Mankind has an innate fascination with the mysteries surrounding the activity of the soul after death and the origin and extent of life in the universe. Both topics are pervasive in our culture of haunted houses and alien-filled movies that indicate a search for something beyond our understanding of the known material world.
God created mankind in His image to worship Him and fellowship with Him. As a result, we have a curiosity about the unseen and unknown fueled by a nagging feeling (no matter how well suppressed) that the world is not all there is. For believers in the one true God, this desire finds its full fulfillment in an intimate, personal relationship with their Redeemer God and the sure foundation of wisdom and knowledge found in His revealed word. Nonbelievers seek to answer these age-old questions by appealing to the fantastic and mysterious.
As Christians, we must be ready to engage our culture from a biblical worldview even on these eccentric issues. We are called to “[destroy] speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor 10:4) and to “always [be] ready to make a defense to everyone who asks [us] to give an account for the hope that is in [us], yet with gentleness and reverence” (2 Pet 3:15). Our only sure ground to do either is the sword of the Spirit (Eph 6:17; Heb 4:12)—God’s full and sufficient revelation of Himself in His Word (2 Tim 3:16-17). So if we are to carefully, meaningfully, and lovingly engage with our culture on these issues, we must first be firmly grounded in the Word of God.
What are ghosts? Allegedly, they are the spirits of the dead who, not having found peace, remain on earth to haunt the people and places they were associated with. Even a cursory examination of the Scriptures precludes such a notion. After death, every man enters into judgment (Heb 9:27). Believers immediately enter into paradise, where they are personally with God, as shown in Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross (Luke 23:39–43) and Paul’s conviction that death would immediately unite him with Christ (Phil 1:21–23).
Regarding unbelievers, a constant tenor of Jesus’ teaching is that unbelief and sin leave one in imminent danger of eternal judgment in Hell (see Matt 5:29–30 and Luke 12:4–5). Likewise, the Old Testament expectation was clearly that the dead were in Sheol, and hence were separated from the world of the living (see Job 21:13; Psalm 6:5, 9:17, 16:10, 31:17, 49:14; and David grieving for his son in 2 Sam 12:23). Even those who did not die a natural death on earth are clearly shown to either go straight to Heaven (Enoch in Gen 5:24 and Heb 11:5; Elijah in 2 Kings 2:1) or to Sheol (Num 16:28–33).
There is one passage in Scripture that could be construed to support the existence of ghosts: Saul’s encounter with the spirit of Samuel in 1 Samuel 28. In that passage, Saul, worried about his upcoming battle with the Philistines and having removed all wise counsel from his life, seeks out a medium to consult the spirit of his dead adversary Samuel. Much to the medium’s surprise, she succeeds in bringing up Samuel, who rebukes Saul and prophesies his death. The passage does make it clear that the spirit really is Samuel: he is consistently called Samuel rather than “the ghost of Samuel,” or “one having the appearance of Samuel.” In addition, he speaks as Samuel spoke by authoritatively prophesying Saul’s death in the name of the Lord.
But this passage does not contradict the Scripture’s clear teaching on man’s destiny after death: Samuel was not a ghost wandering the earth, but rather was at rest (v. 15). God sovereignly permitted Samuel to return in spirit only through the means of the medium to deliver one final prophecy judging the faithless first king of Israel.
Furthermore, the medium’s shock indicates that this was not a normal occurrence, nor one of her tricks! So this passage actually reinforces the Bible’s teaching that the dead are at rest, not wandering the earth and routinely appearing to others. This passage also echoes the teaching from the rest of Scripture that the appearance of ghosts is directly linked to other detestable and demonic activity, such as witchcraft (Deut 18:10–12).
Along with ghosts, another mystery that has captivated the minds of man is the potential existence of extraterrestrial life. Some have spent significant time and money searching for aliens, even in the absence of any positive evidence. For example, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence foundation and the burgeoning academic field of astrobiology have existed in their modern form since at least the 1980s, but so far have yielded no empirical evidence for alien life. Nonetheless, astrobiologists and astronomers are undeterred in their efforts to detect life outside Earth. What drives this fixation on alien life, and what does the Bible have to say about it?
To understand many scientists’ interest in alien life, we must start with their worldview. The modern scientific consensus is that life arose from nonliving chemicals on Earth through a random, drawn-out process of trial and error. The complexity of life makes such a process monumentally improbable, and even directed “experiments” simulating the supposed conditions of the early Earth have only replicated a tiny fraction of the steps needed to create life from non-life. But the materialist is trapped: he cannot invoke God to explain this incredibly improbable event, and neither can he allow the Earth to be specially designed to support life. So he must assume, against all the evidence, that the generation of life from non-life is an unguided process that could occur on other planets. Thus, for many scientists, a key component to the drive to find this extraterrestrial life is a desire to validate their naturalistic model for the origin of life on Earth.
By contrast, the Christian worldview is built on the revelation of a preexistent, sovereign God in His word. While the Bible nowhere explicitly precludes the existence of extraterrestrial life, its consistent teaching makes it highly unlikely that life exists outside earth. One problem with extraterrestrial life is the order of creation. Genesis 1–2, Exodus 20, Hebrews 4, and other passages make it clear that God completed His creative work in the week of Genesis 1.
Hence, any extraterrestrial life would have had to be created in that week as well. One immediate issue is the timing of the created order. Plants were created on the third day, but the stars, planets, and moons were created on day four. Since plants are required to support the ecosystem necessary to sustain animal life, one would have to suppose that the planets were created with plants. But we know the earth was not created in this fashion, and none of the other planets in our solar system have plants.
The existence of sentient (and hence moral) life outside earth meets with even greater Biblical challenges when considered in view of redemptive history. The Bible is explicit that all of creation, and hence all living beings, were subjected to futility by man’s fall (Rom 8:20–22). But God’s plan of salvation in the Bible is only for His image-bearers, mankind alone. Christ’s redemption of men is directly linked to their being sons of Adam and His being the perfect Second Adam (Rom 5:12–21). Christ’s advent to earth demonstrates that earth is the center of redemptive history in all of time (Gal 4:4). Thus, arguing for the existence of sentient life outside Earth undercuts the centrality of Christ’s redemptive work on Earth.
Even from a scientific perspective, the existence of extraterrestrial life faces many challenges. For one, the conditions required for life on Earth, such as atmospheric composition, temperature stability, and the presence of water, to name a few, are so demanding that it is unlikely they exist elsewhere in the universe.
Second, scientists have already looked in the likeliest places for life within our solar system, and have not found even the most primitive forms of life. Coupled with the sheer improbability of life arising from non-life, these challenges make it clear that the driving force for the continuing search for extraterrestrial life is not objective science, but rather a commitment to materialism and a desire to demonstrate that the Earth is not uniquely designed for life.
As Christians, we don’t have to wonder what happens to the souls of the dead, or whether life exists on the other side of the galaxy. After death, the Bible clearly teaches us that believers immediately enter into God’s presence and are at rest, while unbelievers enter a place of judgment awaiting the final judgment. In neither case are the spirits of the dead free to wander the earth as ghosts. We should not be taken in by spurious, unverifiable accounts that are likely merely imaginary—or, if real, likely reflect demonic activity whereby Satan and his demons seek to deceive mankind.
Likewise, the Bible’s teaching both removes the driving force behind the search for extraterrestrial life and raises several challenges that make the existence of extraterrestrial life extremely improbable. We should not be taken in by this naturalistic mythology, but should recognize it for what it is: an attempt to satisfy our innate curiosity about the unseen and unknown without invoking a personal God Who will judge sin. Rather, we should stand on the sure word of God, which clearly reveals all we need to know to obey and follow God (Deut 29:29) in the person of His Son, the apotheosis of all wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:2–9).