A ghost is generally understood to be a mystical, non-physical presence of a person who has died. Of course, such manifestations make great fodder for movies and television shows. For millennia, men and women have made a living offering others a chance to speak with or to see a departed loved one. Many people over the ages have experienced strange, spiritual encounters with beings that have appeared to be the spirit of a deceased person. Are these experiences real? Are the beings encountered really the spirits of dead people?
As in all other matters, the Bible must be the final source of authority in this. Despite the difficulty of reshaping one’s conclusions, those who have personally experienced a manifestation must let the Bible control the understanding of any strange experiences. The Bible speaks much of the spiritual. Man has a spirit that is somehow distinct from the flesh. God created a vast army of powerful spiritual beings who are active in this world. The Bible leaves no doubt a great spiritual conflict exists and will continue until eternity is usheredSome spiritual creatures are malevolent and bent on the destruction of men. Some are benevolent and act as God’s servants for the benefit of men. These demons and angels are in conflict against one another. These spiritual creatures have the ability to appear in human form. The Bible tells of one instance in which a spiritual being appeared as a specific, deceased individual.
Saul, the King of Israel, was desperate for guidance. The prophet of God, Samuel, had died and Saul had been rejected by God because of his disobedience. Despite it being expressly forbidden in the law of God, Saul visited a medium and asked her to call up the spirit of the prophet Samuel. To the medium’s amazement, an apparition of Samuel appeared and spoke to Saul. What was this? Was this the ghost of Samuel the prophet of God? Since the woman of Endor was engaged in activity forbidden by God, and since Saul was conspiring with her to continue her wicked practices, it seems very unlikely that what appeared to Saul was actually the spirit of Samuel.
Other Biblical reasons add further weight to the conclusion that Samuel did not appear to Saul. In Hebrews 9, the Bible summarizes death and it’s subsequent events, “It is appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgment.” Little room seems to be left in the afterlife for haunting the earth or appearing at seances. Most forceful in this regard are the words of Jesus. In Luke 16 He tells of the deaths of two men, one who went to heaven and one who went to hell. Jesus relates a conversation between the one in hell and Abraham in heaven. The one suffering in hell plead with Abraham for someone to be sent from heaven to warn his brothers of the horrible judgment of hell. Abraham responded that it is impossible for anyone to be sent from heaven to earth. None leave their eternal abode to visit the earth. Not Samuel the prophet, not the poor man Jesus told of and not any other person who has passed on.
If the apparitions people see are not the spirits of men, what could they be? In many cases, such things can and should be chalked up to an over reaction of the mind. Those distraught, fearful or fatigued are much more likely to experience mild hallucinations or to greatly exaggerate something unexpected. In those few cases where something actually appears, the most likely possibility is that the creature is of demonic origin. Saul probably saw a demon masquerading as Samuel to torment him further with his rejection by God. Ghostly forms that terrorize people or “haunt” buildings are best explained as demons seeking to terrorize men. Ghosts are not real, but the spiritual creatures that may appear as ghosts definitely are.