Friday, April 03, 2009

Restless spirits


There's no such thing as ghosts:

WCF CHAP. 32––Of the State of Men after Death, and of the Resurrection of the Dead.

1.THE bodies of men after death return to dust, and see corruption; but their souls, (which neither die nor sleep,) having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them. The souls of the righteous, being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies; and the souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved to the judgement of the great day. Besides these two places for souls separated from their bodies, the scripture acknowledgeth none.

2.At the last day, such as are found alive shall not die, but be changed: and all the dead shall be raised up with the self-same bodies, and none other, although with different qualities, which shall be united again to their souls for ever.

3.The bodies of the unjust shall, by the power of Christ, be raised to dishonour; the bodies of the just, by his Spirit, unto honour, and be made conformable to his own glorious body.

LC Question 84: Shall all men die?

Answer: Death being threatened as the wages of sin, it is appointed unto all men once to die; for that all have sinned.

Question 85: Death, being the wages of sin, why are not the righteous delivered from death, seeing all their sins are forgiven in Christ?

Answer: The righteous shall be delivered from death itself at the last day, and even in death are delivered from the sting and curse of it; so that, although they die, yet it is out of God's love, to free them perfectly from sin and misery, and to make them capable of further communion with Christ in glory, which they then enter upon.

Question 86: What is the communion in glory with Christ, which the members of the invisible church enjoy immediately after death ?

Answer: The communion in glory with Christ, which the members of the invisible church enjoy immediately after death, is, in that their souls are then made perfect in holiness, and received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies, which even in death continue united to Christ, and rest in their graves as in their beds, till at the last day they be again united to their souls. Whereas the souls of the wicked are at their death cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, and their bodies kept in their graves, as in their prisons, till the resurrection and judgment of the great day.

i) Reciting the Westminster standards is relevant in certain settings, such as an ordination exam. But it is not, in general, a relevant way of verifying of falsifying a proposition.

ii) Apropos (ii), if we take sola scriptura seriously, then we need to do better than to treat our creeds and confessions as the first recourse or frame of reference in theological disputes. That modus operandi makes a Protestant the mirror-image of a Catholic or Orthodox believer. Each side takes refuge in its privileged traditions.

iii) Even if we confine ourselves to the witness of Scripture, Scripture does attest the existence of ghosts, viz. the apparitions of Samuel, Moses, and Elijah.

iv) The Westminster standards are targeting Catholic dogma or teaching on the intermediate state: principally Purgatory, but also the Limbus Patrum and Limbus Infantum.

Belief in ghosts is logically and practically distinct from the belief in Purgatory, the Limbus Patrum, or the Limbus Infantum. Belief in the former does not entail belief in the latter, or vice versa. These are separate issues.

v) There’s a parallel between the fate of fallen angels and the fate of the damned. Both are doomed.

However, that doesn’t prevent evil spirits (e.g. demons) from having contact with the world of the living, as Scripture frequently attests. Hence, by parity of argument, there’s no antecedent reason to assume that the damned can have no contact with the world of the living.

vi) Apropos (v), necromancy is forbidden in Scripture, but forbidden because it taps into a genuine, albeit illicit, experience.

vii) On issues where Scripture is silent, we are free to form a working hypothesis, based on the best explanation of the available evidence.


  1. Speaking of Samuel's apparition to Saul, some have used it as a prooftext for soul sleep. What do you think, is it plausible? Calvin thought it was ridiculous, but maybe he had the same reasons that Westminster did in the quoted section.

  2. Hey Mathetes,

    If you want my own opinion (and that's all it is), time doesn't exist in the afterlife. It is something God created when He created the universe...and even then, given Einstein's relativity, time doesn't exist as we think it does.

    This means that there's no need for "soul sleep" since that's basically a way to account for the fact that people who've died in the past (from our perspective) have not yet been resurrected (from our perspective) and therefore we must "account" for the time lapse. But there is no time lapse if time doesn't exist.

    As for Samuel's apparition, there could be a couple of different explanations. First, it may not have actually been Samuel at all--it could have been a delusion sent to Saul as punishment, etc. Second, let us suppose it was Samuel. In that case, we'd just have Samuel working "in time" again, and that's no different from any other spiritual entity working in time. To use a physics analogy, anything moving at the speed of light experiences no time. That means to light itself (at least in a vacuum) all events occur simultaneously in the universe. However, we know that a photon from the sun that struck the Earth yesterday came "before" the photon that strikes the Earth today. To a photon that came into existence on the first day of creation and continues to move through the vacuum of space at the speed of light, both photons hit the Earth simultaneously.

    We could use this as a rough analogy to consider the possibility of Samuel to exist outside of time in the afterlife, yet to appear to someone "in time" before or after certain other events.

    Again, all this is merely my opinion (although I think it is an informed opinion, given my studies of the philosophy of time, etc.).

  3. “Sleep” is a biblical metaphor for death. Even proponents of soul-sleep have to admit that they’re using the term figuratively–for sleep is literally a physiological process. Absent the body, sleep is impossible. There’s nothing to experience sleep.

    Moreover, I think that psychopannychism is just a euphemism for thnetopsychism, according to which the “soul” (i.e. mind) is extinguished with the body. It’s a form of annihilationism or conditional immortality.

    It presupposes physicalism. There is no immortal soul because there is no immaterial soul. There is only the body. Mind and brain are identical. Consciousness perishes with the body.

    The saints are resurrected on Judgment Day, but the judgment of the damned is to be left in a state of oblivion.

    I think that’s what the position actually amounts to, when we strip away the apologetic metaphors and euphemisms, which make it sound nicer than it really is.

    However, the apparition of Samuel presupposes the intermediate state.

  4. Thanks for the help, guys...much appreciated.

    "Moreover, I think that psychopannychism is just a euphemism for thnetopsychism"

    Who invents these words? I mean, seriously. I'm starting to think that theologians lose at Scrabble a lot.