By Reverend Mark Hunnemann
It just so happens that as I am finishing this blog, tragedy struck our apartment complex. Cops and CSI units have descended upon our little village. A young woman in her 30’s, with children (though taken away by the courts), was apparently dead for a week in her bathtub…the stench was so horrible it posed a biohazard. I’m speculating, but given her serious drug/heroin use, it may have been an OD…maybe a suicide, I don’t know. I just looked outside and her obviously bloated body is wrapped up on a gurney. So sad. From a human perspective, her death is marked by all the things I am discussing in this blog: unfinished business, premature death, highly emotional death…..and perhaps violence. So, I’m reminded in a visceral way that this issue is one that affects us all, in some fashion. Troublesome deaths happen all the time. My point is that this discussion is far from being merely academic. My heart aches for a woman I knew, who died a tragic death.
There is a monolithic consensus in the paranormal community (which is bleeding over into culture in general) that certain kinds of death may lead to entrapment here on earth. These alleged ‘death criteria”, as I refer to them, include: dying with unfinished business, a premature death, a highly emotionally charged death, a violent death, and a fear of hell. The last of these, the fear of hell, I have written about recently. We saw that nobody has the free will/ability after death to avoid the unavoidable summons to stand before the Judge of heaven and earth, immediately upon death. These kinds of death are assumed by the paranormal community to render one susceptible to becoming an earthbound spirit. However, I would like to humbly but firmly challenge this notion.
These criteria are repeated so often that they have almost become like a mantra. And when a group repeats a belief often enough it becomes so ensconced that it acquires a non-negotiable presuppositional status—a habit of the heart, which is not open to scrutiny. However, merely repeating over and over that certain kinds of death can cause entrapment, does not make it so…and neither does it explain HOW these kinds of death trap people. Stating a belief, does not explain that belief. And thus far, nobody has adequately explained the mechanism behind the ‘death criteria’….or how it squares with the bible.
In addition, the soul, death (including the consequences of how one dies), and the after-life are manifestly theological issues. Science can’t explain any of these three phenomena. Hence, the notion of the ‘death criteria’, since they touch on all these theological issues, requires a theological analysis. However, I have seen little theological reflection on HOW/WHY certain kinds of death would cause a person to be trapped here. Just speculation.Nowhere, I repeat, NOWHERE, in the bible are we told that certain kinds of death might cause people to become earthbound. In the book of Acts (or any historical book of God’s Word), we don’t see any examples of it either. Since the bible clearly speaks of spiritual warfare, as well as heaven and hell, then it SHOULD explain to us the reality of earthbound spirits due to how they died…if it was true. But it says nothing. The silence is deafening.
At the outset, let me give a very brief theology of death as presented in the bible. “Mot” is the Hebrew word for death, and we find it first used in Genesis 2. Adam and Eve were originally designed by God to not die. They were designed, body and soul, to live forever in Eden, IF they passed the test. But they failed miserably.
And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden,
17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." (Genesis 2:16-17, emphasis added)
Sadly, the couple made a beeline for the forbidden tree. However, instead of killing them instantly like God had threatened, and as they deserved, He graciously expanded their life spans by hundreds of years. Spiritually they died instantly, but physical death was also a consequence of the Fall. Death is not normal, as many assume. Rather, it is a monstrous abnormality introduced by the historical Fall of Adam and Eve. And as we’ll see more later, the violent ripping asunder of the soul from the body at death, was not God’s original intention.
As we approach the notion of the “death criteria” we need to be reminded of the biblical view of death…at least how it began. Since we have all sinned (Romans 3:23; 6:23), and the wages of sin is death, then we are all “bene mawet” (sons of death). The bible says that we all must die due to our having sinned. (Enoch and Elijah only exceptions) Even though forgiven in Christ, we still must die because of having sinned—in Adam and in our own lives. Most significantly is that the Living God is the Lord of death. The Lord of Life is also the Lord of Death…He is the All-powerful Lord over all things. God created death, and He is Lord over its process over every living soul—which He owns as well (Ezekiel 18:4) Specifically, for our purposes, it is important that we see from the outset, that death was created by God as a consequence/punishment for sin, and He is utterly sovereign over human death….and He owns our souls. And any notion that detracts from this crucial fact must be jettisoned because it diminishes God’s ‘absolute sovereignty. His unfolding drama of redemption includes victory over death; the death of death in the death of Christ. Until the Second Coming, God Himself is the One who separates our souls from our bodies at the moment of death. He owns us, body and soul, and back to Him we go after death….for judgment.
If you are a Christian, then I assume that you accept the full authority of the Bible over every area of our life. Please read Psalm 139 slowly and carefully, and ask this question: is the God presented in this Psalm compatible with the notion of ghosts in general, and the death criteria in particular?
1.O LORD, You have searched me and known me!
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.
3 You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.
5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.
7 Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,"
12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.
13 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.
19 Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God! O men of blood, depart from me!
20 They speak against you with malicious intent; your enemies take your name in vain!
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!
24 And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!
Please search us God, and show us any harmful beliefs.
Four great truths about God are revealed in the context of personal experience, in this magnificent psalm. The Bible is never speculative, and it never considers a truth “known” until it controls the life of the learner. God is omniscient/all-knowing (v. 1-6), omnipresent/everywhere (7-12), sovereign/all-powerful(13-16), and holy (17-24) The psalmist delights in the security (both in life and in death) that these traits of God ensure, and he happily recognizes the permanence of Divine companionship (v.16…whole psalm)
Security in God amidst all circumstances is the main theme of this psalm. At all times, in all places, and in all circumstances, God is in control and the psalmist is joyfully safe. This all-encompassing security includes God’s pre-planning of all his/our days and deaths…. (v.16)…which has obvious implications for our topic. And v 8 where God’’s loving presence follows us when we die (sheol). We shall return to this great psalm, but please note that the psalmist never considers the option of divine abandonment, which the notion of ghosts and the death criteria necessarily implies. Indeed, as we’ll see, all the alleged death criteria are contradictory to the central theme of this wonderful psalm.
All the laws of nature, which are God’s Laws, reveal something of His nature—wisdom, power, glory, ect. Likewise, any laws in the supernatural realm are equally God’s Laws, and should reveal something of His glorious nature. However, what do these death criteria “laws” reveal about God? Nothing good—they trivialize or deny all the attributes of God mentioned in this psalm….especially His absolute holiness and sovereignty. It seems to me that the psalmist would have been aghast at the notion that certain kinds of death would have left him stranded here on earth, until they either ‘found the light’ or accomplished their unfinished mission, That idea bespeaks more of a deistic god, who winds up the world and let it/us run our course, on our own. God forbid!
Back to the notion of unfinished business as being the cause of some people becoming trapped here. Let me ask this question: who does NOT die without some amount of unfinished business? The obvious answer is: nobody. Having experienced the death of both my parents, four siblings, and my 9 month old still born granddaughter, I know that all of them, to varying degrees, died with unfinished business. When I was 16, my brother died in a tragic accident at age 20, and I went through a ‘door’ which I wish I had never experienced…the devastation of losing a loved one at a young age. And without going into detail, some of their unfinished business was pretty significant. ALL of us will die with unfinished business. The same holds true for every person who has ever lived, except for Jesus Christ, who accomplished every jot and tittle of His Father’s will for His perfect life. Unless you, or a loved one, lived a perfect life, then you can be sure they died (or will die) with some amount of unfinished business. That raises several questions.
How can you then have peace that they are with God, if they died with unfinished business? If you are consistent, then you can’t, because there will always be the nagging doubt that they got trapped due to unfinished business.
Someone may reply: “Well, that may be so, but some people die with a lot of serious unfinished business.” True enough, but who/what decides when the ‘line’ is crossed and the unfinished business becomes serious enough to entrap them? The bible certainly doesn’t enlighten us. In fact, from Genesis to Revelation, we are never warned (as we are repeatedly about spiritual warfare here, and heaven and hell in hereafter) that we need to be prepared to possibly get stuck if we die in a certain way. If that were the case, would not God have warned us? That oversight would call into question the sufficiency of Scripture, and the Greatest Communicator would then be (and I say this reverently) a lousy communicator regarding what happens after death. The very thought is detestable and painful to write.
My point is that there is no mechanism in these death criteria. Who decides when the line has been crossed, and causes the soul (which belongs to God) to not cross over? What quantity or quality of unfinished business can derail a person from making a beeline to God’s Throne room after death? I can assure you that it is not God...not the Living God, as revealed in this psalm..The reasons I have heard paranormal investigators confidently assert why this/that person died with unfinished business, and thus was trapped, (like tension in the family or ‘premature death’), could easily be applied to many of all the people who have died since the dawn of time.
I’m 61 years old, and if I were to die today, then I can confidently assure you that I would die with significant unresolved issues. We all have skeletons in our closets. This notion of unfinished business is so ill-defined, and so subjective and capricious, that we could never have a certain hope that anybody we loved has gone to heaven. And in that sense, it is unintentionally cruel.
Repeatedly, Jesus warns us to be prepared to die, because once we die, we immediately face judgment (Hebrews 9:27) Nowhere in the bible does it ever say, or imply that unfinished business, may cause one to avert this summons before the Judge of heaven and earth. We have one chance at this thing called living, and then we pass into eternity, and no amount of unfinished business can separate us from either the love of God, or His infinite wrath—depending on our relationship to Christ.
I repeat: nobody dies with no unfinished business, and it becomes a hopelessly subjective task for the paranormal investigator to determine when the line has been crossed. Assuming that a ‘haunting’ or an entity, which is allegedly connected with a person who died with unfinished business, is circular reasoning. Nobody has yet to show how/why unfinished business can cause a soul to get trapped. Just saying it doesn’t make it so! If we followed the logic of this criterion to its logical conclusion, then EVERYONE who dies is susceptible to becoming trapped...and this destroys the certain hope which God gives to believers in Christ. Worse, it smears dung into the infinitely precious blood of the Lamb, whose death assured our salvation from A-Z…justification, sanctification, and glorification. (Psalm 23, John 10, Romans 8)
Psalm 139:16 is comforting because all the attributes of God mentioned earlier ensure that the Creator’s work covers all of our life, including our deaths. The omnipresent, omniscient, all-powerful, and holy Creator holds our souls in His tender hands throughout every second of our lives and deaths. Our lives and our deaths are under His absolute sovereign control....meaning He has decreed every second of our lives and deaths…including how much unfinished business one dies with. How could unfinished business then take Him by surprise? In fact, this verse clearly implies that, in the ultimate sense, there is no such thing as unfinished business when it comes to our deaths. That does not mean that there isn’t unfinished business on a human level, but God has sovereignly taken that all that into consideration as to when He calls us home, or to hell.(see Ephesians 1:11) 11 “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,”
This verse is both astonishing and pivotal because it implies that every molecule, and every event (no matter how evil or tragic), is under God’s sovereign control. If God is not sovereign, then He is not God. In a sense, God has decreed everything that happens. Every event, including our deaths, has been decreed by God, and He is absolutely sovereign over the moment of our deaths, and all that it entails (means, motive, and timing).
It is my belief that the reason the notion of ghosts has exploded, even among Christians, is primarily due to a deficient view of God’s attributes as outlined in Psalm 139….especially His holiness and absolute sovereignty. Eph. 1:11 is clear that EVERYTHING is decreed by God. Our God is too small.
Listen to Romans 8:38-39….
38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,
39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Did you get that?!
After reading verses 38-39 in which our union with Christ entails that nothing in all creation (that would entail unfinished business), can keep us from God, in heaven? It even mentions ‘death’! Our union with Christ is like an indissoluble, unbreakable umbilical cord which stretches from our soul on earth to God’s heart in heaven. NOTHING can break that bond...certainly nothing as universal as unfinished business.
I spent so much time on this criterion because, in a sense, all the rest, fall under this criterion in some way.
For many in America, God is either deistic in nature, or God is equated with the Universe. Either view, seriously diminishes the omnipotent love of God that is absolutely sovereign over death. My calling is to summon God’s people to re-gain a view of God’s utter holiness, and to see the notion of ghosts through God’s eyes. In my book, I go into more detail regarding the alleged death criteria.
Let us now turn to premature death. I’ll be more concise here. First, Psalm 139:16 clearly implies that there is no such thing as a premature death in God’s eyes. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
Please look at this verse carefully. God’s absolute control/sovereignty over the course of our lives/deaths, was decreed before we were even born, and extends to every second of our life, and subsequent death. “Every one of them..” emphasizes the particularity and specificity of God’s control over the full course of our lives—from conception to death, and everything in-between….and all the particulars of our deaths.
Yes, in our eyes, loved ones do die young...and I’ve experienced this anguish first hand. And I certainly don’t want to diminish the pain of losing a child or something similar. And God’s tender heart is touched by this anguish. We must remember that God’s is sovereign over a Fallen cosmos. However, in the ultimate sense,,. God tells us that He is in control of every second of our lives and ultimate death—whether young or old. To the psalmist, that was very comforting and moved him to worship. So, in the ultimate sense, there are no premature deaths, in God’s eyes…and His perspective is what controls the after-life. So, the very criterion of premature death is incompatible with the bible’s clear teaching. Hence, we have no business speculating that a seeming premature death could lead to entrapment.
I ask again, who/what determines at what age that the line has been crossed to cause a person to be entrapped due dying too young? Is it 2 years old? 12 years? 22 years old? When?? I’m not being sarcastic. I’m simply pointing out the hopeless conundrum people put themselves in once they affirm that people can get stuck due to premature death.
Without meaning to, this criterion is exceedingly cruel. Taken to its logical conclusion, then all infant deaths should lead to entrapment. In fact, not a few people do believe in ghost babies…and many more believe in child spirits. How horrible!! And how anti-biblical, which implies that all children go to heaven, through Jesus.
And what of all the young men who have died in battle while serving in the US military? Millions have died in our nation’s multiple wars, and most who died were in their late teens or early twenties. Most of these KIA’s actually fit ALL the death criteria mentioned above (unfinished business, premature death, violent and emotional death, etc.). If one takes the death criteria to its logical conclusion, then almost all the millions of men who have given their lives to save ours, are shoe-ins for entrapment. What a terrible way to ‘honor’ them.
How many times have I heard that the men who died at Gettysburg or some other battle are at unrest and trapped, because they have unfinished business due to dying so violently and so young?. This notion makes me sick to my stomach…..literally.
How horrible….how absolutely cruel. If one cannot live with the logical extension of their beliefs, then there is something wrong with that belief. That is why I keep saying that the death criteria are unwittingly cruel, and are internally self-destructive—you can’t live with them in any manner that approximates consistency.
Often we hear that someone is stuck because they want to either seek revenge or get across some truth, due to how they died. However, see the below text which makes clear that a comforting truth is that GOD is the One who will take revenge. What kind of mcgod would allow us to stay here indefinitely after we die, and sinfully seek revenge, which so many alleged human spirits seem bent on? As an aside, most anecdotal evidence, as Ed Warren stated, indicates that most spirits seem to be “self-absorbed loners.” The only entities that populate the spirit realm are angels and demons.
26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,
27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.
28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses.
29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?
30 For we know him who said,"Vengeance is mine; I will repay." And again,"The Lord will judge his people."
31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-31, emphasis added)
We have lost the fear of God….that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a God who is an all-consuming fire. Reading this text, we see that it is God who takes revenge…and do we think that the Living God would allow us to stay here and avenge ourselves?
The point being that either here, or at Judgment, God will repay those who have hated us. How many times have you heard that so and so stayed behind because he either wanted revenge or to get his story out? It is assumed that the person’s anger is so strong that we forget, that the Living God is a God of infinite wrath and anger. But will not the Last Judgment deal with both issues? We have truly lost a biblical view of the mighty majesty and holiness of God Almighty. Do we really think that God will let people stay on earth and sinfully avenge themselves for decades or even centuries…as is claimed in many haunts?
Background checks are needed, but they must be done with extreme caution. Because death attracts demons, since they hate us, then it makes much more sense that the paranormal activity is demonic in nature. How people discern the alleged difference between a demonic infestation and a human haunt is fraught with peril and human subjectivity. The bible never tells us that we are to discern whether a spirit is human or demonic. For example, 1 John 4:1ff is an either/or between teachers who are animated by the Holy Spirit or unclean spirits/demons. Human spirits are not in the picture. THAT is what discernment is needed for: whether the supernatural activity is from God or Satan. We are NEVER warned in the bible to look out for human spirits…never—including those who are allegedly here due to an abnormal death.
Can we die and continue to sin grievously for an indeterminate amount of time? The notion casts a long shadow over God’s awesome holiness .
What of emotional deaths? I ask again: what death is NOT emotional, to the one dying and/or the loved ones left behind? Yes, there are degrees of emotion connected with one’s death, but there are different kinds of emotion, as well as degree..And some do die without any loved ones to mourn them, but that is not the issue.
Once again, who/what decides when a death is emotional enough to cause entrapment?
We can deal with violent death quickly because all that I said above applies here. I have heard the most absurd theories advanced simply because a person was murdered or some other kind of violent death (like death by IED) Did not God say that our deaths were planned by Him? (Psalm 139:16) Did not God say that death could not, and would not, separate us from His love in Christ Jesus? Does not v 8 say that God’s perpetual companionship follows us to death (sheol)? And if a person is an unbeliever, then they are a child of wrath, dead in sin—enslaved to sin, Satan and death….and sadly are hell-bound sinners. Upon death, God has an infinite hatred toward unbelievers who have scorned His Son. See the hatred in this psalm for God’s enemies. (Psalm 139:19-22)Their umbilical cord to hell is as indissoluble as the believer’s umbilical cord is unbreakable by virtue of our union with Christ. Ephesians/Col. says that we are already in heaven reigning with Christ, in a provisional sense, so how could manner of death keep us from heaven when we already have ‘one foot in heaven’?
Also, according to the bible, ALL deaths are, in a sense, violent. As we saw, physical death is abnormal and is a result of the historical Fall of Adam and Eve. PHYSICAL DEATH IS THE VIOLENT DISRUPTION OF THE VIBRANT FLOW OF LIFE. Please read that again. As originally created, humans are a body/soul composite. So, there is something profoundly disturbing, violent, and unnatural about the ripping asunder of the soul from the body at the moment of death. But that is one of the consequences of sin. My point is that, again, all deaths are violent in a very real sense. One could argue that God’s ripping asunder of soul from body, is at least as violent as any of the violent ‘means’ by which a person may die—like murder, suicide, ect. This is not to diminish the reality of a violent means of death, but to show that everyone’s death is exceedingly violent already. And God is the One who is the Lord over this ripping asunder process…and as Psalm 139 states, there is no place that we can escape God’s perpetual companionship…including a violent death.
Once again, (sigh), who/what decides when a death is violent enough to cause entrapment? There is no mechanism.The most violent death in history was the death of the Lord Jesus because the sinless God/man was crucified. He died so that death would be conquered…He took the sting out of it. However, the death criteria inadvertently put the sting back into death..That should raise huge red flags.
What disturbs me is that there is very little self-reflection in the paranormal community regarding their most basic tenets about how people get trapped. I get upset when I hear folks speak so confidently to a client that they don’t have to worry about the entity in their home because it is simply a trapped little child, or a benign adult….or residual energy (please see my 4 blogs on this unscientific notion).
Why is it that the vast majority of deaths with significant unfinished business, very violent deaths, extremely emotional deaths, and premature deaths do not result in a haunting or evidence of earthbound spirits? If one cannot find a discernible pattern that applies to the majority of problem deaths, then there is something wrong with the hypothesis. If this small percentage were applied to a scientific hypothesis, then it would be rejected quickly. At the very least, the paranormal community should show some willingness to subject its basic tenets to serious scrutiny.
Demonic activity is the best and most comprehensive answer which explains all the data. There is a profound irrationality at the heart of evil, especially demonic activity, that would explain the non-ability to predict results from problem deaths.
No doubt every day, there are technological advances in the paranormal community—empowering them to do that which is condemned by God (communicating with the dead), BUT there is very little desire or attempts to examine the mechanism behind the alleged death criteria. That doesn’t make sense. Folks should be looking at this relentlessly.I hope and pray that at least one person will have the courage and integrity to think for yourself regarding the death criteria...and see if it really stands up to honest scrutiny.
17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, "Fear not, I am the first and the last,
18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. (Revelation 1:17-18, emphasis added)
In close, it seems that all the death criteria can be subsumed under the notion of unfinished business. Be that as it may, all of the death criteria are flatly contradictory to the bible. No mechanism has been suggested as to how certain people get stuck and not others. Worse, they belittle the awesome nature of the Living God, as expressed in Psalm 139. Worst of all, it dishonors the infinitely precious and efficacious blood of the Lamb which ensures that believers will go home immediately upon death..and unbelievers to hell, for spurning the blood of the Lamb.
One last comment: the soul and the after-life are manifestly theological issues, which do not lend themselves to scientific analysis. Theological concepts/issues need theological answers, or we’ll be spinning our wheels.
Heaven and earth and all that is in it was created by God and belongs to Him. (Col. 1:16)…and in Genesis 3 God created death. Death is owned and controlled by God, and every human death (manner, means, and timing) was decreed by God Almighty. Hence, the death criteria are a blatant negation of that fact.
Mark Hunnemann is the author of Seeing Ghosts Through God's Eyes: A Worldview Analysis of Earthbound Spirits. It's also available in eBook format.