“Are ghosts real?” That was a question asked in a recent theology class at church, where we were talking about what happens after you die. It is a good question. After all, the wider culture does seem obsessed with the supernatural, even if they are not that keen on religion. There are always an abundance of TV shows and movies which touch on topics like the paranormal, other dimensions, angels and demons, or evil spirits.
On the one hand, it is not an easy question to answer. It kind of depends on what you understand ghosts to be. If you mean the spirits of the dead who come back to haunt or encourage the living, well the Bible doesn’t really talk about that. There isn’t any passage that describes such a thing. The Biblical framework for what happens after death is simpler than that: you die, and you either go to be with Jesus immediately or are cast away. Two options, no in-between third one.
But on the other hand, we don’t want to write this question off. If we broaden it to be “are there strange spirits and an underworld which can affect us”, well then the Biblical answer must be yes. Jesus cast out evil spirits which lived in people. Job’s life was seriously affected due to a discussion between the devil and God. Angels appear at key times in the Biblical story. And we even have a strange instance where King Saul attempts to contact the spirit of the dead prophet Samuel for advice when he is in trouble. (As to whether he was successful depends on how you read 1 Samuel 28).
The Old Testament people of God were banned from attempting to contact the spirit world, and the death penalty was prescribed for those like mediums and spiritists who meddled in this kind of thing. Interestingly though this was not banned because it was all a hoax (like we tend to think of the tarot reader in our local markets). No, it was banned because it was not something that the people of God should mess around with. We look to God for guidance and help not some amorphous spirit world; we talk to whom we know and who knows us.
A better question is this: “Do Christians need to be afraid of the spirit world?” And the answer to that is ‘no’:
38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:38-39 ESV)
Jesus is the King, including of the supernatural world we do not see but which can scare us. Evil spirits flee at his voice. Sin and all that is evil will one day be no more.
So we are not to meddle with these kinds of things. Mediums and tarot cards and the like are not idle pastimes but are to be avoided. We can rest in the confidence that Jesus is king, including over the things we don’t understand. We are God’s adopted children, whom He loves deeply, and whom he holds onto whatever might come.