Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at roger@preachitteachit.org.

Dear Roger,

I have had a friend ask me a question about ghosts. They have stated that they have seen a ghost, a man who stands by a window. The ghost walks by them but does not do anything to them. They also asked if this could this be a family member who died and has returned from Heaven?

Annon

Dear Annon,

Surprisingly—or, perhaps not—the Bible has a lot to say about ghosts.

Let’s begin with several definitions which give us a foundation from which we can work.

A ghost may be defined as “the spirit of a dead person, especially one believed to appear in bodily likeness to living persons or to haunt former habitats.”

A ghost may be defined as “any faint shadowy semblance; an unsubstantial image; a phantom; a glimmering; as, not a ghost of a chance.”

A ghost is sometimes said to be “the apparition of a deceased person. The word ‘ghost’ may also refer to the spirit or soul of a deceased person, or to any spirit ...”

Ghosts are encountered several times in the Word of God.

In Job 4 Eliphaz, one of Job’s three argumentative “friends”, described a night-time encounter with a ghost who enforced Eliphaz’s incorrect assumption that Job’s problems resulted from his sin.

Eliphaz’s night-time demonic (?) encounter makes for fascinating reading (Job 4:12-19):

12 "A word was secretly brought to me,
my ears caught a whisper of it.
13 Amid disquieting dreams in the night,
when deep sleep falls on men,
14 fear and trembling seized me
and made all my bones shake.
15 A spirit glided past my face,
and the hair on my body stood on end.
16 It stopped,
but I could not tell what it was.
A form stood before my eyes,
and I heard a hushed voice:
17'Can a mortal be more righteous than God?
Can a man be more pure than his Maker?
18 If God places no trust in his servants,
if he charges his angels with error,
19 how much more those who live in houses of clay,
whose foundations are in the dust,
who are crushed more readily than a moth!

Several things stand out in the encounter.

First, he experienced what to him was a visual, auditory and physical event.

Second, the conclusions drawn by the apparition were not from God.

Third, it is not beyond the realm of imagination to think that Eliphaz made up the encounter in order to give some credence to his philosophical position on sin and suffering.

Finally, under times of great stress, the brain is perfectly capable of conjuring up a seemingly very real human experience (like seeing a ghost) which, in fact, never occurred at all!

Another infamous “ghost” experience occurred with King Saul and the Witch of Endor in 1 Samuel 28:4-25  Again reading the passage is fascinating: