced by the stories we read and watch from childhood - Casper the friendly ghost onwards!
As a spiritual people we ought to take our guidance on this from God who is a Spirit, rather than from people who see themselves as purely educated mammals who deny him or are just trying to dodge him.
The Bible tells us that “it is appointed for people to die once—and after this, judgment”(Heb 9:27)- Please note that there is no mention of wailing and dragging round chains there.
The reality is that as Christians when we die, we are ‘absent from the body and … present with the Lord’ (2 Cor 5:8). No ghostly wanderings for us!
But what about unbelievers? Maybe they groan and rattle chains? The New Testament implies that for all of us whether we are followers of Christ or not that upon death we enter a waiting state for judgement – paradise for the Christian or Hades for the unbeliever. (Luke 16:19-31). After the day of the Lord, the judgement of our God then comes heaven or hell (Rev 20:11-14).
Basically, nowhere do we read of ghosts wandering the earth in pain, or even with slight discomfort.
Yet, what about all the people who have ghostly experiences?
Over the years I have performed many exorcisms in houses, when people have complained of having ghostly experiences. Some of them have houses with drafts and creaking doors and others have seemed perfectly normal. Some of these folk have undoubtedly just been fearful of natural noises but others have been living with spiritual influences. I say spiritual…not ghostly. Whereas I don’t believe I ghosts, I do believe in spirits, and some people still need to be set free from their influence. I have often left houses or office blocks in a totally different state to which I found them.
Are these the spirits of the dead haunting their old haunts?
Job 7:9-10, NKJV. “As the cloud disappears and vanishes away, so he who goes down to the grave does not come up. He shall never return to his house, Nor shall his place know him anymore."
So if these manifestations are sometimes real, and they are caused by spirits, then what is the difference between a spirit and a ghost?
The Bible is very open with us about the reality of spiritual beings – angels and demons. Angels, although they are good and serve God and his church, often terrify people when they appear (Luke 2v9) – after all no one expects to see a spiritual warrior in front of them!
Demons, often explained as being the fallen angels who rebelled with Lucifer (the devil), do not serve God or anything that is good but rather are agents of Satan himself. Satan (or the Devil) and his demonic hordes can reveal themselves deceptively as angels of light or can play on our fears. In fact, just as God is love, and always tries to convey his love, the devil tries to push our fear buttons and hold us in that fearful grip.
So demonic spirits impersonate people and seek to frighten you or in some way get control over your life, even if that is simply a matter of respect. By influencing what you believe they turn you away from the truth of God.
This is of course why the Bible condemns trying to contact the dead, because it opens you up to spiritual malcontents who will try to deceive you and dominate you by fear. We should always seek spiritual fulfillment in God and not from other beings.
When spooked, people have often fallen back on primate beliefs about ghosts. Even the 12 disciples thought Jesus was a ghost at times!
When the disciples saw Him (Jesus) walking on the sea, they were terrified. "It's a ghost!" they said, and cried out in fear (Matt 14:26).
And as they were saying these things, He Himself stood among them. He said to them, "Peace to you!" 37 But they were startled and terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost. 38 "Why are you troubled?" He asked them. "And why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself! Touch Me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have (Luke 24:36-39)
The one part of scripture that confuses some people about ghosts is found in 1 Samuel 28 and refers to King Saul in a depressed and depraved state, far away from God and his encounter with a medium or witch at Endor.
There are a few ways that people communicate with God in the Old Testament – Dreams, Prophets, Urim & Thummim, consulting the ephod and directly. In a case like Saul where all of these ways were closed he sought an illegitimate way – something which was not allowed by God.
5 When Saul saw the Philistine camp, he was afraid and his heart pounded. 6 He inquired of the Lord, but the Lord did not answer him in dreams or by the Urim or by the prophets. 7 Saul then said to his servants, “Find me a woman who is a medium, so I can go and consult her.”
His servants replied, “There is a woman at En-dor who is a medium.”
8 Saul disguised himself by putting on different clothes and set out with two of his men. They came to the woman at night, and Saul said, “Consult a spirit for me. Bring up for me the one I tell you.”
9 But the woman said to him, “You surely know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land. Why are you setting a trap for me to get me killed?”
10 Then Saul swore to her by the Lord: “As surely as the Lord lives, no punishment will come to you from this.”
11 “Who is it that you want me to bring up for you?” the woman asked.
“Bring up Samuel for me,” he answered.
12 When the woman saw Samuel, she screamed, and then she asked Saul, “Why did you deceive me? You are Saul!”
13 But the king said to her, “Don’t be afraid. What do you see?”
“I see a spirit form coming up out of the earth,” the woman answered.
14 Then Saul asked her, “What does he look like?”
“An old man is coming up,” she replied. “He’s wearing a robe.” Then Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he knelt low with his face to the ground and paid homage.
15 “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Samuel asked Saul.
“I’m in serious trouble,” replied Saul. “The Philistines are fighting against me and God has turned away from me. He doesn’t answer me anymore, either through the prophets or in dreams. So I’ve called on you to tell me what I should do.”
16 Samuel answered, “Since the Lord has turned away from you and has become your enemy, why are you asking me? 17 The Lord has done exactly what he said through me: The Lord has torn the kingship out of your hand and given it to your neighbor David. 18 You did not obey the Lord and did not carry out his burning anger against Amalek; therefore the Lord has done this to you today. 19 The Lord will also hand Israel over to the Philistines along with you. Tomorrow you and your sons will be with me, and the Lord will hand Israel’s army over to the Philistines.”
20 Immediately, Saul fell flat on the ground. He was terrified by Samuel’s words and was also weak because he had not eaten anything all day and all night. 21 The woman came over to Saul, and she saw that he was terrified and said to him, “Look, your servant has obeyed you. I took my life in my hands and did what you told me to do. 22 Now please listen to your servant. Let me set some food in front of you. Eat and it will give you strength so you can go on your way.”
Isn’t this clear? A medium or necromancer (one who tries to contact the dead) summons up the dead form of the prophet Samuel and this way Saul hears ‘from God’? A King who has failed to hear from God any of the legitimate ways, seeks an illegitimate path in which he demands to know. Note that Saul sees nothing and gets only a vague description from this medium “An old man is coming up…He’s wearing a robe”!
If this is Samuel then it is every much against the flow of scripture, unless it is a unique move of God to scare the pants off Saul (he was terrified by Samuel’s words v20). Perhaps God hijacked this process for dramatic effect? There is nothing that this spirit says that wasn’t well known and the final message that tomorrow you will be with me (in the place of the dead) was also predictable. Commentators have mixed views, but if this is a deceiving spirit then there is one apparent mistake in the prediction in that Saul and his sons will be dead tomorrow, as not all of them died that day.
Frankly, I think the jury is out on this one and whatever way you interpret it, it doesn’t definitively contradict the scriptural position to have nothing to do with mediums or those who try to contact the dead. Samuel isn’t haunting anyone either, for us this is just a diversion.
If you have had troubling experiences that concern you then ask for prayer – Jesus wants you free. Never ever seek an illegitimate way to find out ‘spiritual truth’ – because if you do you will get caught up in a lie which will cause you lots of problems. There is only one Almighty God - but there are numbers of spirits, who only have the power over you that you give them with your fear. Reject all other spiritual experiences and draw near to God, then He will draw near to you and you will walk in freedom!