For The Someday Book

Can Christians Believe in Ghosts?

Posted on: August 23, 2011

This is one of the most frequent theological questions I get asked. If you believe in the Holy Spirit, can you also believe in spirits? If you believe in resurrection, in heaven, in hell—can you also believe in ghosts?

Moaning Myrtle, one of the ghosts in Hogwarts Castle, and sometimes friend to Harry Potter.

I usually field these questions from those who are dying and those who have recently lost loved ones, and they arise in response to a direct experience that feels like an encounter with someone beyond the veil. It’s not anything like Casper the Friendly Ghost, or Poltergeist, or even the friendly haunts from Hogwarts. Almost always, people just describe a presence that they can feel, or sometimes a voice they hear or a vision that they see.

When people are dying, they often tell friends and loved ones (and their pastor) about visits from loved ones who have already died. People will detail elaborate conversations they have had with their parents or spouses or children who are long deceased. These conversations seem as real to them as conversations with living family members. My own grandmother, in the final days of her battle with Alzheimer’s Disease, described the “red-headed angel” that came to see her, and we all thought of my aunt, her daughter, who had lost her battle with breast cancer a few years earlier.

Those who have recently lost loved ones—especially a spouse or parent—will describe feeling, hearing or seeing that loved one with them again. These encounters often come in the night, either through a sophisticated dream or a sudden awakening to the brief sight or sound of the person in the room. Other times, it just feels like the person is there, even though the bereaved person knows that they have died. I have had countless people share messages from their mother, father, wife or husband. Almost always, these visits provide a sense of love, peace, connection and healing to the grieving heart.

In the movie Ghost, Patrick Swayze returns to visit his beloved Demi Moore and help her heal from grief.

People tell me these stories to see if I think their encounters are real, to test if they are losing their minds, and to ask whether believing in the reality of these experiences is somehow incompatible belief in the reality of God and God’s promise of resurrection. As a pastor, my answer to all of the above questions is always unequivocal. Yes, I believe them when they tell me about the power of these experiences. No, I don’t think they are crazy. No, I don’t think believing you’ve seen or felt the presence of someone who has died is incompatible with Christian theology.

Are these “ghost stories”? Who is to say? We do not have sophisticated, subtle language to discuss our experiences that touch the space between this life and the next. From earth, the boundary between life and death seems impermeable, but we have no knowledge about how that boundary works from the other side.

No one knows for certain what happens when we die. It is all a matter of faith and speculation. At the heart of the Christian faith is the promise of the resurrection—that Jesus somehow was raised from the dead, which means that death does not have the last word, that there is life beyond this life, and we need not fear the grave. Does that resurrection mean that our beloved ancestors return to us at the time of our crossing over or theirs, to comfort us? Or is it all something our minds concoct in times of stress and distress? I don’t claim to know or understand. I certainly don’t find anything in Christian theology that precludes the possibility, nor anything that affirms it. Who am I to say that it is not of God?

As a pastor, I am grateful for those grieving loved ones who have these encounters with spirits, because their pain is eased and healing begins. Maybe it is all just the one Holy Spirit, the Comforter, who comes to us in many forms to bring consolation.

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3 Responses to "Can Christians Believe in Ghosts?"

“Maybe it is all just the one Holy Spirit, the Comforter, who comes to us in many forms to bring consolation.”

What a comforting phrase… thank you 🙂

Thank you for this thoughtful reflection. Having had some of those “very real” experiences, I’ve never thought of myself as having been haunted in most cases. Most were not frightening– at least not after I grew up. I was very scared by some when I was a child, but I now understand those in a different light. I also never thought that it meant my father’s spirit or that of my grandparents were “trapped” in this world. It seemed more like just a visit to bring comfort or “watch over me”. Very appropriate timing, too, as tomorrow is the season premiere of “Ghost Hunters”! LOL

Just love this post! Thanks so much for sharing it a few months back. Wanted to share with you the fruits of your labor and how I riffed on your theme. Check out the podcast Ghosts-n-Stuff here. Hope you’ll enjoy!

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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