Ghost stories are for many people a cherished part of childhood. Ghosts still attract a lot of attention today through reality shows which follow the investigations of ghost hunters and paranormal experts. Some surveys have suggested that as many as half of all Americans believe in ghosts.
Ghosts stories become serious when people speak of beloved family members who have returned to offer comfort or guidance. This kind of ghost story is found all around the world. Many cultures have stories of ancestors whose spirits remain in contact with the living. Several of the major Oriental religions and nearly every tribal religion believes their ancestors are still present and interact with the living. Since belief in ghosts is so widespread, is that not proof ghosts are real? Does the Bible say anything about ghosts to help understand this topic?
The Bible teaches that every person has an eternal spirit. Genesis 2 tells how God breathed into man to make him a “living spirit.” From that point onward the Bible treats man as a physical creature with a spirit which continues to exist after the death of the body. (Ecclesiastes 12:7) The Bible teaches that the spirit departs at death (James 2:6), but it never indicates that the spirit of the dead remains on the earth. Instead, the Biblical picture consistently teaches that when this life is over so is the person’s interaction with the earth and the living. At death the body goes into the grave and the spirit goes directly into heaven or hell (Luke 16:22-23; Phil 1:23; 2 Corinthians 5:8). Consequently, whatever strange things the living may see or feel, they are not the spirits of people consigned to remain on the earth.
If ghosts are not the souls of the dearly departed then what is the explanation for the unearthly phenomena seen by people? Many ghost stories can be attributed to emotional agitation. Grieving family members often see everyday events, like a bird perching nearby or a gentle breeze through the garden, as the actions of the spirit of a loved one who recently died. Such events need have no ghostly origin. Birds perch, breezes blow and butterflies flutter on a regular basis. These everyday events only gain significance when a grieving person associates them with the memory of a with a departed loved one. Such attributions prove nothing about the reality of ghosts. Many of the other experiences of ghosts are nothing more than strong emotions. Feelings of fear, nervousness, agitation or excitement are just feelings. They prove nothing about the existence of ghosts. The cause of those feelings may be nothing more than overworked imaginations.
Stories of moved items, damaged property or manifestations of a dead person present a more difficult challenge to explain. No certain answer can be given. Two plausible explanations can be suggested which do not require the existence of ghosts. First, unknown physical forces may be the cause of many mysterious movements. A shelf that suddenly falls over may be the result of nothing more than a weak leg that gave way, or an unnoticed vibration in the house which caused an already precarious shelf to topple. Second, though people do not become ghosts when they die, spiritual creatures do exist. These spiritual creatures are able to interact with the physical world. The Bible speaks of angels and demons involving themselves with the affairs of this world. Demons are described as inhabiting people and causing them great harm. (Matthew 17:15-18) Possibly demonic influences are the cause of some of the phenomena attributed to ghosts. Possibly certain demons afflict a location for the purpose of terrorizing or deceiving people.
In the end, no matter what strange experiences a person may have had, the Bible teaches that death ends a person’s involvement with this world. All explanations for unfamiliar phenomena have to be filtered through the Biblical teachings about life, death and the afterlife because the Bible is the only reliable source of information for what happens to a person after death.
Sometimes the turmoil of trying to decide between doing right or wrong is illustrated with a devil sitting on a person’s shoulder and an angel sitting on the other. Both whisper in the person’s ear in an effort to persuade him which choice to make. This illustration is an entirely fictional representation of the familiar pull between right and wrong. Everyone knows the battle between what you should do and what you want to do. That voice whispering in your ear telling you to do right is your conscience. The voice that tells you when you’ve done wrong is your conscience.
The Bible describes the conscience and tells how the person should respond to his conscience. The apostle Paul expressed his desire to have a clear conscience (Acts 24:18) and he warned of those who had their consciences cauterized by much sin (1 Timothy 4:2). The apostle Peter exhorted Christians to do good so they would have a good conscience. (1 Peter 3:16)
Modern science attributes the conscience to social structure. According to modern thinking conscience is a result of humans being are social creatures. We learn right and wrong from our society. We strive do what is accepted by our culture to maximize our ability to receive the evolutionary benefits of being part of a group. While still young we let external social standards become an internal judge by which we determine right from wrong.
The Bible disagrees. The conscience is not something created by the pressures and standards of culture. Scripture represents the conscience as a personal, internal reality that exists in all people. Romans 2:14 speaks of those who do not have a written copy of the law of God but who naturally do what is contained in the law. That this is true is evident by the cross-cultural nature of basic morals. Murder, deceit, theft and marital unfaithfulness are nearly universally condemned. Even in situations where a man may be praised for slaughtering his enemies, he will be condemned for killing his next door neighbor. A man may be honored because he has a large harem, yet he would suffer disapproval for sleeping with another man’s wife. Nearly all of the last six of the ten commandments find their counterparts in cultures across the world. A universal basic morality exists because of the conscience.
The most important Biblical passage describing the conscience is Romans 2. The conscience teaches all men the basics of right and wrong, condemns disobedience and defends obedience (Romans 2:15).The conscience is the little voice inside each heart that evaluates our actions. The conscience holds court on our thoughts, desires and behaviors. The conscience is the inborn understanding of God’s standards and our internal prosecutor which points out when we violate those standards.
The conscience is not created by society, but it can be shaped by our culture, upbringing and religion. The conscience can be taught, mis-taught, hardened and over-sensitized. Sin corrupts the conscience. (Titus 1:15) When ignored the conscience becomes desensitized and eventually insensible. The conscience can also be trained. When the Bible is rightly understood and rightly applied it teaches the conscience to reflect Biblical principles of right and wrong.
What makes a person a person? The Bible says a person is a being comprised of several distinct, yet related parts. The greatest command says, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” (Matthew 22:37) A person is to love God with all his soul.
Scripture speaks of the soul over 400 times. The first time is in Genesis 2:7. When God breathed the breath of life into ma, man became a living soul. He became a living being. The first mention of the soul reveals that it is the life principle of a person. The soul is that which makes the body alive. When the soul departs, the body dies.
The soul is more than life. Soul is used to describe the personality, desires, intelligence, feelings and natural talents of the person. The Bible does not draw neat distinctions between the various parts of a person. The organs of a man can be easily distinguished and divided from one another. The nature of man is not so easily divided. Man has a heart, a mind, a will, a soul, a spirit, and a body. All these, and others, are interwoven together in such a way that we cannot readily distinguish where the soul leaves off and another part begins. Essentially, the soul is the part of a person that makes him who he is. Charles Ryrie said, “Soul can mean the whole person alive or after death. It can designate the immaterial part of a person with its many feelings and emotions.”
The soul is not discoverable by medical tests. An MRI or CAT scan will not reveal the soul. Nonetheless, the soul is a real part of man. The working of the soul is seen in the self-realization of a person. The ability to identify one’s self as a living being, distinct from others and from God is a result of having a soul. The ability to identify one’s self as something other than the body is evidence that man possesses an immaterial part, a soul.
Though the soul is different from the body, it is not disconnected from the body. The body and soul are directly related to one another. What affects one affects the other. A tired person tends to get angry more easily. A depressed person tends to feel tired. Man is a creature both physical and spiritual. We must not disregard the interaction between the soul and the body.
At death the soul is separated from the body. The soul immediately enters heaven or hell. Consciousness remains(Luke 16:19-31), but the person is not a whole being. This is why the Christian looks forward to the resurrection when the soul and body are reunited.
Man is a living soul who will have an eternal existence somewhere. Those who do not believe Jesus will suffer eternal, conscious torment separated forever from God. Those who trust Christ for salvation will enjoy eternal delight with Him.
The news has been buzzing with reports of secretly recorded video showing abortion providers discussing the best way to dismember a baby to maximize the possibility of getting salable parts. The apparent callousness has stirred up intense conversation about abortion and Planned Parenthood. The callous treatment of such a barabarous practice has shocked many. The abortion industry’s hypocrisy is made evident by these videos. One defense offered for harvesting organs from the unborn is that the material is not from a living person, but a mass of tissue that has the potential to become a person. Many Christians respond that the “product of conception” being aborted is a living human being who possesses all the necessary traits of personhood. To kill the baby in the womb, even if it somehow results in saving lives by furthering medical research, is just as murderous an act as killing the infant in the crib.
Why do Christian’s make such a claim? Don’t scientists disagree about when life begins? Don’t philosophers and psychologists disagree about what makes a person a person? Despite the appearance of a lack of consensus about life and personhood, the Christian declares abortion is murder because of the teachings of the Word of God. The abortion debate does not center around whether it is legitimate to kill an innocent, defenseless person. Very few argue it is right to kill someone for convenience sake. The abortion debate centers around the origin of life and the beginning of personhood.
The origin of life is not an easy topic to discuss, but one point is most defensible as the true beginning of human life- fertilization. When the mother’s egg is fertilized it begins the journey that will naturally end in the birth of a human baby. From that point on a myriad of things happen, but each event is just the next step in a series that begin at fertilization. Some have argued the baby is not really alive until after birth, but modern science, including ultrasound technology and surgical procedures on infants en utero, has show the impossibility of that argument. Defining life based on a stage in the pregnancy, whether it be weeks, trimesters or developmental milestones are all equally specious. Why is a baby at the very end of the first trimester not life, but the next day is a life? All marks are arbitrary except one. Life begins at conception and grows progressively until it reaches maturity. The Levitical passages regarding the protection of the unborn child show the Bible definitely views the baby in the womb as alive.
The harder question is that of personhood. When does a life in the womb become a person? Several Biblical characters evidence marks of personhood in the womb. Jacob and Esau fought together in the womb. While still in the womb, John the Baptist leapt for joy when Mary, the mother of Jesus, visited Elizabeth. Other individuals, including Jeremiah, were called out by God for ministry before their birth. All these actions and emotions- jealousy, anger, joy, spiritual awareness and calling to ministry- are evidences of genuine personhood. The strongest Biblical statements on the personhood of the unborn are found in the Psalms. Psalm 51:5 says, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” The Psalmist was declared by God to be a sinful creature though still in the womb. God does not hold a lump of tissue guilty, only persons. God does not hold a collection of cells as sinful, only a person. Indvidual and unique personhood is declared by God in His Word.
The fetus is a living human being who possesses all the attributes of personhood. Abortion is murder because it is the immoral destruction of an innocent human life. Abortion crushes the life of a person made in the image of God. Abortion rips apart the life of the most innocent persons on our planet. Abortion is murder most heinous.
In a few places the Bible says God hardened a man’s heart. How is it fair of God to send someone to hell if He hardens the heart?
The Bible’s descriptions of God’s dealings with men leaves us with some questions and difficulties. Mankind has a hard time understanding how God can be sovereign, remain just and hold man responsible for the decisions he makes. We will not fully understand God’s dealings with man until heaven. In the meantime, we must trust God and rely on what He has told of us Himself in His Word. The Bible does describe God as being fair. Fairness is doing the same for everyone regardless of ability or what they deserve. God does not operate on terms of fairness, but in terms of justice and equity. God is just, always treating all men according to the perfect standards of His holiness. He does not modify justice to suit His desires or because He prefers one person over another. God judges all men according to the same standards. Equity is closely related to His justice. Justice is God’s dealing in relation to His holiness. Equity is God’s dealings in regards to people. God does not play favorites with anyone. The religious are not preferred by God, the wealthy are not preferred by God, and the poor are not preferred by God. God deals with all men according to His justice regardless of the personal merits of any individual.
What about those places in the Bible which describe God’s hardening someone’s heart? How is that just? One of the most familiar places which describe God hardening someone’s heart is in Exodus regarding Pharaoh. Pharaoh and others like him lived in rebellion against God. God does not judge them for His hardening of their hearts. Instead, God’s hardening of their hearts is His judgment against them for their rejection of Him.
Consider more fully the case of Pharaoh. Setting aside Pharaoh’s life of idol worship and his persecution of the Israelites, one passage will suffice to show the true nature of this case. Exodus 5 recounts when Moses and Aaron first approached Pharaoh with the request for Israel to be allowed to go into the wilderness and make sacrifice to God. Pharaoh responded, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the LORD.” (Exodus 5:2) Yes, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in later exchanges with Moses, but Pharaoh’s heart was already opposed to God. God did not prevent a man from turning to Him who might otherwise have repented and worshiped God. God confirmed Pharaoh in his rebellion.
The same is true with all others who are condemned by God. Romans 1 teaches that when men rebel against God and replace Him with idols, He judges them by no longer restraining the wickedness of their mind. Every man is naturally a rebel who refuses to worship God. Only the grace of God at work in the heart is able to draw a man from rebellion to worship. Those who refuse the grace of God are justly condemned by Him.