Question: Can people who have died see, watch over or contact those who are still living? What does the bible say about this and the people who claim to be able to contact the dead?
There is a growing interest in the idea of an ongoing connection between the dead and the living. In the movies, popular movies like Ghost portray this idea of a relationship with the dead. On T.V. it’s shows like Crossing Over with John Edwards, or the Discovery Channel series, A Haunting. There is a growing fascination with the paranormal. But what does the Bible have to say?
A good beginning point is Leviticus 19:31. In the midst of a long list of various laws, God issues this terse decree:
Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God.
Exodus chapters 7-8 describe the wickedness of the Egyptians practicing magic, sorcery, and speaking to the dead. In Exodus 22:18, the prohibition against occultism includes the ultimate legal penalty:
Do not allow a sorceress to live.
But is the Bible consistent? There is one occasion where God allows a necromancer to contact the living with a word from God? In 1 Samuel 28, a wicked King Saul finds that he is no longer hearing from God. So he, who had earlier killed many of the mediums and spiritists contacts the witch at Endor and asks her to raise the recently deceased prophet Samuel from the dead. The witch is reticent, fearing that this is a trap by Saul. But Saul swears an oath to the LORD that she will not be harmed and she succeeds in raising the dead prophet. The witch shrieks when Samuel appears, suggesting that she may have been a charlatan and was herself surprised that an actual spirit was speaking. Samuel proceeds to express annoyance at being disturbed and reiterates his own prophetic announcements that Saul has been rejected and that the kingdom has been transferred to David, as far as God is concerned. Some argue that 1 Samuel 28 is proof that the Bible is at best conflicted with regard to the occult.
Other supporters of spiritism cite Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man in Luke 16, which portrays a conversation between two people in the afterlife, Abraham in glory and the Rich Man in hell, as a prooftext that conversations with the dead are sanctioned.
It is important that we note that there is a very real difference between the descriptive and the normative. It is true that God allowed the witch of Endor to summon Samuel. However, this is not an indication of God’s approval of occultism. Rather, it is permitted by God as part of this process of pronouncing judgment against Saul and stripping him of his rule. Saul receives no words of comfort and no blessing. Within a very short while he will be dead on Mt. Gilboa and David will be king. The parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man is just that, a parable. And when the Rich Man pleads that he be permitted to contact and warn his brothers, Abraham refuses to allow this contact…they have Moses and the prophets…let them listen to them.
The bible is very clear that necromancy, the attempt to contact the dead through occultic channels is forbidden and spiritually dangerous.
However, part of this question has to do with the righteous dead in heaven. Can our dead relatives in heaven watch us? This question has been on my heart, especially since my Dad died in July of 2006. Can Dad see Erik and Deanna growing up? Will God allow him to see them graduate school? Get married? But, let me finish the question to draw a fuller picture. Will God allow my Dad to see my sins and short-comings? Will he have to sit through every one of his son’s blunders? Will he watch me die? Or does God permit us to see some things from heaven, and not others? The Bible does not answer these questions. However, I would venture one thought. Every description of Heaven seems to indicate a focus on God and his throne, not earth and its goings on. It is only natural that we, with our earthbound perspective, would assume that this is where the action is. However, I suspect that those in heaven have better things to do than watch us. And for those in the eternal kingdom of God, our homecoming to heaven is just a little bit away. We get a since of how different time is perceived from an eternal perspective from many passages of scripture. In 2 Peter 3:8-9, Peter says:
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
We see this same perspective as John the Baptist describes the nearness of the kingdom:
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." (Matthew 3:2) Jesus spoke in the same way. From our perspective, time passes slowly, but from God’s perspective, a perspective shared by those in heaven, time passes differently.
On the basis of these thoughts, I conclude that those in heaven are not “missing us.” They are looking forward to our return, in much the same way that a parent looks forward to their child coming home from school in a couple of hours.