Click Here to Close this Window
This question breaks from my usual format in that it is based partially on faith and belief rather than strict scientific evidence. The reason is clear; There is no current concrete evidence that explains it completely. It is actually quite complex in its scope. For that reason I have broken it down into two essays. The first attacks the Traditional Ghost theory by demonstrating fallacies in its approach. The second will provide alternative thoughts which could account for much of what we encounter in the paranormal field. So read on to find out what accounts for Spirits,
This is a complex issue and one which reaches outside the scientific areas I generally discuss. But since it is key to what many consider the paranormal I have decided to address it here. To begin with I apply scientific methods to the topics I address. But this one forces me to also go with a level of faith. It will also delve into an area I usually try to avoid on these pages; That being religious beliefs. The reason for avoidance is not because of any agnosticism on my part. Rather it is because there are many different belief systems and in many cases they run counter to each other. It is also because most religions by their nature are unable to be validated by any hard, concrete evidence, rather they require Faith on the part of the believer. And faith is an abstract concept which by nature is not something one can prove by science. I am Christian in my belief, and as a result my response to this question will be based on my belief structure and scriptures. In this essay I will attempt to merge faith with a bit of logic to address the topic.
As to why religion has to enter into this discussion, the reason will become apparent as we go on. But this connection may also not be as firm as one may first suppose. The common point though between religion and what many consider a ghost is that most religions deal with an afterlife of some kind. Likewise most people make the assumption that a ghost or spirit is what remains of one who has died and passed over, in other words, the Traditional Ghost Theory. So clearly any understanding of a spirit must also deal with religion since both seem tied to the afterlife.
The Traditional Ghost Theory is the one most commonly held among people in general. The assumption is made that Ghosts or Spirits are the life force of one who has passed which is either left behind or returned to complete some task left unfinished before their demise. Many investigators and people in general approach the paranormal as though this is a proven fact. But how does this fit with Christian teachings? Based on what is taught in the Bible it does not.
Luke 23; 39-43 (NIV)
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Note in particular what Christ says to the thief, "Today you will be with me in paradise". Emphasis here is on the word "Today". Crucifixion was a common means of execution in those days. People were well aware of how long it took for one to die on a cross. At the time Christ spoke those words He knew His time was measured in hours, not days or months. He knew the same was true for the thief. Hence the word "Today".
Note also the use of the word "will". Not "you might" or "if you want to". It was a definitive "will". The thief had done what was required so his reward was assured. Yet he wasn't given the option to delay or complete any unfinished business. His soul could not linger till later, he could not "haunt" anyone or visit his loved ones after death. Upon his death he was separated from this life, totally and completely.
But what about the spirit of one who passed returning to bring a message or finish a task?
Luke 16; 19-39 (NIV)
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.
23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Now it would seem that this would be a noble task, Lazarus returning from hell to bring the proof needed to save his family from the wages of sin. But even this was denied him. God would not allow even something seemingly that important. His soul remained in hell, and his family still living would have to find the means of salvation through their own efforts. But there was a time when the spirits of ones who passed did come back, and they were clearly recognized by all present.
Mathew 17; 1-8 (NIV)
17 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
6 When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.
Clearly this represents a "full bodied apparition" in its purest form! Moses and Elijah were not seen as mists or ghosts but were clearly recognized for who they were to the extent that the disciples even asked about caring for them. It also must be noted that this was a very special occurrence. This was the point where Old Testament prophesy and New Testament fulfillment comes together. It was a key point in Christ's earthly life.
But also at first glance there seems to be a paradox. Back in Luke 25 we read of "a great chasm" set in place and none can pass between. But keep in mind that was a conversation between Abraham in Heaven and Lazarus in hell. It states none could pass between heaven and hell; it does not put such limitations between heaven and earth, or for that matter hell and earth. So when Moses and Elijah were seen with Jesus it was evidence of a heaven to earth connection. This same possibility may account for demons which from time to time have been found on earth and possessing humans. (Speculation there.)
So where does that leave the Traditional Ghost theory? Clearly God does have the power to allow a visit by those departed but obviously providing proof of heaven and hell to those living did not rise to a level where contact was allowed. Finishing up earthly business was not enough to delay departure. From these examples we can see that upon death, the soul departed immediately. In light of this why would a paranormal investigator today assume that a spirit can hang around to answer a bunch of questions put to it at 2 AM by some paranormal investigator? I would contend that it cannot. Therefore we need another explanation aside from the Traditional Ghost Theory so prevalent these days. Fortunately for the paranormal field there are a few that do not require death to be involved. A few possibilities will be covered in Part 2 of this essay.