Ghosts and the Afterlife

I was watching some cheesy Lifetime movies last night, but they were good enough to keep me on the edge of my seat. One was They Come Back. It was about a psychologist and a little girl who sees dead people (sound familiar?). But it wasn’t entirely a rip-off of the Sixth Sense, since the psychologist wasn’t a dead person. She actually interacted with people! There was a good classroom scene, though. The little girl wasn’t saying “Stop looking at me like that!,” but she did shatter the aquarium, or at least got her poltergeist friend to do so.

The other was Nightmare at the End of the Hall. It was about a famous writer and teacher at a prep school, Courtney, whose dead friend is haunting the halls. In addition, someone who looks just like her friend is living at the school–in the same room where her friend committed suicide (or, as we learn later, got murdered by the headmaster because she had a baby with the headmaster’s son, who actually liked Courtney). The movie had a lot of suspense, but, once everything was explained, my reaction was “Big deal.” There was one interesting point, though: Courtney made a lot of money off a novel about her friend’s suicide, which upset the girl’s family. What she did looks pretty cold, but writing is supposed to be based on real life experiences, right? That’s a good ethical question!

After the movies, I was thinking about the topic of ghosts. At Hebrew Union College, I once took an adult ed class about demons, and the professor said that demons in the ancient Near East could be ghosts who came back to take care of unresolved business. But what does the Hebrew Bible teach? Most of the Hebrew Bible seems to teach that the dead go to Sheol, period. I know there are passages that oppose the cult of the dead, which included offering them food. Such a practice may imply that the dead could leave Sheol every now and then. I don’t know.

In terms of my religious background, the teaching on the afterlife that I always got was “soul sleep.” It’s held by Armstrongites, Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and perhaps others. I once heard it mentioned on the program, Christy! According to this doctrine, the dead are unconscious between the time of their death and that of their resurrection. Its justification is that there are biblical references that call death a “sleep,” plus there are some passages that say the dead don’t know anything. Consequently, according to advocates of “soul sleep,” whenever a person sees a “ghost” of a dead person, he is actually seeing a demon. And that includes the “ghost” of Samuel in the witch of Endor scene!

In terms of experience, I’ve heard stories about ghosts. When I lived in New York, I attended a liberal Seventh-Day Adventist church, and the guest speaker was an expert on missions. During our lunch, I heard stories about Latin America and the Caribbean, in which ghosts are an accepted part of life. Some of them take out the garbage!

One of my relatives told me that there was a ghost in her house. She saw him with her peripheral vision, and she claimed that he took objects and returned them every now and then. There were times when the rocking chair moved and no one was sitting in it. He wasn’t a mean ghost. He just liked hanging around the house!

In my great-grandmother’s final moments, she talked to an invisible person who was sitting on her bed. Did she have her own Andrew, the angel of death on Touched by an Angel, who escorts departed souls to the afterlife?

I’m not sure if I’d call every ghost a demon, since many of them don’t seem malevolent or engaged in deceptive spiritual practices. They’re just there! But there is a potential for deception. I once read a tract by Bob Jones (though I forget whether it was I, II, or III). He said that the ghost of his dead mother once appeared to him, and she was telling him that there were many ways to get to heaven. He knew that wasn’t really his mother, since she believed in Jesus. He identified that spirit as a demon.

Can one reconcile the existence of poltergeists with Christianity? You really can’t with soul sleep, but how about with the immortal soul? According to that doctrine, a soul can go to heaven or hell. Or some maintain that it goes to a waiting room, where it anticipates the final judgment. Can a spirit wander the earth for a while before going there? When Nicole Kidman on The Others felt that her existence as a poltergeist contradicted her conservative Catholic beliefs, maybe she should have waited for a while: God eventually would’ve sent her soul to where it belonged.

I don’t know.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
This entry was posted in Bible, Church, Life, Movies, Religion, Resurrection, Television. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Ghosts and the Afterlife

  1. Bryan L says:

    Interesting thoughts about something I’ve wondered about for a while. I don’t think Satan will ever send a demon to me nor any ghost (if he sends them too) as it would only increase my faith a hundred times since I would know even more of the reality of the spiritual.



  2. James Pate says:

    True, Bryan, but one can believe in the spiritual without believing in Christianity, right?


  3. Bryan L says:

    Definitely. I was only speaking of me personally.


  4. James Pate says:

    True. I know I’d be praying hard if I encountered a spirit.


Comments are closed.