Monday, January 10, 2011

C.S. Lewis on Purgatory, Which Theologically Supports Ghosts as Former Humans

To the Team:

It would probably come as a shock to many in the Christian circles I grew up in, to note that the foremost Protestant theologian of all time, C.S. Lewis, believed in purgatory.  This doctrine, which I personally tend to believe as well, supports theologically how and why ghosts could be former humans who have passed on but who are somehow stuck in some "middle way."  In additional posts I will be discussing scriptures that some fundamentalists use to claim that there are no such things as ghosts, and show that they are, in my opinion, making incorrect assumptions in the classic scriptures used against the idea of ghosts.  I will exegete (not eisegete) what the scriptures are saying.  I submit that a very close scrutiny of these passages will likely surprise the average person and perhaps cause them to think a little deeper on the subject. 

I will also be presenting many scriptures that deal with the support of the idea of purgatory and ghosts as former humans.  I may not convince a single soul, but any fair-minded person should be able to take away from it that the idea is defensible, is sound scripturally and theologically from a positional point of view, and that it is not something that is clearly wrong or outlandish. The idea here is to establish that scripture, reason, experience and history all point to, at the very least, an arguable and defensible position that ghosts are real and that they are humans who have passed on.  This is the first of what probably will be dozens of posts on this subject over the coming months. Of course, we certainly regard those with a different opinion than ours as Christian also, but they are the ones who are claiming that we are theologically and scripturally unsound (that is putting what they are saying and thinking mildly). Good Christians ought to be able to disagree on this without one side deeming, with a gasp, the others' position as being scripturally or biblically untenable.  My purpose in these coming posts is to give those of us who are deeply committed Christians a solid defense for the idea that Christians can most certainly believe in ghosts and do not have to stand for others relegating us to being "heretical" in believing this way.  I would also caution against getting too worked up about being criticized.  It is unpleasant and absolutely should not happen to the degree it is, but we simply should learn to expect it, grow stronger through it, and keep right on helping the people we are helping.  The ones who are criticizing you are not out there with you helping our clients, they are too busy staying home working up arguments against you! Question: You do understand what that makes them, right?  Answer: Irrelevant.  My humble advice: focus your energy and attention on what you can influence and control, which is growing deeper in your relationship with God, and helping your clients. Of course, if you feel judged and condemned, that's another matter entirely, and each of us will have to carefully and prayerfully consider his or her path. 

The bottom line is, no one on this side of life knows for sure what a ghost is - but the fact is, ghosts exist.  Christ and his disciples knew they existed - they use the word ghost rather than demon in one passage.  It is senseless to refute that fact and what billions of people experience in their lives, both today and all throughout history.  To claim differently is to render oneself irrelevant and unrealistic.  (True theological positions must fit with real life.  To hold that there are no such things as ghosts is simply not a cogent argument in face of overwhelming human experience to the contrary.  It doesn't stand up to biblical/scriptural scrutiny as well.)  The argument should be, in my opinion, just what is a ghost - not whether they exist or not.  Are they figments of our imagination?  Demons in disguise?  Phenomena caused by psycho-kenesis?  Humans who have passed on?  This is where the debate should center.  In that debate, Christians who share Christian dogma as their unifying concern should be able to express their differing opinions on this lesser subject without being condemned, preached at, and made to feel that they are not in truth - especially those who are helping people who are beset with paranormal activity to the point they are so upset about it that they are desperate and crying. 

To treat the subject crudely, as some fundamentalists Christians tend to do when we have a knee jerk reaction instead of getting down and really looking closely at all aspects of a subject, is to miss an incredible opportunity to teach our people (especially our youngsters) how to approach that subject and teach what truth is.  Being fair and measured instead of bashing people and ideas with a sledgehammer seems to me the way to go, when what we are dealing with is not a matter of dogma or even doctrine.  It just seems to me that good Christians could disagree over such a minor issue as ghosts.  It should be clear that all of us are clearly opposed to consorting with witches, tarot cards, Ouija boards, psychics and even reading your horoscope. God demands that we turn to him for all things for life and living, not to go around him. We should not be confusing the word "paranormal" with "occult."  Christians should have a voice in the current paranormal field and scene, other than "it's just all wrong and bad."  People, deeply Christian people, simply know that's not true.

An example of treating a subject crudely is when we tell them there is no such things as ghosts, so they turn away in frustration and consider us as unrealistic people who are out-of-touch with reality; or worse, nuts who are living in Oz.  They simply know better.  Everyone you talk to has a ghost story.  Everyone!  People who don't have a personal story know someone close to them who does.  How much better to tell them about God, angels, ghosts, demons, and occult practices that are dangerous, and dive right into the whole subject with a knife-edged scalpel instead of bashing it all with a hammer.  It's a great opportunity to talk about Christ and His power over all of that.  In my opinion, we should dissect this aspect and that aspect instead of dismissing the entire category or field.  That would be faith building and truth revealing.  That would be real, and engaging.  That would capture their hearts and deal with what is on their minds and in their lives.  We do the opposite (dismiss it all) and wonder why people view us as irrelevant and useless.  By telling people there are no such things as ghosts, we force them to create an "underground conversation " whereby certain "taboo topics" are off limits.  These discussions about topics and subjects that people know to be true are undertaken in the workplace, in the home, and in every place except the church, because it is only the church hierarchy, too often so detached from ordinary life, that doesn't seem to get it. 

Update: 1/11/2011:  Just last night five of us on the SOR Team visited a house with demonic activity.  The woman told us in near tears that she was so grateful that we would come to her house and help her and her two children, because she didn't have anyone to turn to.  She was fearful of what others would think of her.  She has been dealing with this in her home for over three years, and no, it is not her fault.  The people that lived in the house before her were into witchcraft and Ouija boards, drugs, and sex, with one of the individuals dedicated to the dark side of witchcraft.  The individual trying to be a dark witch was taken out of the home on an ambulance stretcher and admitted to an in-patient psych ward.  They moved out and sold the house to this lady, without telling her anything about what was going on in the house (the presence of spirits and entities).  There is even a current debate within the real estate legal field on whether paranormal activity or even activity that could contribute to a later haunting should be part of the "material" disclosure requirement when selling a home to a prospective buyer. This woman, her son and daughter moved into a bad situation that she did not cause, and she was not even told about it.  She felt helpless, and yet her father is a preacher.  Sadly, this is the second case we've encountered in which people felt that the local church was the last place they could turn to.  It simply shouldn't be that way, but it is.

I have listed below what C.S. Lewis had to say about purgatory, to open my defense and treatment of Christians who are deeply committed to Christ, who are born-again, faithful to God, study the scriptures on the subject, and yet believe in ghosts as former humans.  This will be an ongoing subject of many future posts.  And one last thing, I am not trying to "prove" anything.  I am not trying to prove that ghosts exist, that ghosts are former humans who have passed on, or that purgatory is real.  I don't really care what a particular person reading this chooses to believe or not.  My point is to present the case that it is possible.  I will be presenting ideas, opinions, facts and scripture exegesis that will make an honest person to take pause and think.  I am showing that scripture, reason, experience and history all say that it is possible, so it is disingenuous to state that it is impossible or a crazy, unbiblical idea. So, without further adieu, here is Lewis on purgatory:

I BELIEVE IN PURGATORY..."Of course I pray for the dead. The action is so spontaneous, so all but inevitable, that only the most compulsive theological case against it would deter me. And I hardly know how the rest of my prayers would survive if those for the dead were forbidden. At our age, the majority of those we love best are dead. What sort of intercourse with God could I have if what I love best were unmentionable to him?

I believe in Purgatory.

Mind you, the Reformers had good reasons for throwing doubt on the 'Romish doctrine concerning Purgatory' as that Romish doctrine had then become.....

The right view returns magnificently in Newman's DREAM. There, if I remember it rightly, the saved soul, at the very foot of the throne, begs to be taken away and cleansed. It cannot bear for a moment longer 'With its darkness to affront that light'. Religion has claimed Purgatory.

Our souls demand Purgatory, don't they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, 'It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy'? Should we not reply, 'With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I'd rather be cleaned first.' 'It may hurt, you know' - 'Even so, sir.'

I assume that the process of purification will normally involve suffering. Partly from tradition; partly because most real good that has been done me in this life has involved it. But I don't think the suffering is the purpose of the purgation. I can well believe that people neither much worse nor much better than I will suffer less than I or more. . . . The treatment given will be the one required, whether it hurts little or much.

My favourite image on this matter comes from the dentist's chair. I hope that when the tooth of life is drawn and I am 'coming round',' a voice will say, 'Rinse your mouth out with this.' This will be Purgatory. The rinsing may take longer than I can now imagine. The taste of this may be more fiery and astringent than my present sensibility could endure. But . . . it will [not] be disgusting and unhallowed."

- C.S. Lewis, Letters To Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, chapter 20, paragraphs 7-10, pages 108-109.


  1. Very informative, even a skeptic would have to stop and think about this one! Well, providing they aren't brain dead.

  2. Thank you, appreciate the review and comment!