Everyone grows up with ghost stories that entertain and frighten the listeners. But there comes a time, particularly for a Christian seriously pursuing a life of faith, when one must ask: ‘Do ghosts really exist?’
According to a July 12, 2005 Gallup Poll study, 32 percent of American said they believe in ghosts, 48 percent said they do not and 19 percent said the were not sure. CBS News, however, reports that 48 percent of Americans say they believe in ghosts and 20 percent say they have either seen or felt a ghost. (Oct 3-5, 2005)
Sacred Scripture itself has many references to ghosts. In fact, the Gospel of Luke relates that Jesus’ disciples thought they were seeing a ghost when Christ first appeared to them after the resurrection. (Lk 24: 36-37) Volumes upon volumes have been written on this topic. This article will by no means settle the debate. Nor is this meant to be a treatise on salvation or damnation. Rather, it will examine if belief in ghosts is compatible with Christian faith.
Reports of ‘hauntings’ are numerous. One needs only to type the word onto one’s browser to be inundated with stories. For a brief compendium of apparitions, see The Shadowlands ‘Haunted Places Index.” Most apparitions, both public and personal, tend to involve objects moving, voices, shrieks and wails, creepy feelings, lights or electronics being turned on or off, doors slamming or being opened and the like.
Relatively few (other than in movies or local legends) are accounts of people actually being harmed or threatened by malicious spirits. Violent encounters with spiritual forces may indicate a demonic force, which is something that Christians definitely do and should believe in, as Sacred Scripture attests to it repeatedly. But what of simple encounters with people who have died? Are there ‘lost souls’ that wander the earth? Do spirits return from the dead?
By and large, all major Christian denominations believe that one is judged when one dies. One is either damned or redeemed. Therefore, from Catholicism to the free Evangelical churches, there is no room for ‘lost souls’ who are in between heaven and hell. Several of the mainline churches, however, do believe that some must undergo a period of purfication ‘so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1030)
As such, it is the belief of many denominations that God may allow a person in the state of purification, often called ‘purgatory,’ to appear to living human beings either to seek prayers for their purification or to seek help with some sort of unfinished matter.
Then, of course, there is the centuries-old debate concerning saints. The word itself indicates one who has been made holy, that is, sanctified though Christ to stand before God. Rather than seek our prayers, saintly appearances throughout the ages have been for the benefit of those who witness them or those who will listen to their message. And their message is ultimately directed to the same end – that the living will receive salvation through Jesus and be sanctified in order to enter into heaven.
Some denominations, however, deny that ghosts are the spirits of people who once lived. After death a person is damned or saved and enters permanently into that realm. They cannot return. These Christians believe that if one experiences a deceased person, one can be sure it is a deception caused by a demonic force. For a better explanation of this view see: www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com or randalrauser.com.
What is agreed upon is that any type of supernatural presence must be permitted by God. No saint can bear a message, no deceased person can seek resolution, no force can go ‘bump-in-the-night’ without God allowing it to occur. What is also agreed upon across the board is that it is wrong for human beings to attempt to contact the deceased through ouija boards, tarot cards, psychics, mediums, seances or any other method.
To do so is to violate the First Commandment in that it seeks to force an encounter with a deceased person by means other than God. Furthermore, it is a dangerous enterprise in that it opens the seeker to confusion or deception from evil forces.
So should Christians believe in ghosts? Most Christian denominations would say yes. In fact, the spirit world is not a matter to be taken lightly. One should never experiment with contacting the deceased, nor become enamored with accounts of ghost sightings. As with all things, the best response to a ghostly encounter is to say a prayer and share your experience around the next campfire.