Sunday, October 19, 2008

Ghosts, part 2

Not all ghosts are dead who haunt the living after a tragic or violent death. Most are not whispy, white vapors, nor disfigured, but look like normal people, fully dressed, who walk around furniture, not through it. And no one is quite sure what to make of the many reports – even if they claim to know for sure. Some ghosts are of the living, seen in one place though you know the person is elsewhere. A few people have seen themselves (in literature, it is called “the fetch” or the “doppelganger,” a living person’s spirit that leaves the body and appears to the person as an omen of their impending death).

What are we to make of all this?

First things first. There are some Biblical premises about human personhood I’m starting with and accept, so you might as well know them.

The first thing is that humans are fully integrated beings of body, mind, and spirit created in the image of God, a theological expression meaning that we share the Creator’s attributes of intelligence, creativity, will, and the capacity for love and relationships. Every human, sharing these qualities, has inherent worth and dignity. Moreover, every mortal is – well, immortal, with a God-given potential to attain glory in a relationship with Christ – or not. As CS Lewis once wrote, “It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendours” (from “The Weight of Glory”). The Son of God became the Son of Man that we all might become the sons and daughters of God through Him. So he tells the crucified thief who believes in Him, “Today you will be with me in paradise,” and Paul exults, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord,” and John tells us, “What we shall be has not yet been disclosed, but we know that when Christ appears we shall be like him.” Thus, Christians affirm the survival of a person after death and furthermore in the resurrection of the body, and the eventual re-uniting of the spirit with the body, raised incorruptible – a scandalous thought to the Greeks, who considered the body to be a filthy nuisance and best discarded so that the “soul” could ascend to higher planes. This is not a biblical view. The resurrection of the body is plainly anticipated in I Corinthians 15, Revelation 20 and elsewhere. Christ himself was raised physically, though in a body glorified and changed. His frightened and astonished followers thought they saw a ghost – but he assured them he was not, and asked for a meal which he ate in front of them all to demonstrate he was for real (see Luke 24:36ff).

OK, the reason for this “Introduction to Eschatology (Last Things)” lesson is so say that Christians believe firmly in an afterlife filled with inexpressible wonder – and anything regarding “ghosts” is to be understood in this perspective. Biblical theology doesn’t exclude ghost phenomena – but any explanation for ghost phenomena that excludes the affirmation of biblical basics regarding the afterlife is suspect.

Researchers say there are 6 kinds of ghosts: 1. the dead, seen repeatedly; 2. the dead, seen once or twice then gone; 3. spirits of the dying but not yet dead; 4. spirits of the dead who talk to the living; 5. spirits of the living; 6. poltergeists. Ghosthunters look for 1, 2, and 6. The others find you, according to some. Most people, when they think of ghosts, think of 1 and 2. These are (allegedly) the departed who have some unfinished business who will disappear once their mission is fulfilled. #3, the ghost of the dying, is a ghost that appears at the time a person dies, and the ones who see it learn later the person has died. #4 often needs help to finish a mission, and so is like #1 or #2. Mediums like John Edward and Sylvia Browne claim to act as intermediaries for such messages – ie, as “mediums,” telling clients in effect, “I hear dead people.” More on mediums next time (and the medium of Endor who called the 'ghost' of Samuel to appear before King Saul). Ghost #5 is a kind of bi-location, sometimes as an indication that the person will die soon, as I described above. And #6, poltergeists, are not ghosts at all but the excess energy of a teenager’s angst and anger that causes objects to move and there is nothing “supernatural” about it. It's just a bit creepy and noisy, that's all, and that's what "poltergeist" means: "noisy ghost" - though, as I've said, it's not a ghost at all.

Furthermore, there are two general categories of explanation for #1, 2, and 4: The “Natural” explanation group and the “Spiritists.”

The Natural group holds to a kind of “tape-recording theory” of ghosts, whereby the departed leave a kind of psychic “fingerprint” in a place of strong emotions, a holographic imprint of sorts left over in a space (they call it a “vortex”) that is picked up later by people who are sensitive to such force fields. It is a kind of “energy residue” which can be seen and heard, which is why it is likened to a tape recording that is played over and over in a place, though it sometimes fades out quickly (this, as you can tell, has implications for my mystery novel).

Spiritists, on the other hand, who clearly deny any biblical description of the afterlife, believe ghosts are the spirits of the dead coming back to communicate with the living or to complete an unfinished mission so they can “let go” of the Earth in peace and move on to a higher plane of existence – AND that ALL departed spirits do so, regardless of their behavior on Earth. This is where they differ from Christians, of course, who insist that our earthly choices have eternal consequences (thereby affirming human dignity, free will and justice). As it turns out, the full explanation may involve a little of both views, and neither are completely right. I’ll explain in my next posting.

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