A Christian’s Thoughts
BY DR. AGONON
Do ghosts exist?
If you had asked me as a child, I would have said unequivocally that they did. Nowadays, I say I don’t know. (As I wrote that line, a loud noise shot through my house, and for a moment I grew certain again). My problem is that I want, desperately, for ghosts to exist, and therefore I cannot trust my own mind. One point I’ll make in favor of their existence, is that the Bible, whenever the topic arises, never dismisses a belief in ghosts, seemingly assuming the positive, but conversely the Bible never endorses their existence either.
The noteworthy case of the Witch of Endor, though some see it as a clenching proof of the positive, is less a ghostly apparition and more an example of successful necromancy. To clarify, though 1 Samuel 28 describes an instance of a ghost, that ghost seems an exceptional case—even to the frightened witch herself—and it is conceivable, though I think this opinion is an extraordinarily long stretch, that this was the one and only ghost ever. (Some Christians do believe this, however). Whatever the case may be, I think both sides are wrong in declaring an absolute verdict. Why did the witch scream? Since she was a medium, did Samuel’s ghost actually show up, or did she simply put on a good show? I don’t know, but taken on its own apart from any theological outlook pushing for a certain interpretation, the evidence leans toward the existence of ghosts.
There is also the consideration that Jesus was mistaken for a ghost—before and after his resurrection. Post resurrection, the Bible makes a clear delineation between a resurrected body and a ghost. If there are no such things as ghosts, why wouldn’t Jesus have just said so? What was the point of his proving that he wasn’t a ghost if there are no such things? And yet the counterpoint: People believed in ghosts; people would have naturally thought Jesus’ reappearance was only a spiritual reappearance; the salvation story falls apart if it is only a spiritual truth; therefore, the Bible needed to clarify that this wasn’t merely a spiritual but an entire, a bodily, resurrection.
Making a purely biblical argument, I can only say that the evidence points to the affirmative, but I can clearly see the counterargument, the theological underworkings of which seem pretty secure. The problem with trying to make a biblical argument for either case is that it is mistreating the Bible itself. The Bible is not talking about ghosts—it is shocking how little the Bible is concerned with the afterlife. Perhaps all I have written up to this point is my reason for believing that the Bible does not tell us if ghosts exist, that it is a category mistake to use the Bible in such a way.
When it is all said and done, I really do believe in ghosts in the sense that I would place good money on their existence, if it were ever possible to prove. My skepticism comes after this point, a flood of questions invading my mind: What is a ghost, exactly? If there are ghosts, why? What can ghosts do? What do they do? The answers become problematic: If a ghost is a disembodied spirit, how would it have any affect in the physical world? The troupe of a ghost existing because of unfinished work or a violent death is fantastic (I could be wrong).
I want ghosts to exist, and therefore I do not trust my own reasoning. I, a fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories, am mortified to think that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a spiritualist. Everyone can be fooled some of the time, and fearful that I’ll be wrong, I don’t think I’ll ever convince myself into either camp.
Whatever the case, I still love a good ghost story before bed.