The God Squad: Some words on angels, demons, ghosts
Q: Most people avoid looking at the proof of ghosts. There are some that are stuck in time, some that interact with the living, and some that are not so good. The point is, there’s overwhelming proof of ghosts out there, as well as my own experiences.
Every time I bring this up with my Christian friends, however (along with the possibility of purgatory), they deny everything. I call purgatory “the waiting room,” harboring the spirits of people who can’t let go of what they once had. I feel these spirits have yet to repent and move on. Any thoughts? — D., via firstname.lastname@example.org
A: I waited until after Halloween to answer your question. I didn’t want to add to your creepy premonitions on a vulnerable day! First, let’s sort out our psychic phenomena.
Angels are not ghosts, nor are they good dead guys. Angels are spiritual beings who help God run the world and keep track of our lives. Angels have rankings. Ministering angels, like Gabriel and Michael, hold the highest rank. Guardian angels are with each of us, cheering us on or ratting us out, depending on how we act.
Angels represent the idea that God appears to us in forms we can comprehend, but ultimately, angels are just part of the complex mystery of God’s providence. One can believe or not believe in angels and still believe in God. I believe in both angels and God.
Demons are spiritual beings who were never people. They’re the seducers of people and our enemies because, according to legend, they were the angels who didn’t want God to create us in the first place. Demons can possess a person’s soul and cause all sorts of havoc.
I believe in demons, but I also believe that in more primitive times, mental illness was seen as demonic possession. The main religious teaching about demons is that you have nothing to fear from them because they were made by God, and if you just stay on the yellow brick road and don’t wander into the magic forest with the flying monkeys, you’ll be fine (or something along those lines).
I believe in both angels and demons because I believe God’s presence in the world is a source of both life and death, fear and salvation.
Ghosts are another matter. Ghosts are supposedly the souls of dead people “trapped” in this world, unable to proceed to their final destinations in heaven or hell. Both Judaism and Christianity hold to the belief that ghosts are not real because souls can’t linger in the world after death. According to Hebrews 9:27, our destiny is to die once and then face judgment.
The Hebrew Bible doesn’t allow consulting with psychics, who supposedly speak to the dead. Doing so is a capital sin (Leviticus 20:27, and Deuteronomy 18:10-12). The reason for these prohibitions on psychic tourism is not immediately clear. Is the problem that ghosts are not real, or that ghosts are real but we should stay away from them and from people who claim to speak to them? While this isn’t clear, it doesn’t matter.
Consulting the dead is a sin. Tommy (Msgr. Thomas J. Hartman to you) and I fought about this for years. Tommy thought consulting the dead through psychics helped grieving people find comfort (though he knew and supported the Church’s teachings). I felt most psychics were charlatans using grief to extract money from vulnerable people.
I saw a psychic once tell a room of 50 grieving Italian Catholics, “I’m hearing a Maria come through to me.”
Immediately, 48 hands went up saying, “That’s my Maria!”
Seriously, I believe that consulting with ghosts or spirits wherever they reside is a spiritual boundary mistake. We’re in the world of the living until we die, and our total focus must be on this world. While we may believe death is not the end of us, the world after death is none of our concern now.
There’s just one problem with ghosts and the teachings of our Judeo-Christian tradition: the Witch of Endor. There’s a single reference to ghosts in the Hebrew Bible, and it’s both bizarre and troubling.
In 1 Samuel 28:7-20, King Saul says to his servants, “Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her.” They say, “There is one in Endor.”
So Saul disguises himself. And at night, he and two men go to the woman.
“Consult a spirit for me,” he says, “and bring up for me the one I name.” Then the woman asks, “Whom shall I bring up for you?”
“Bring up Samuel,” he says.
When the woman sees Samuel, she cries out and says to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!”
The king says to her, “Don’t be afraid. What do you see?”
The woman says, “I see a spirit coming up out of the ground.”
“What does he look like?” Saul asks. “An old man wearing a robe,” she says.
Then Saul knows it is Samuel and bows down and prostrates himself.
Samuel says to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?”
“I am in great distress,” Saul says. “The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has turned away from me. He no longer answers me, either by prophets or by dreams. So I have called on you to tell me what to do.”
Samuel says, “The Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbors — to David ... The Lord will hand over both Israel and you to the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The Lord will also hand over the army of Israel to the Philistines.”
Immediately, Saul falls to the ground, filled with fear because of Samuel’s words.
There are no ghosts, more or less, but don’t tell that to Saul.
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