For the most part, Christians have taken a principled and solid stance against the existence of ghosts – or at least ghosts as they are thought about in popular culture. Because we have been given direct revelation about the nature of the afterlife, we understand that there is no allowance in Scripture for an earthly purgatory where the souls of men roam for any length of time.
Many Christians who do claim to have witnessed some supernatural activity often attribute it to one of two parties: angels or demons. Even those occurrences leave us with an uncomfortable and embarrassed sense of sensationalism. Aren’t we making too much of nothing? Can anything really good come out of making much out of extrabiblical supernatural occurrences in the modern world?
While part of our resistance to ghostly subject matter is born out of that aforementioned respect for Scripture, another part may very well be a result of the culture we find ourselves a part of. In a society where our religion is critiqued simply by minimizing and restating the nature of our beliefs (we believe in a “talking snake”, and an “invisible man in the sky”), we hesitate to acknowledge the less acceptable supernatural nature of our worldview.
I started thinking about our discomfort with the subject on a recent trip to St. Augustine, FL. It’s deemed “the nation’s oldest city,” and contains a huge amount of mythology and folklore within its’ boundaries. As a result, one of the many attractions that has arisen from the culture of the city is a wide selection of assorted ghost tours. Whether you go with the more corporate “Ripley’s Believe it Or Not” Ghost tour, the walking ghost tour, the pub-walk ghost tour or the “original” St. Augustine ghost tour, you are treated to a number of ruminations on the tragic lives and deaths of those who, reportedly, still haunt the town.
Let me be clear: I don’t really buy it. I don’t believe in the literal concept of ghosts. When people tell me of their personal experiences with ghosts, I usually assume that they’re either bending the truth or that they did not see what they thought they saw. And yet, as I rode the ghost tour trolley through the ruins, landmarks, and cemeteries of St. Augustine and heard the tales of tragedy, loneliness, injustices, and oppression I felt haunted myself.
Could it be that the stories shared about the self-proclaimed “oldest city in America” are in fact typical of the American way of life, and even the logical result of the American Dream? Are stories of the pain and suffering caused to others by others in fact ancient history, or are they our current way of life as well? Does our current culture deserve to be haunted by the stories of human beings who were snuffed out because of greed, selfishness, apathy and carelessness? It’s hard to argue otherwise.
These stories, and the feeling of being haunted by them, is a result of being a part of the human community. Because humans have been sinful since nearly the beginning of time, they have been doing awful things to one another for just as long.
No wonder we can’t bring ourselves to let the dead rest in peace. We can’t rest in peace ourselves, so we play out those struggles with cautionary tales of how our thoughtless choices and selfish desires can result in lives cut short and scarred psyches. Maybe Christians would be better off embracing these stories as reminders of who we are and what we are capable of. Ghosts are a picture of souls in torment because of things they’ve done and things done to them, and while we may not see them walking around, that concept is a very real one indeed.