American culture takes pride in our advanced logic, our scientific method by which we can explain the natural world around us. We often think of developing nations as uneducated or backwards for interacting with the spiritual world. At least that is what we say verbally.
But we, as a nation, clearly have an intrigue with the supernatural. Many of our movies are fantastical – dabbling in magic and superstition. We have light-hearted stories for children and families like Bewitched and Harry Potter, but also heavy and dark stories like Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. And on the far end of the spectrum we have a curiosity with hauntings and the spiritual world around us, with Ghost hunters making a living on trying to document their existence and stories like Exorcism, Haunting in Connecticut and Haunting of Emily Rose.
But what does the Bible have to say about Ghosts? We know that God forbade sorcery in the Old Testament (Deut 18.10) and also in the New Testament (Gal 5.20). We also see Jesus cast many demons out of people throughout the whole of the Gospels, and new converts in Acts brought their magic books and burned them in public to put away their dark ways (Acts 19.19). So were they just tribal, uneducated people who did not yet understand science?
Now Samuel was dead, and all Israel had lamented him and buried him in Ramah, his own city. And Saul had removed from the land those who were mediums and spiritists. So the Philistines gathered together and came and camped in Shunem; and Saul gathered all Israel together and they camped in Gilboa. When Saul saw the camp of the Philistines, he was afraid and his heart trembled greatly. When Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by prophets. Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a woman who is a medium at En-dor.” Then Saul disguised himself by putting on other clothes, and went, he and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night; and he said, “Conjure up for me, please, and bring up for me whom I shall name to you.” But the woman said to him, “Behold, you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off those who are mediums and spiritists from the land. Why are you then laying a snare for my life to bring about my death?” Saul vowed to her by the Lord, saying, “As the Lord lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.” Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” And he said, “Bring up Samuel for me.” When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice; and the woman spoke to Saul, saying, “Why have you deceived me? For you are Saul.” The king said to her, “Do not be afraid; but what do you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I see a divine being coming up out of the earth.” He said to her, “What is his form?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped with a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and did homage. Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” And Saul answered, “I am greatly distressed; for the Philistines are waging war against me, and God has departed from me and no longer answers me, either through prophets or by dreams; therefore I have called you, that you may make known to me what I should do.” Samuel said, “Why then do you ask me, since the Lord has departed from you and has become your adversary?”
– 1 Sam 28.3-16
The Old Testament is full of amazing stories. Historically accurate accounts of the nation of Israel, from its founding to conquering of modern day Israel and captivity to Babylon, Assyria and other nations. And this story is an historical account of Saul, the first king of Israel, having the ghost of Samuel, the prophet who had counseled him, brought from the dead to ask advice.
So we see in 1 Sam that it has happened before that the Spirit of Samuel was brought from the dead to interact with Saul. There are many stories in Scripture that are one-time events. It has never been recorded of another man being swallowed by a giant fish and surviving for three days, only to be vomited safely on the shore – other than Jonah. It has also never been recorded that someone has walked on water or a world-wide flood killing everyone save one family who followed God’s instructions to build an ark. Therefore, it is possible that the conjuring of Samuel was a one-time event which was never duplicated.
However, one day Jesus took Peter, James and John up on a mountain and changed into His holy form, “His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light” (Matt 17.2). And Moses and Elijah appeared to the disciples and were talking with Jesus. Were they ghosts? The spirits of Moses and Elijah? Or were they in bodily form? That, unfortunately, is unclear.
We also know that at the moment Jesus died, “The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many” (Matt 27.52-53). However, these saints were in their physical bodies, so I guess that would be more along the lines of zombies? Zombies who returned to their cognitive state anyway.
So do ghosts exist? We all have Spirits that are eternal – embodied in our flesh – that will live on after the body has passed away. And yes, God has the supernatural power and ability to revive those bodies or let the spirits appear in their spiritual, body-less state to human beings. We also know that demons exist – angels of Lucifer that exist amongst human beings for negative influence, and angels are ministering spirits sent out to help Christians (Heb 1.14). We regularly see Jesus interact with demons – even speaking to them at times (Matt 8.28-32).
Let us not be too quick to reason God and the inexplicable out of our worldview. He is supernatural. The very fact that He spoke the world into existence is extraordinary, and He has the freedom and ability to break the natural laws that He wrote. However, let us remember that even if and when we encounter demons or inexplicable situations, “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4.4).
“Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
– Eph 6.11-12
God is in control. There is nothing to be afraid of.