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28 January 2019

Ghosts: The human spirit.

And of course some of the mythology about ’em.

Technically “ghost“ means the very same thing as “spirit.” It’s why “Holy Spirit” and “Holy Ghost” refer to the very same person.

But over the last century English-speakers have grown to think of “ghosts” as the spirits of the dead. Humans usually. Sometimes animals. Whereas “spirit” can refer to an incorporeal being of any sort. But it wasn’t so long ago the words were fully interchangeable—as y’might notice in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The “ghosts” of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come, were not dead humans; the ghost of Jacob Marley was, though.

So. Since everybody nowadays equates “ghost” with dead humans, in this article so do I.

Humans are part spirit. In our makeup, we have a spirit; a non-material, incorporeal part of ourselves. When we die, the soul ceases to exist, but this spirit continues on. When we get resurrected, it goes back into our new body, and we once again become a living soul. This spirit is what I mean when I say “ghost.”

Yeah, there are Christians who squirm at this word: “I’m a Christian. We don’t believe in ghosts.” Yeah we do. They’re in the bible.

John 19.30 KJV
When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.

Seems Jesus had a ghost, and when he died it left his body. And when he appeared alive to his students the next week, he wanted it to be clear he wasn’t still a ghost.

Luke 24.36-43 KWL
36 As they said this, Jesus stood in their midst and told them, “Peace to you.”
37 They were freaked out and frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost.
38 Jesus told them, “Why are you agitated, and why do disputes arise in your minds?
39 See my hands and my feet!—for I am him.
Touch me and see!—for a ghost doesn’t have a body and bones like you see I have.”
40 Saying this, Jesus showed them his hands and feet.
41 Yet in their joy and wonder they still distrusted him.
Jesus told them, “Does anyone here have food?”
42 They gave Jesus a piece of roast fish, 43 and Jesus took and ate it before them.

Ghosts, said Jesus, don‘t have a body. Don’t have bones. Don’t eat. He wasn’t just accommodating their myths; he’d just been dead, and knew what dead people are and aren’t, can and can’t do. Whereas Jesus can do what ghosts can’t, ’cause he’s alive.

Of course the ability to appear and disappear makes people wonder about Jesus. But Philip did that later in Acts, Ac 8.39 so it’s not wholly outside the realm of God-empowered ability. Getting resurrected didn’t necessarily grant Jesus superpowers. But that’s a pretty big digression, so let’s go back to ghosts.

Giving up the ghost.

Those who believe in spirits—and that’d be most of humanity, Christian or not—figure a human's spirit, their ghost, is the true self, the “real me.” The body is something we live in; it’s “me” only as long as my spirit indwells it, and isn’t “me” anymore once “I” leave it—like when I die, and I, my ghost, goes elsewhere. Christians figure we go to paradise; pagans figure we go to heaven, or some other nice afterlife, or stick around and fret about unfinished business and haunt relatives.

Science fiction fans imagine we’ll one day be able to transplant our ghosts into machines. I seriously doubt it; at best we could put a copy of ourselves, or a program which convincingly acts like us, into machines. But when you listen to them talk about it, they talk like “it’ll be me in there,” because they likewise figure their body isn’t the true self. As demonstrated whenever a sci-fi movie (or a fantasy comedy like Freaky Friday) has people switch bodies, the characters keep insisting, despite what body they’re in, “it’s me in here.”

Zechariah 12.1 KWL
A revelation, the LORD’s word to Israel, the LORD’s whisper—
he who stretched out skies, set down land, and sculpted Adam’s ghost within him.

Or “sculpted humanity’s spirit within him,” since ‏אָדָ֖ם/adám means both “Adam” and “humanity,” and ‏רֽוּחַ/ruákh means either “wind,” or “spirit”/“ghost.” Materialists will insist Zechariah was only speaking of the breathing of a human—that when the bible’s authors talked about spirit, they meant breathing, living creatures; not immaterial beings which indwell living creatures. Problem is, if that’s all ruákh means, it doesn’t explain all the folks in the Old Testament who kept referring to their rukhót/“spirits” whenever they meant themselves, their thoughts, their will, and their emotions. Jb 6.4, 7.11, 21.4, Ps 77.3, 142.3, Is 38.16, Ek 3.14, Da 2.3, Lk 1.47, Ro 1.9, 2Co 2.13

Regardless of whether people think they have an immaterial part of themselves, the bible’s authors definitely believed they did. As did Jesus.

Luke 23.46 KWL
Jesus, shouting with a great shout, said, “Father! I put my spirit into your hands!”
This said, he breathed his last.

Or “gave up the ghost,” as the KJV poetically translates ἐξέπνευσεν/exénevsen, “he exhales”—for when we die, our spirits are in God’s hands now. And he will take care of them till the resurrection.

Now like I said, certain Christians insist we don’t believe in ghosts. Some of ’em will even avoid the term “Holy Ghost” because they wanna discourage any of this ghost-talk. Mainly it’s because of all the ridiculous ghost stories out there. We don’t want our religious beliefs mixed up with silly tales of dead relatives who rattle chains in the attic. We definitely don’t wanna get mixed up with spiritualists who claim they can talk to these dead relatives.

I get that. But the way we correct a misperception is by clearly, publicly stating, “This is what we believe; this is what we don’t.” There are a lot of things about ghosts we certainly don’t believe. But some things we do, and we don’t want our hesitation or misbeliefs to confuse people who find out there are references to ghosts in the King James Version—and in older Christian writings.

Random Christian beliefs about ghosts.

DO ANIMALS HAVE GHOSTS? Ghost stories sometimes have animal ghosts in ’em, like Washington Irving’s “Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” in which the headless horseman has a ghost horse. But I’ve heard many a Christian insist animals don’t have spirits. Don’t have souls either. They’d like to imagine humans are the only living beings with these features. ’Cause we’re special.

Mainly this is because Christians don’t always understand what a spirit or soul is, or even that there’s a difference between them.

The writer of Genesis stated every living thing has the breath of life in it. Ge 6.17 That means every living thing has a spirit. Doesn’t matter whether they breathe oxygen or carbon dioxide—so yes, plants have spirits. And your pets have spirits. And every bug you swat.

Now, whether these are eternal spirits—whether they get resurrected at the End like we do, and live forever—is a whole other deal. That, we have no idea about. Maybe that’s what makes humans special: We get to live forever, but the other animals don’t. (And so much for doggy heaven.)

But we don’t know animal spirits aren’t eternal. The scriptures don’t say, and the author of Ecclesiastes wasn’t willing to go there:

Ecclesiastes 3.21 KWL
Who knows whether Adam’s child’s spirit ascends upward,
and an animal spirit descends below, into the ground?

Personally, I suspect it’s really unlikely every living thing is getting resurrected—that we get back every pet we’ve ever owned; that every chicken, cow, pig, sheep, tuna, head of lettuce, mushroom, or bacterium we’ve ever consumed will be awaiting us in New Heaven. Quite likely when they’re gone, they’re gone. But I can’t say for certain, so I can’t be dogmatic about it. No Christian should be: We don’t know!

And it’s okay to not know. Don’t fret about it. Just be good. Be kind to other living things in our universe, because God cares about them too. Be good stewards over his creation, like he commanded. Ge 1.28 Then we’ll have nothing to worry about either way.

DOES GOD SPECIALLY CREATE EVERY GHOST? You and I were not specially created, meaning God didn’t make us all by himself, like he did Adam and Eve and Jesus. Your parents had sex. Spermatozoon met ovum, fused to form an embryo, which grew into a human. That’s how babies are made. If you didn’t know this already, man were your parents irresponsible.

But most Christians believe God specially-created part of us: For every human being in existence, our parents might’ve made our bodies, but God specially-created our ghosts. At the time of birth, when the first breath of life enters our lungs, the human baby becomes a living spirit, just like Adam when God first breathed into him. Ge 2.7

Whoops, sorry. That’s what Christians used to believe… before the abortion issue heated up. Nowadays prolife Christians insist the ghost gets joined with the body at conception. True, there’s no biblical basis for this idea, regardless of the many bible verses where God’s involved with forming the fetus in the womb. But whether the fetus has a ghost or not, it’s still alive, and killing it is still evil, Ex 21.22 so relax, prolifers.

Some folks figure God makes the ghost right at the moment of birth conception; others figure he pre-made every human at the beginning of time. Greek philosophy introduced this idea, and Mormons in particular believe this: They imagine a whole bunch of “spirit children” waiting in heaven to be born. But our scriptures indicate the only person to exist before his birth would be Jesus, and the rest of us got created, body, soul, and ghost, ad hoc.

True, there are Christians who believe special creation isn’t how it happens at all: Our parents made our bodies, and our ghosts. Our ghosts are half Mom, half Dad. After all, they point out, many of our immaterial features—the way we think, behave, act, our personalities, our emotions, our tempers—are just like our biological parents, whether they raise us or not. Our tendency towards sin and selfishness got passed down to us, and that’s immaterial—and God never made that. This whole idea God specially-made our ghosts is just wishful thinking, invented by Christians who’d like to imagine God specially-made some part of us; that this shows God was actively involved in our creation, instead of just letting it happen.

And, I admit, I’m one of those Christians. The human spirit is far too corrupt to be a special creation of God. But it’s not like God loves us any less when we’re not special creations. Indirect creations are still creations. He still foreknew we were gonna come into the world, and was all for it, and still wants us saved, so Jesus died for us too. You wanna feel special? Think about that then.

ONLY THE GHOST LIVES FOREVER. Greek philosophers believed humans are only meant to be spirit: Our material bodies get diseases, grow old, decay, and die. They’re limited, fragile, and temporary. They’re something we should try to leave behind. We need to be rid of our flesh altogether, and become nothing but our pure spiritual essence. When we die, we’ll ascend to a higher level of existence, and need never have a body again.

You might’ve heard these ideas when pagans describe what happens after we die. They don’t always know these ideas came from the Greeks, but they kinda like this idea of shedding our corporeal form like a butterfly climbing out of a cocoon.

But that’s not Christianity. At all. We believe in resurrection. When we die, our lifeforce (our soul) ceases to exist; our body shuts down and rots; and those who have a relationship with God, go to be with him till resurrection. When Jesus returns, all our ghosts will be put into new, eternal bodies. Material bodies, which have flesh and bones. Which can walk, talk, eat fish, and be touched, just like Jesus was once he was resurrected. We might call ’em “spiritual bodies,” 1Co 15.44 but that doesn’t mean they’re spirits pretending to be bodies. Humans may be part spirit, but we’re physical creatures, created with bodies because God meant for us to have bodies. So we’ll have bodies.

A lot of pagans turned Christian have brought their pagan beliefs about the afterlife into Christianity with them, and really wanna cling to this idea of becoming pure spirit. They’ve got the wrong idea. Death isn’t something to look forward to; it’s not progress. Ghosts without human bodies are sub-human. We’re to look beyond death, beyond the afterlife, to resurrection, to new life, to everlasting life. Jn 3.16

Meanwhile, because the ghosts of the dead have gone to the afterlife and haven’t stuck round to talk, God forbids us trying to communicate with them. Lv 20.27 I know; you’ll totally want to. I get that. You miss your loved ones! But you’ll just wind up getting fleeced by a con artist. Some fake psychic will pretend to speak to your dearly departed, invent all sorts of things which make you feel good but aren’t so, corrupt your faith, and take your money. So don’t bother. You’ll see them again at the resurrection; be patient.

WE’RE PART SPIRIT, SO WE’RE SPIRITUAL BEINGS. Yes we are.

We’re physical/spiritual hybrids. Which means we can manipulate physical things… and spiritual things. Or we can be manipulated by them, so don’t be naïve.

Our spirits can connect with the Holy Spirit. We can hear him. We can tap his supernatural power. That includes the ability to resist and defeat evil spirits in Jesus’s name. Not every Christian realizes they have these abilities; some of us assume we gotta be some sort of advanced spiritual warrior first. No we don’t; we just gotta trust the Holy Spirit. Work on that.