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What Luther Says

Do Loved Ones Come Back As Ghosts To Visit Us After They Die?

When I was younger, the 1990 movie Ghost starring Patrick Swayze an Demi Moore was one of the biggest hits and probably because it was about a subject that resonated with anyone who had ever lost someone they loved, which is every single one of us at some point in our lives.

This isn't a piece on the Biblical merits of that film, but I thought about it today after reading a section in the excellent book titled "The House Swept Clean: A Biblically Balanced Pattern For The Diagnosis, Exorcism, And Pastoral Care Of The Victims Of Demonic Possession" by Pastor Darrell Arthur McCulley.

Now, you might be thinking, "What in the world does 'Demonic Possession' and/or influence have to do with ghosts of our loved ones who have died before us!?!" Um, quite a lot, actually.

The excerpt I'd like to share is in direct response to the common question: Do loved ones come back as ghosts to visit us after they die?

It seems like such a "no-brainer" to us, and I would venture to guess that a majority of Christians believe that this is possible. In fact, I have a dear family member whose daughter was stillborn and she recently stated that, "When I hear my son in his crib giggling and cooing, I know his sister is visiting with him." It's heartbreaking, I know! I can't imagine what it must be like to lose a child the way she did either. Even so, while my heart breaks for her, I know hers is an extremely comforting thought to someone who is hurting so deeply, but is it Biblical?

This should help to answer that question for us...

"So-called "haunted" places are very common, and people who are vulnerable to deception may buy the full legend about 'lost love and suicide' or 'Civil War soldier' or 'drowned child' or whatever the history of the place may offer. However, Scripture is very clear about the possibility of people coming back from the dead to visit places they once knew in life. In the book of Job, the suffering man tells very clearly what happens to people when they die. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Job says: 'As a cloud vanishes and is gone, so he who goes down to the grave does not return. He will never come to his house again; his place will know him no more.' This is one of the most dogmatic statements in the Bible on the disposition of the dead. And regardless of whether Uncle Fred ended up in Paradise or Torment, wherever it was, it's not back home telling Aunt Ellie where he hid the will!" 
-- Page 52

"So whatever these spirits are, they certainly aren't the souls or spirits of the dead people coming back to be seen by the living. Since it is clear that these apparitions are not God, that leaves only two possibilities: these spirits are angels, or these spirits are demons. 
They aren't angels. People may not always know an angel when they see one, but angels, even if in disguise, never do pointless things or play deceptive tricks. Angels don't lie, and appearing to be someone you aren't to deceive people is a lie. Demons, however, do lie. They lie to the interested, the vulnerable, the untutored, the intellectually arrogant, and anyone else they can. And if appearing as the joyful laughter of a recently-departed child can get the mourning parents to disbelieve the Word of God, demons are cruel enough to do it gleefully. They are so full of hate for people made in the image of God that they will do whatever they can to give comfort in this life if it leads to not knowing God in the next one. 
This calls for the pastor with a loving heart and a mind with wisdom. A recently-bereaved widow may take a great deal of comfort in the fact that her dear departed husband still watches over her. After all, she tells the minister, she can see him standing next to her bed from time to time. A child who has lost a moTher may be given a good deal of relief from grief because 'Mommy still tucks me in at night.' (Yes, demons are just that despicable and they play just that dirty. Cruelty is their stock-in-trade.) A pastor who comes loping in with an exorcism manual in one hand and the Bible in the other and who can't wait to immediately and dramatically divest these poor souls of their misconception will only cause resentment, damage, and alienation -- first from himself, then from God. He must lovingly and gently lead the person through whatever comfort he can share from the Word of God. The widow can be told that her husband may indeed see her from Heaven, and Jesus watches over her in ways even her heavenly husband could not. Perhaps her minister could have her read the Job passage out loud, asking her what she thinks about it. Then he could gently lead her to realize its truth. Then and only then, when the person can handle being told the rest of the story, might the pastor tell them that they are being most cruelly deceived. He will have to use his best prayerful judgment to make 100% sure when the person can handle all the facts. 
Having said all this, whenever possible, this information should be told to the person. However painful it might be, it is always better when a person can be told the truth and freed from a lie. But it must be done in a loving and gentle way that respects the person's fragility and how much they are comforted by this false apparition. Satan is cruel and vicious, and this sort of lie is among the most evil and mean-hearted things he does to vulnerable and hurting people. He does not play fair, and an exorcist or minister must be prepared to show the Enemy all the merciful quarter he deserves, which is none." 
-- Page 53

Boy, that certainly puts things into perspective for us, doesn't it?

Soon after reading that over the past weekend, I took to Twitter to share the following...

I hate to be so blunt about it, especially if you're reading this as someone who currently believes they're being visited regularly by a loved one who has died, but "ghosts" are actually demons pretending to be dead people (or pretending to be your loved one).

Ecclesiastes 9:5 (ESV) For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten.

Psalm 146:4 (ESV) When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.

Satan is real, fallen angels are real, and demonic entities are real. Very real.

This is a reality we must accept and face so that we do not fall unsuspectingly into their hands and unconsciously open ourselves up to their evil influence.

Ok, but what about the people who INSIST that they have seen their dead loved ones around them or even heard their voice? Again, I'm sorry, but that's a demon impersonating your loved one with the intent to deceive you and to lead you away from the truth of God's Word as well as God Himself.

Besides, let's not forget that God explicitly forbids us from communicating with the dead.

Deuteronomy 18:10-12 (ESV) There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD. And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you.

This is also why we should not entertain psychics either, but that's a piece for another day.

As another Christian blogger put it...

The Bible is very clear on two points, on which nearly all denominations agree. First, any spirit that is not God is not to be trifled with. The Bible repeatedly and firmly condemns seeking out the dead. Second, and crucially, diabolical spirits can and do take on kindly appearances. This can mean looking like angelic beings or, perhaps, deceased loved ones. All spirits are to be tested against what we know from Scripture.

Precisely! It reminds me of 2 Corinthians 11:14 where we're also told that "even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light." Well, there you have it! I mean, it's not like a demon bent on deceiving you and leading you astray is just gonna show up in your bedroom in the middle of the night looking like a stereotypical demon. No, it would much rather use its supernatural abilities to impersonate someone you truly loved so that you will let your guard down, right?

In a Lutheran layman's terms, if we take a closer look at Scripture's teachings on death and the afterlife, then we clearly discover that despite what "Pop Christianity" tells us, our loved ones do not come back as ghosts to visit us after they die.

NOTE: Please understand that I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or just your average everyday Christian, Corporate Recruiter, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. As another Christian Blogger once wrote, "Please do not see this blog as me attempting to 'publicly teach' the faith, but view it as an informal Public Journal of sorts about my own experiences and journey, and if any of my notes here help you in any way at all, then I say, 'Praise the Lord!' but please do double check them against the Word of God and with your own Pastor." To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this disclaimer/note, please understand that I'm a relatively new convert to "Confessional Lutheranism" and one who recently escaped an American-Evangelical-Non-Denominational mindset a little more than 6 years ago now despite being a Christian my whole life. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way back into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with the Bible, our Confessions, and Lutheran doctrine in general (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and repeatedly point us back to over and over again) so that I can not only correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1), but repent of my sin and learn the whole truth myself. With that in mind, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier/older pieces I wrote for this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that "Old Evangelical Adam" category (and they don't have a disclaimer like this) since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). This knowledge of the Lutheran basics was completely foreign to me even though I was baptized, confirmed, and married in an LCMS church! So, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavily influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because they are not blasphemous/heretical, because I now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse footnotes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I will defer to what other Lutheran Pastors both past and present have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained under-shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries (this disclaimer/note is a perfect example of what I mean! haha). I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a "Christian Dude's Diary" in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Feel free to comment/email me at any time. Grace and peace to you and yours!

About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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