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Feedback archive Feedback 2012

Ghosts, experience, and the Bible

Published: 18 March 2012(GMT+10)

Ghosts

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Lee P. from the United States writes in response to Are ghosts real? Lita Cosner’s responses are interspersed throughout.

I have some problems with the article, ‘Are ghosts real?’ For the most part I am probably wrong or confused,

Your ability to even admit the possibility is refreshing and more than we usually come across. The humility is refreshing as many are so caught up in their own assumptions they don’t even consider there might be another perspective that makes more sense biblically.

but you (and others) mentioned fallen angels and their power to roam the earth or manifest themselves in many different ways. This seems to completely contradict the passage, Jude 1:6 (maybe it is just the sixth verse of Jude as there is only one chapter). It says that the fallen angels … are in everlasting chains reserved for the judgement day. So how can they be currently in chains, but roam and manifest themselves on earth?

I would argue that to interpret the verse correctly, we need to look at the whole context. See verses 6–7:

6 And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day— 7 just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.”

I don’t need messages from my dead loved ones about what the afterlife is like, or anything else, because God has given us everything we need in His Word.

Verse 6 is talking about a specific class or group of angels, who left their proper dwelling—this could refer to all angels that followed after Satan, but I think the next verse helps us to define that specific class of angels who are in eternal chains. The great sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was sexual immorality. If the two parallel each other, as I think is likely, then verse 6 is talking about angels who committed sexual sin. The only case of this recorded in the Bible is the ‘sons of God’ taking human women as their wives and fathering the Nephilim. 2 Peter 2 also parallels sinning angels in the time of the global Flood with Sodom and Gomorrah’s sin and destruction, giving weight to this argument. See our article Who were the sons of God in Genesis 6?

So a likely interpretation in my opinion is that the angels who fathered the Nephilim are in chains, so they can’t repeat their sin.

I agree that demons and followers of Satan are out there, I just disagree that fallen angels are.

Secondly, while I agree that the overwhelmingly vast majority is/are evil spirits or demons (definitely something deceitful), there are some stories that at least seem to be somewhat Christian in nature.

Scripture has to be our measure for truth, even against experience.

Satan and his fallen angels aren’t above (mis)using Scripture or biblical ideas to suit their means if that would be a convenient way to deceive them. The Bible tells us that Satan masquerades as an angel of light, for example. (2 Corinthians 11:14). For instance, to use a hypothetical example, let’s say a Christian man gets a ‘visit’ from his recently deceased uncle, who tells him he’s in Heaven, he’s happy, and to trust Jesus, etc. There’s nothing unbiblical per se about what the ‘uncle’ told him, but if the man believes the experience, he is open to further deception. He might just seek further encounters, or engage in other forms of spiritism, if he accepts that this one case was from God. I’m aware that this is a ‘slippery slope’ argument, but I just wanted to illustrate how fallen angels might use even a ‘biblical’ message to deceive, if the real goal is to get people to trust the medium of the message. See Christians shaped by experiences rather than the ‘Bible first’ approach. After all, the Bible warns us that Satan masquerades as an angel of light.

Near death experiences where they see their ‘dead’ relatives and become Christians or become better Christians. There are some examples of non-near-death experiences that certainly seemed to bring people closer to God. My memory is poor, but wasn’t there a Roman general (Constantine) or leader that saw a spirit, he won the battle and then convert all of Rome to Christianity.

Constantine saw a vision of a chi-rho (an early Christian symbol made up of the first two Greek letters of the word Christos) and heard the words “In this sign, conquer.” He had it emblazoned on all the shields of his army and won the battle.

I certainly understand that the LORD does not want us to do this because we will be deceived, stray from the path, etc. He wants us to call to him for guidance and not someone / something else.

Precisely. I don’t need messages from my dead loved ones about what the afterlife is like, or anything else, because God has given us everything we need in His Word. When we open up the possibility of encounters like this, we’re sort of saying that God’s revelation isn’t good enough for us; we need to hear more from ‘Auntie Rose’, or whoever.

The LORD always seems very precise in his ‘words’ and it just seems weird that he forbade talking with the dead; instead of just saying that you do not do this because they are demons out to deceive you.

God doesn’t give us full explanations about things—in fact, we’re told very little about demons and fallen angels in Scripture. But what we do know is more than sufficient. Satan is a liar and the father of lies, he and the fallen angels who follow him are entirely deceptive and can’t be trusted. They can appear in all manner of disguises, so we don’t always know when they’re trying to deceive us. They hate humans, especially those who belong to Jesus. They can’t be saved (and wouldn’t want to be even if it were possible), and they don’t want humans to be saved either. They know that they await eternal judgment, so they want to drag as many humans with them as possible.

All this means that any argument from experience is suspect if Scripture doesn’t back it up. Scripture has to be our measure for truth, even against experience. If an experience contradicts Scripture, then the experience is deceptive. And we simply open ourselves up for deception to whatever degree we deviate from that standard. This is difficult for most as experiences involve emotions which are the most powerful agents that work on our mind and bodies. The Scriptures are quite clear that we should be careful of the ‘flesh’ and ensure that we use our minds to discern things, especially experiences.

The LORD is very straight-forward in his words, and it just seems that your dogmatic interpretation seems a little convoluted. Much like the theistic evolutionists that say Genesis uses day to mean long ages. One argument against theistic evolution is that the LORD could have easily said long ages or a really long time, etc. If what you are saying is absolutely true, then it certainly seems that He could have said that very easily.

Actually, I think our reasoning is actually very ‘non-convoluted’. The Bible is silent when it comes to saying that we should trust visits from deceased ‘Auntie Edna’, but as Gary’s article pointed out, it is very strong on having nothing to do with such experiences whether they appear good or bad. Your view is really ‘adding’ experience to Scripture and using that as a guide to possibly interpret Scripture.

Our reasoning is very different from that of the theistic evolutionists. The theistic evolutionists start outside of Scripture with the consensus of the majority of scientists that say the earth is billions of years old and that life evolved. Then they try to cram that into Scripture somehow. (Kind of what you are actually doing). In contrast, we start from Scripture and ask what the Bible says, and then we try to extrapolate that into relevant situations that aren’t directly taught. Gary’s article actually used a Scripture first approach and his correct hermeneutical method was to use Scripture to interpret Scripture.

The same reasoning applies for Luke 24:39, why would Jesus say “ … for a spirit does not have flesh and bones … ” He must be talking about something because he could easily have said something different and be just as true / effective. Jesus is referring to something truthful in that statement. If not it seems very misleading and not straight-forward. I guess I need other examples of this type of reasoning from scripture to see it your way; otherwise, I just don’t think it is absolutely correct.

This was covered in the article:

“Notice that Jesus did not affirm that ghosts were real (in the sense of being the spirits of departed people—as opposed to spiritual or angelic/demonic beings). He asked them to touch Him to prove the point that His body was a physical one. However, He did not chide the disciples for believing in the popular idea of ghosts. That may not have been the issue. He was definitely affirming that he was not a spiritual being, ghost, apparition, spirit or whatever, but that He had been bodily resurrected. If they did think He was an apparition, then they simply underestimated who He was and His power and they resorted to cultural beliefs, because of the astonishment of what was going on. For example, I wonder what ideas we would come up with if we saw a ‘man’ (because at this stage they did not recognize Jesus as God) walking on water or suddenly appearing in a locked room.”
About telling the future, chapter 13 of Deuteronomy talks about this a little. It seems to indicate that evil people are allowed by God to predict the future (and do so precisely) because God is testing us. It seems from your article that evil people can only predict the future by scatter-gun affect or by manipulating events to conform to their prediction. I think another way is that they did truly predict the future and not use the scatter-gun or manipulation-of-events to do it.

No one who predicts future events with spiritism or other occult means has a 100% accuracy record, which is what God says is the test of a true prophet. People can make remarkable predictions that happen by coincidence, I’ve seen cases of even very unlikely predictions that have come true independent of the predictor’s ability to cause it to happen. But if they ever make a prediction that doesn’t happen, that means they’re not a prophet.

But see in this passage that the other test of a true prophet is loyalty to the one true God, the only one who can give us infallible insight into future events. Spirits may have ways of manipulating events—for instance, saying, “This will happen at this time” and then when the time comes, the spirits work to try to make it happen as they made the person predict. Even human beings or cult leaders have similarly made self-fulfilling prophecy predications—actually orchestrating events or performing actions that they know will result in another action, thus making themselves look like prophets.

Simply accepting the possibility that a genuine communication with spirits is possible leaves the door open for deception. We’ve seen many times where someone has an experience, and that experience overrides everything else, including the biblical teaching.

I hope these few thoughts are helpful. I also recommend Gary Bates’ book Alien Intrusion, which might be helpful as far as understanding the deceptive nature of even some very convincing experiences.

Sincerely,

Lita Cosner

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Readers’ comments
Will W., United States, 23 March 2012

Dear CMI,

I think I might not be alone in worrying that CMI is sliding away from - and damaging - its core mandate by discussing paranormal fringe issues such as ghosts and UFOs. I ask respectfully: how can anyone take creation science seriously if you, its major champions, discuss it in the same breath with subjects that are historically the province of credulous cranks? I hope this line of interest doesn't expand into sober essays on Bigfoot, Atlantis, Mayan eschatology, or the Illuminati... evolutionists already think creationists are crazy enough.

Sincerely,

Will Walker

Gary Bates responds

Dear sir,

I think you might be more alone in your thinking on this than you perhaps realize. I can understand your concern if you have not delved into the subject matter to see that there is indeed a huge evolutionary connection to the subject matter. I encourage you to investigate the wealth of articles we have on the topic of UFOs, for instance, under the topics button at the top of the page. It is directly a subset of CMI's mandate in dealing with the origins issue, and your comment reveals that you are obviously not aware of this. Quite simply, even mainstream scientists believed if life evolved on the earth, then it must be evolving elsewhere in a 14 billion year old universe, and that life may be much older on the evolutionary scale and therefore more advanced in its technology. Thus it is able to visit the earth. It is also mainstream scientific fact that many feel that these 'advanced' aliens were humankind's creators. You must also be unaware that the UFO phenomenon as depicted in science fiction movies and television is the no.1/most popular entertainment genre, and closely followed by ... you guessed it ... paranormal or supernatural themes. So respectfully, I think this demonstrates that CMI is actually trying to be at the cutting edge of reaching the culture where it's at. For instance, my own book 'Alien Intrusion: UFOs and the Evolution Connection', has just gone into its 6th printing and is the only creation book ever to be an Amazon top 50 best-seller. In short, it has been read by more non-believers than Christians and has been one of CMI's most successful books in bringing people to the Lord and actually introducing them to the subject of Creation. So, not trying to be rude, but it does demonstrate that your comments are a little off base, or uninformed, respectfully. Therefore, I hope you take this robust retort in the same vein as your own challenge to us.

All the best.

We've been dealing with this subject matter for a long time and with great success. A little more research on your part (which is pretty easy to do on Creation.com) will reveal how these things are not viewed as fringe but are indeed mainstream. For Christians who live inside a bubble without realising how the culture is thinking and the force of ideas, they risk being disengaged from it and not being able to reach people.

Bec M., Australia, 26 March 2012

I think it is good that you are looking into this stuff (although I agree with the reader that science should be the main focus) because there are many things that pull people away from believing in God. Believing in ghosts and aliens may be a huge falling block for some people and this might help them actually believe in God rather than just half-hearted Sunday church attending.

Thanks CM :)

Be blessed x Bec

Anna N., United Kingdom, 26 March 2012

Thank you for the article. I totally agree that all aspects of origins must be examined, and in detail. The spiritual world is a very complex one, consisting of more than just heaven and hell and fallen angels roaming the universe. There are levels or states of existence [ed.-in the spiritual realm] which we are asked not to take as truth relating to our life and salvation - or as you said > take experiences as our life's guide. HOWEVER that does not mean we ought not to examine the quite clear evidence of the spiritual complexity. Let's face it: What did the risen Jesus mean when he said to Mary at the tomb: "Do not hold on to me, for I have not returned yet to my Father.......

I have heard many interpretations of this passage, but none satisfies totally. I leave this as an open subject for further research.

Stephanie T., Australia, 26 March 2012

Thanks very much for this article! As a Christian, I have wondered about these kinds of things before (hard not to when it's pressed in your face all the time) and what a Biblical response to them would be. It was very helpful and informative, thank you :)

Emily B., South Africa, 26 March 2012

In response to the interesting letter written by Lee P. on 'Ghosts, experience, and the Bible' I would first like to say that I'm one of those who is pleased you are addressing such topics. You clearly study the Bible and are learned men/women so I know that when such topics are discussed they are more than mere babblings.

That said, however, I would like to address one response by Lee and one by yourselves.

Lee says at the beginning of his letter "I agree that demons and followers of Satan are out there, I just disagree that fallen angels are."

The Bible tells us in Revelation 12:4 that the dragon took 1/3rd of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the Earth. Is this not referring to 1/3 of the angels being sent to Earth? and in vs 9 it says "Satan...was hurled to the Earth and his angels with him." Which seems to confirm that Satan was flung out of heaven onto the earth with 1/3rd of the angels, which, like him, became fully evil, ie demons..?

Lita's response later to comments on prophets states "...if they ever make a prediction that doesn’t happen, that means they’re not a prophet." I struggle with this being true simply because even prophets are human. They can choose to live lives devoted fully to God and speaking the truth, they can be anointed as prophets and speak almost every word in line with God. But then they can either allow emotions to influence their words, or deception to creep in, or whatever the case may be...and then speak something which isn't the word of God and is not true. It wouldn't mean that they're suddenly not a prophet as the gifts and callings are without repentance, but simply that they haven't heard God, they've added their own interpretation or any number of other reasons.

I'm open to any disagreement as it helps me learn;)

Thanks,

Emily

Lita Cosner responds

Dear Emily,

Thanks for writing in with these comments. Regarding prophets—I think you may be misunderstanding a little bit. I'm not saying Isaiah, for example, could never sin or never be wrong in something he said that came only from himself. But when Isaiah said, "The Lord says..." one of the things that confirmed that he was a real prophet was that it was always in line with God's Law and when he made a prediction about the future, it always happened. Or to give another example, when Paul was being inspired by the Holy Spirit to write his letters, he was infallible, but that doesn't mean that everything he wrote was infallible—only what the Holy Spirit inspired and preserved. And when God spoke to them, He spoke in such a way that the prophets themselves were absolutely sure that it was God speaking, and not a deception.

No claimed prophet today has 100% accurate predictions, so we know that they are not from God.

Sincerely,

Lita Cosner

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