This is the second in a series of posts on the topic of death and dying, looking at some of the most frequently asked questions I encounter as a pastor. Last week, I answered the question of what happens when we die. This week, the follow-up: do the spirits of people who die ever “hang around?” So let’s get right to it:
Do Some People Become Ghosts When They Die?
There’s No Such Thing As (Human) Ghosts. Sorry. But it’s not my opinion, it’s biblical. In fact, I love ghost “stuff.” I enjoy watching ghost-hunting shows, one of my favorite movies is Ghostbusters, and I’ve even been on a real-live ghost hunt (a story for another time…). But it’s all just entertainment.
As I wrote last week, death is a separation (a tearing apart) of body and soul. The bodies of the dead wait in the grave for the Day of Jesus’ return, and until then, the souls of unbelievers are in a place of punishment. The souls of believers, meanwhile, are in the presence of Christ, at peace and in joy. And God doesn’t miss things, so that doesn’t leave any room for souls to get stuck “in between.”
But What About…
There is far too much about this universe and this world that we don’t understand to be able to explain it all. What we do know, however, is that the spiritual realm is very, very real. There is such a thing as demonic activity, which can deceive us into thinking there are human spirits roaming around. Which is why I specified that there is no such thing as human ghosts: There certainly may be a demonic presence that we could become aware of and mistake it for a human ghost.
The reality is that we are at war with the spiritual realm of darkness, and the enemy seeks to deceive anyone he can to keep them from God’s love by distracting us from God’s goodness and light – so we need to be ready. Don’t mess around with ghosts, spirits or demons; focus on God’s goodness by going to church, and spending time in prayer and God’s Word. Leave the darkness alone and walk in the light.
But have no fear – we can trust in Jesus! There is an aspect of paranormal experiences which is not often reported, but which is significant: top alien abduction researchers across the country have admitted to hearing cases where someone who was in the midst of an experience called out in the name of Jesus – and the experience abruptly stopped. They admitted they did not report these cases for fear it would affect their credibility – because for some reason, people are far more willing to believe in ghosts, aliens and Bigfoot than God… Moving on.
Do We become Angels When We Die?
No, we don’t. Angels and humans are different creatures altogether. Humans alone were made in God’s image, and Christ died to save humans, not angels – and while it sounds wonderful to imagine that we become angels when we die, it is far better for us to be human, created and saved by God!
Are Our Departed Loved Ones Watching Over Us From Heaven?
No. There Are Three Facts About the Dead We Can Know From the Bible:
- Departed souls do not return to this world; it is a standing rule and divine arrangement.
- The dead have no direct knowledge of the living or their activities.
- Praying to, seeking out or asking the departed for their intercession, help or knowledge is not only foolish, it is idolatry.
This means we do not need to (and should not attempt to) pray to the saints or contact the dead in any way. Prayer should be directed to God alone, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
And while it might sound nice at first to think that mom or dad or grandma or grandpa is looking down on you from heaven, think about what that would mean for them: would they truly be at peace, if they saw the struggles we go through, the bad choices we make, and the grief we have from missing them? And since they aren’t able to help you, isn’t it better that an all powerful and all loving God – who gives us His Word that He hears and answers prayers – is watching over you?
So What Should We Do When We Miss Our Departed Loved Ones?
Trust in God. We miss our loved ones who are gone from us, and the temptation can be strong – especially when we don’t feel like God is answering our prayers – to reach out to them. But the dead cannot help us, and God alone hears and answers our prayers. So talk to God about how much you miss them – give Him your pain – and trust in His promise that we will see them again one day!
When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?Isaiah 8:19
- People do not “stick around” as ghosts (or angels) when they die.
- There are non-human evil spirits, which can trick us into thinking they are human.
- We have something far more powerful than any ghost or evil spirit: we have God’s Holy Spirit – living in us, teaching us, growing us in faith and bringing us back to God when we get lost and confused. So put your trust in Him, and put your fears aside. He’s got you.
So, may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Can a Christian Choose Cremation?
- Pieper, Franz. Christian Dogmatics. III, Concordia Pub. House, 1950.
5 thoughts on “Ghosts, Saints and Angels”
Thanks! Reaffirmed what I have believed all along!
Can you comment on the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke as it relates to this topic?
Sure! I’ve heard this story (in Luke 16:19-31) referenced a lot as an argument that the dead are aware of the living, but notice three things:
1. Jesus is telling a story to illustrate a point, as one of many such stories in the surrounding verses and chapters. In the larger context, there is nothing to indicate that this was anything more than a parable – Jesus is making the point that the way we treat other people matters – and that once our life is over, it is too late. Parables are meant to be interpreted, not taken literally, particularly with regard to the details used to tell the story but tangential to the point. For example, in the parable of the sower and the seeds, the point is about where the seeds (God’s Word) are sown and how they grow – not on the point that the sower is really bad at sowing.
2. Even so, note that the rich man in hell is speaking with Abraham in heaven, meaning both are dead. There is no contact in this story involving someone living on the earth. Even if we do take it literally, there is nothing even remotely implying contact between the living and the dead until the final verses, which make it very clear that there is none (referenced in the main post).
A horrible thought, though: Perhaps part of being in torment in hell is awareness that believers are at peace in heaven? We don’t know for sure, but what a tremendous impetus on us to share the Gospel so that all might be saved from such torture!
3. As mentioned above and in the main post, verse 26 says there is a chasm between heaven and hell that none may cross, and verses 27-30 make clear that no one is sent back from the dead to warn or look out for the living.
Thank you for the question!