Monday, May 06, 2019

Anonymous Asks (38)

“Can ghosts and evil things get me?”

Let’s see. There are indeed “ghosts” in the Bible.

The King James Version uses the word 109 times, though not in any sense that should keep us up at night. All occur in one of two expressions: “Holy Ghost” (an antiquated way of referring to the Holy Spirit) or “give up the ghost” (which just means dying).

In modern translations the word is used whenever superstitious people saw something they couldn’t explain, and wrongly assumed they were being visited by spirits. The disciples saw Jesus walking on the water and cried, “It is a ghost!

Like most reported ghost sightings, it wasn’t.

One Possible Exception

There is a possible exception in the story of King Saul and the Medium of En-dor in 1 Samuel 28. On the verge of battle against the Philistines and desperate to know the outcome in advance, Saul consults a witch very much against the Law of Moses and against all common sense. The woman is asked to bring up the dead prophet Samuel to tell him what to expect. The king cannot see this spirit, but apparently the medium can.

There is a certain amount of legitimate terror in the story, but it’s not fear of ghosts. The medium is afraid of being executed for witchcraft, and Saul is overwhelmed with fear for his own future because of the message she gives him. Whether the medium actually spoke to the ghost of Samuel or whether she saw a demonic deception is left to the reader to decide.

In any case, the Bible is not a place where we customarily find visions of dead people roaming around and troubling human beings, nor is it a place vampires, werewolves and other monstrous, fictional beings tend to frequent. I for one find that comforting.

Evil Spirits and Demons

Angelic and demonic spirits are another story, however, and I assume when you say “evil things”, you mean the latter. There are plenty of New Testament accounts of demon possession or oppression to consider in the gospels and the book of Acts. Some Bible scholars seem to think it was simply a Jewish quirk to attribute things like paralysis, blindness, deafness, loss of speech, epilepsy, melancholy or insanity to the work of evil spirits, but this explanation proves woefully inadequate when we come to stories like that of Legion, from whom the Lord Jesus is said to have driven many unclean spirits, or the story of seven Jewish exorcists who tried unsuccessfully to expel an evil spirit with whom they had a dialogue. Other than insanity, diseases don’t usually talk.

Bear in mind that these sorts of stories are not common, and they peaked in the first century A.D. I have heard several demon possession tales in my lifetime, but none that can be confirmed beyond reasonable doubt. The fact that the Bible doesn’t give Christians a lot of guidance about how to avoid being controlled by demons suggests to me that this is unlikely to be a major issue for believers to worry about.

Telling Fortunes and Divination

The New Testament accounts of driving out evil spirits do not tell us much about how the possessed or oppressed people became afflicted in the first place. Luke records the story of a slave girl with a spirit of divination. She would have been something like a fortune teller. Did she become possessed because she was seeking to know the future, or did she know the future because she was possessed? We are not told.

Still, the association between evil spirits and the ability to prophesy is also found in the Old Testament, where King Saul was harassed by an evil spirit that sometimes made him say things he didn’t plan or control. This is also the case in the gospels: demon-possessed people knew things most ordinary people didn’t. They correctly identified who Jesus was, crying out in fear, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God?”

If only the Jewish religious authorities had been equally perceptive.

The Search for Secret Knowledge

The connection between demonic activity and the search for secret knowledge is an old one, and a dangerous thing to pursue. Like Saul, men and women play games with the greater spiritual powers, and endanger themselves in doing it. If you are concerned about being “gotten” by an evil spirit, it is wise to avoid going where evil spirits are traditionally thought to be active. Stay away from people who claim to tell the future.

In Israel, men and women who consorted with evil spirits were to receive the death penalty. There was good reason for this. The apparent surge in demonic activity we observe occurring in the time of Christ may have had something to do with the fact that under Roman authority, the Jews were no longer legally permitted to enforce this particular provision of the Law of Moses.

Occupied Houses

One thing that is notable about Saul’s spiritual oppression was this: it started when the Spirit of the Lord was no longer present with him. That seems to strongly suggest demonic control of a genuine believer in Jesus is not possible, since Christians are permanently indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

Evil spirits seek out empty houses to live in, not occupied ones.

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