“Who ya gonna call?” Most will recognize that snippet of song from the popular Ghostbusters movie.
The concept of ghosts, spirits of those once living, is prevalent throughout recorded history.
Even today there are plenty of reality television shows exploring the existence of ghosts, poltergeists and other haunting spectres.
Many people don’t believe there are such things as ghosts, however, and think those who do hold such beliefs are naïvely superstitious or self-deluded.
Others are firmly convinced ghosts exist and a few even have personal stories to tell about such encounters.
But what does the Bible have to say about ghosts?
Before we get into some specific examples, it may be useful to delve into exactly what we are talking about.
The concept of “ghost” implies there is a spiritual existence that is distinct from our physical one that survives the death of the body.
In the Genesis creation story, God says, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…”
When we say a child is the “spitting image” of one parent or the other, we are generally referring to physical characteristics such as eye colour, the shape of the nose, a square jaw or curly hair.
But sometimes when we say a child is “just like” a parent, we aren’t really referring to something physical.
We mean their non-physical attributes are very similar — such as determination, intelligence, shyness, a quick temper, stubbornness or tender-heartedness.
I don’t think the phrase from Genesis refers to physical characteristics. Rather, “in our image” refers to the spiritual element of the Godhead.
There is an element to our existence that transcends time and space — our soul.
It is this that is made in God’s image. The spirit is simply the “housing” of the soul, one that gives us our individual identity in the afterlife.
It is this spirit that we call a “ghost” when it is not an integral part of a physical body.
There is considerable anecdotal evidence from people who have “died” on the operating table.
They describe details of things that occurred in that hospital room they have no earthly way of knowing. We have a spiritual component to our existence.
God recognizes our spiritual existence before we are born.
In the Book of Jeremiah, God says to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”
How did God “know” Jeremiah prior to his physical existence? The only logical answer is that Jeremiah’s spiritual existence pre-dated his physical one.
Frankly, I think this fact is a reason why our short physical existence on earth, often with much physical suffering or premature death, is not as important as we all want it to be.
What is important is our spiritual existence.
That is why God sent Jesus and all the other prophets and messengers of God to teach us how vital it is to care for our souls, our spiritual self — because it is that which will last forever.
There are several instances of “ghosts” in scripture. Certainly, the disciples believed in ghosts.
When Jesus came walking on the water to join the disciples in their boat, they were petrified with fear, thinking they were seeing a ghost.
When Jesus appeared to the disciples after his crucifixion and death, Luke reports that they were “frightened, thinking they saw a ghost.”
Jesus reassured them, however, saying, “Touch me and see: a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
In the Old Testament Book of
1 Samuel, King Saul is desperate for divine direction in his war with the Philistines.
But God wouldn’t answer him, so he decided to consult a medium, the witch of Endor. At Saul’s direction, the witch summons the spirit of Samuel, the prophet of God who had recently died. Samuel asks, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?”
The ghost of Samuel simply reiterates to Saul what he said when he was alive — that the kingdom of Israel was to be given to his rival David.
Not only that, Saul and his sons were going to be killed in battle the very next day.
The other prominent “ghostly” example is in the New Testament.
Jesus is with Peter, James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration. The spirits of Elijah and Moses appeared and were speaking with Jesus.
This passage implies the spirits of those who have died have a continual identifiable existence, can communicate and can be called into the present from their spiritual home.
This home, reserved for the faithful, is what Jesus called Paradise.
“Ghost” is simply our colloquial term for our spiritual selves.
But we all need to take care that our ghosts end up in Paradise.
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