Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Do You Believe in Ghosts?

John Wesley surprised me. He allowed for the possibility of ghosts, disembodied human spirits both evil and holy. In what may have been his last sermon (January 17, 1791), in his Sermons, # 122, "On Faith", Wesley wrote what could be called really speculative theology. Wesley conjectures that dead humans may be used to affect things on this earth. Considering sinners who are dead:
Let us consider, First, what may be the employment of unholy spirits from death to the resurrection. We cannot doubt but the moment they leave the body, they find themselves surrounded by spirits of their own kind, probably human as well as diabolical. What power God may permit these to exercise over them, we do not distinctly know. But it is not improbable, he may suffer Satan to employ them, as he does his own angels, in inflicting death, or evils of various kinds, on the men that know not God: For this end they may raise storms by sea or by land; they may shoot meteors through the air; they may occasion earthquakes; and, in numberless ways, afflict those whom they are not suffered to destroy. Where they are not permitted to take away life, they may inflict various diseases; and many of these, which we judge to be natural, are undoubtedly diabolical.
And this:
May not some of these evil spirits be likewise employed, in conjunction with evil angels, in tempting wicked men to sin, and in procuring occasions for them? yea, and in tempting good men to sin, even after they have escaped the corruption that is in the world? Herein, doubtless, they put forth all their strength; and greatly glory if they conquer.
And this:
Ought not we then to be perpetually on our guard against those subtle enemies? Though we see them not,— —

A constant watch they keep;
They eye us night and day;
And never slumber, never sleep,
Lest they should lose their prey.

Herein they join with 'the rulers of the darkness,' the intellectual darkness, 'of this world,' -- the ignorance, wickedness, and misery diffused through it, -- to hinder all good, and promote all evil! To this end they are continually 'working with energy in the children of disobedience.' Yea, sometimes they work by them those lying wonders that might almost deceive even the children of God.
Not content to speculate only on departed sinners, Wesley continues with his view of the holy dead:
Yet in what part of the universe this is situated who can tell, or even conjecture, since it has not pleased God to reveal anything concerning it? But we have no reason to think they are confined to this place; or, indeed, to any other. May we not rather say, that, 'servants of his,' as well as the holy angels, they 'do his pleasure;' whether among the inhabitants of earth, or in any other part of his dominions? And as we easily believe that they are swifter than the light; even as swift as thought; they are well able to traverse the whole universe in the twinkling of an eye, either to execute the divine commands, or to contemplate the works of God.
With this:
And how much will that add to the happiness of those spirits which are already discharged from the body, that they are permitted to minister to those whom they have left behind...And in how many ways may they 'minister to the heirs of salvation!' Sometimes by counteracting wicked spirits whom we cannot resist, because we cannot see them; sometimes by preventing our being hurt by men, or beasts, or inanimate creatures.
Do I believe Wesley? No, I don't. I think he let his imagination soar a little too highly on this occasion. Perhaps it was the Englishman in him where there is a ghost story for every square inch of centuries old Great Britain. Perhaps it was his family's own encounters with "Old Jeffrey." Perhaps it was his own innate sense of his impending death that allowed for his speculation.

I believe that anything paranormal/supernatural (outside of the Trinity) is either from the angelic realm or the demonic realm. I just haven't found Scripture compelling me to believe that departed human spirits return and do things on this earth despite 1 Samuel 28.11-19 or Matthew 17.3.

In the 1 Samuel account I'm not convinced that really was Samuel or, if it was, it was a special case of God allowing Samuel to prophesy Saul's doom. Moreover, in the Matthew account, I don't see where one can make this extraordinary account normative. In short, I find the evidence lacking.

Now, can I prove Wesley wrong? No, I can't. That's the very problem with speculative theology—you can't prove (or disprove) it. It just kind of hangs out there in theological nothingness.

Let's use some common sense. Do you really think that after a long and productive life on earth your dead relative has nothing better to do with his time than to reduce himself to banging on your bedroom walls, walking up and down your creaky hallway and repeatedly flushing your bathroom's toilet at three o'clock in the morning?

But it makes for a good ghost story. ;-)