Everything that exists belongs to one of two universes: the material universe or the spritual universe. The material universe is physical, can be studied by science and manipulated by technology. The spiritual universe is above and beyond nature, science and technology. Everything that exists is either spiritual or physical. These two universes exist side by side and can interact with one another.
Human beings are hybrid beings that are both natural and supernatural. We have bodies which are material and we have souls which are spritual. We are one of the intersections where these two universes meet and interact. We cannot fully understand ourselves without embracing both sides of our nature.
In the English language, the word “ghost” refers to a spiritual being. For instance, in archaic English the 3rd person of the Trinty is called the Holy Ghost. Here we see that the words “spirit” and “ghost” are interchangable. A ghost is a spirit. But the word ghost is most commonly used to refer to the immaterial aspect of human nature. Do Christians believe in ghosts in this sense?
As noted above, Christians do believe human beings are spiritual as well as physical beings. The soul or spirit of man can be called a ghost. This is the meaning behind the archaic phrase, “giving up the ghost” referring to the death of a human being. When a person dies they give up their ghost to the spiritual realm. This means their soul leaves their body. When our body dies, our soul or ghost lives on with consciousness and personality. In this sense, the Christian can say, “Yes, I believe in ghosts.”
The Christian does believe in the supernatural universe and that human beings are part of that universe. The Christian does believe that human beings have an existence beyond the grave and that this life is a preparation for that life. Ultimate meaning for the human being is not found in this world, but in our connection to God in the spiritual realm. This explains the pervasive interest in the supernatural evidenced in all cultures and the universal human longing for life after death.
But usually when a person asks, “Do you believe in ghosts?,” they mean “Do you believe the souls of dead human beings haunt houses or graveyards? Do you believe they try to scare us or that they can put curses on us, controlling our destinies? Do you think we can communicate with the dead and that they can help us or guide us from beyond the grave?”
To all of these questions the Christian answers a definite, “No.” The Bible teaches the souls of dead human beings go to one of two places: heaven or hell. They do not roam the earth in any shape, form or fashion. They have no power to control or affect us. They are locked away in the spiritual realm until the day of the resurrection. They cannot contact us nor we them. The Christian is in no way to live in fear of ghosts.
Our culture’s traditional view of ghosts living in graveyards or haunted houses goes back to spiritualism or animism, a view of the reality that is dominated by spirits. Ancestor worship is one version of this world view. in such a world, the spirits are able to exercise control over our lives in various ways. One’s only hope of survival is either to appease the spirits through worship and sacrifice or to control them through magic. Otherwise they may curse you and bring you to ruin. People living in such societies are typically plagued by fear and superstition.
Christianity has been a liberating force in culture’s dominated by spiritualism for Christianity declares that 1) there is one almighty God who is sovereign over all the spirits and 2) humans may have a direct relationship with God without having to interact with intermediary spirits and 3) the spirits of the dead do not walk the earth nor do they control our lives. God is the only spirit the Christian has to contact or trust in the spiritual realm. The Christian does not have to live in fear of other spirits for the Christian’s destiny is in God’s hands alone.
Some Christians have said, “No, the souls of people don’t roam the earth, but demons do and they are behind ghostly experiences. They haunt houses and graveyards and speak through mediums.” I do not think Scripture will justify this opinion. The Bible mainly speaks of the devil’s work being done through deception and temptation. He does not attempt to scare people by making things go bump in the night. The demonic world is real, but we must understand its true nature. They do not manifest themselves as monsters but instead seek to deceive us. One of the ways they deceive us is to trick us into believing in haunted houses so we will unnecessarily live in fear and also be distracted from their real work. While in very rare cases demons can possess people, they generally do not speak directly through mediums but deceive us into believing in the false religions mediums promote. It is wrong to take the superstitions of spiritualism and baptize them by saying demons are doing the things traditionally associated with ghosts.
Addendum: What About Saul’s Séance with the Witch of Endor? In the Old Testament, King Saul of Israel consulted a medium called the Witch of Endor. God had forbidden such practices for the reasons outlined above. During the séance, the ghost of Samuel the judge appeared shocking the medium. Samuel did not give the guidance Saul had hoped to receive from him, but instead pronounced God’s judgment on Saul for his sins including seeking to communicate with the dead. This incident was not an endorsement of contacting the dead, but a rebuke of it. The medium was shocked because she had never actually contacted a dead person before. No one can contact the dead through séances or channeling or through any other means. God allowed the ghost of a human being, Samuel, to come back just this one time to rebuke Saul for this very practice.