Thursday, November 19, 2009

Communication with the Deceased

My article from today's Algona Upper Des Moines about communicating with the dead:

Q: I’ve heard a lot lately about people who have communicated with their deceased relatives. Is this possible, and is it acceptable to God?

In spite of popular superstition, I can say with certainty that it is not possible to communicate with friends, relatives, or any other person who has died.

In the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16), which provides so much of what we know about existence after death, Jesus clearly teaches that communication between the living and the dead is not only forbidden, but also impossible.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t numerous people who believe they have experienced this type of communication or many others who offer (usually for a substantial price) to help other people
also experience it. There are several possible explanations when people claim have this ability or offer this type of service:

The first possibility is that it is simply a mistake or misunderstanding. When a person is experiencing deep grief, suffering from mental illness, or simply following wishful thinking, they may become quite convinced that they have communicated with a deceased person. However, it is clear in scripture that the dead do not remain on earth to communicate with us. (Hebrews 9:27) It is also stated very plainly that those whose souls have left this earth for heaven or hell are not able to communicate with those who remain on earth.

The second possibility is that there is some type of fraud being perpetrated. It is not incredibly difficult for a deceptive person posing as a “psychic” or “medium” to very convincingly appear to be communicating with a person’s deceased loved one. Through pictures, subtle questions, or seemingly innocent small-talk, they can find out enough about the deceased person to be able to give an extremely convincing performance and appear to have fulfilled their promises to ommunicate with the dead.

Third, and most dangerous of the three, is the possibility that it is actually a demon who is being communicated with rather than the deceased person. Satan’s primary goal is not to make us unhappy or force us to suffer. It is to lead us away from trusting in Jesus. He may, in fact give a person precisely what they desire, or at least fool them into thinking they have been given it. One way that he may do this is to offer the appearance of contact with a deceased loved one. Demons (Satan’s angels) may pose as a deceased friend or relative as a means of undermining the faith of a Christian or blocking a non-Christian from turning to Jesus.

The soul of a person who has died is no longer on earth and has no ability to communicate with those who remain here. In addition, God forbids us to seek out this type of communication, because it is a form of witchcraft.


  1. Jason,

    I enjoy your articles - it is good to get the area thinking theologically!

    RE: communication with the dead - given your 3 options for those who claim to have spoken with the dead, what would be your assessment of 1 Samuel 28 and the conversation between Saul and Samuel?

  2. I can see a very slim possibility that the events of 1 Samuel 28 tell of an extraordinary event where God acts outside of what He has otherwise prescribed. If this is so, it would be similar to the appearance of Moses at Jesus' Transfiguration. However, if this is so, it is only descriptive of an extraordinary event, and not prescriptive for any other occasion, nor would it be any kind of approval for the practice of contacting the dead.

    It seems unlikely that this is a case of a fraudulent performance by the medium, since she becomes frightened. It is also doubtful that the experience was a misunderstanding or mistake because of the vividness with which Saul and the Witch witnessed it, and the language Scripture uses indicates it actually did occur.

    Since verse 12 only says that the woman saw Samuel and that Saul heard Samuel, but does not clearly confirm that Samuel actually appeared or spoke, I am more inclined to see the events of 1 Samuel 28 as an example of a demonic imposter appearing as the deceased man. God does not speak anything new here, but closely repeats the message already given by Samuel in chapter 15, whre Samuel also refused further contact with Saul. For Samuel to miraculously speak to an unrepentant Saul from beyond the grave seems incredibly unlikely in light of his previous cutting off of communication at their last meeting in life.

    Additionally, in 1 Kings 22, God sends a demon and compels it to speak the truth to Ahab, another evil king. It seems more likely in this instance that God would have forced a demon to speak disguised as Samuel than that He would allow Samuel to actually return. For a demon to appear as the result of an act contrary to God's Law is a far more likely thing than for a deceased saint to participate in the sins of the living, especially in light of the clear commands against necromancy given through Moses.