Something struck me over the past few months, particularly as our family have been through a period of grief having seen Sarah’s dad and my mum die in a very short space of time. One of the emotions that we go through in grief is that strong sense of missing a person and wishing that we could see them again, even for one last time, a desire to check that they are okay, a longing to say all the things that we wish we could have said when they were here. It’s those emotions and desires that clairvoyants prey on as they offer seances. They claim the ability to communicate with the dead.
Christians have a firm belief that there is life after death. It is central to our faith. Yet, have you noticed that in Scripture and indeed in terms of church teaching and practice, there’s no attempt to offer up hope of the opportunity of further communication with the dead. The Old Testament Scriptures are emphatically clear that we are not to pursue this, we are not to resort to clarivoyants and necromancers in an attempt to bring back and talk to the recently departed.
Now, there are incidents in Scripture where people from the recent and far distant past do make an appearance. It seems that when Saul goes to the witch of Endor, that God does actually permit Samuel to speak to Saul. Whilst Elijah did not physically die, Moses, who did appears alongside him, speaking with Jesus at the Transfiguration. Perhaps Hebrews 12 with its description of “ a great crowd of witnesses” allows for the possibility that those who have gone before are permitted to cheer us on, though I take the point there to be more that we are meant to see from the historical record that they point us to Christ, it’s their lives’ witness that cheer us on. However, we simply are not encouraged, in fact, we are forbidden from seeking out experiences and again, those unique events are never allowed to become the basis for a theology of contact with the dead.
It struck me, in the immediate aftermath of mum’s death that this was in fact good news. You see, Christianity has all of the theological tools necessary to offer the kind of comfort that people hunger for. I’m sure too, that coupled with this, it wouldn’t be too hard for those with a bit of skill to create a related experience. However, it chooses not to. This reminds me that the Gospel isn’t about seeking to meet perceived needs. It’s not something that humans have put together to offer a form of comfort. No, the Gospel sticks with what is true and real.
Furthermore, it’s good news because what the Gospel does is it keeps us focused on what really matters and what is of first importance. We comfort each other when someone dies by saying that we will get to see them again. That is true and I look forward to reuniting with some good friends in eternity. However, the Gospel with laser focus keeps our attention on something of greater importance. The resurrection hope we have means that Jesus is present with us now through the Holy Spirit and we can talk to him and hear him speak to us. The resurrection hope we have means that one day we will get to see him face to face and that is more important than any of my other felt needs, desires and wishes.