If our departed loved ones could speak to us, what would they say? Communicating with those who have died seems to be a common desire. “Psychic mediums” take advantage of a combination of grief, guilt, and credulity in order to con people.
But even the well-intentioned attempt to channel the hypothetical words or thoughts of the dead. Perhaps you’ve heard someone say, “If he were here today, he’d want you to know…” or, “If she could speak to you today, the one thing she’d say…”
If you know someone well you can imagine them saying a number of things. And perhaps there is some educational or motivational value in contemplating what the dearly departed would say. But what can we learn about actual communication from beyond the grave in scripture?
Forbidden by God
In anticipation of the Israelites entering Canaan, God was clear in his abhorrence of this pagan practice. They were forbidden from seeking out mediums or necromancers (Leviticus 19:31), as pursuing them would result in being cut off from the people (Leviticus 20:6). The practice of it carried a death sentence (Leviticus 20:27), and the prohibition against mediums, fortune tellers, and diviners is set alongside a prohibition against offering children to false gods (Deuteronomy 18:10-11).
The works of the flesh include idolatry and sorcery (Galatians 5:20). Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom (Galatians 5:21), but rather will be subject to the second death (Revelation 21:8).
Not possible or necessary
King Saul was greatly disturbed. His kingdom had been taken from him because of his faithlessness, his pursuit of David had been fruitless, and now his life was in the balance as the Philistines gathered to fight. Fearful, he sought out a medium to receive advice. A disguised Saul requested that Samuel be brought up for him. When the woman saw Samuel, she was surprised and afraid and “she cried out with a loud voice” (1 Samuel 28:12).
Why was she surprised to see Samuel? Why was she afraid? How did she now know that it was Saul who had requested this? It seems to this student that this medium was shocked that she actually contacted the dead. This was not normal. God facilitated this connection.
Some thousand years later, Jesus told of a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. This poor man died and was transported by the angels to paradise, here pictured as Abraham’s side (Luke 16:22). The rich man, being in torment, asked for a drop of water to cool his tongue (Luke 16:24). But he was told that “between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us” (Luke 16:26).
With his personal request rejected, the rich man then begs that Lazarus be sent to warn his five brothers, hoping that if one comes back from the dead his loved ones will repent. But that request is also denied, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31).
One might ask if it is not possible, then why the prohibitions? These actions are similar to worshiping false gods. The gods themselves do not exist except in the hearts of those worshiping them, yet God consistently prohibited worshiping these idols. The lack of reality behind it makes the action no less dangerous, because it turns the heart away from God.
David was right when he said of his deceased infant son, “Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:23).
Yet, all is not lost. While we may not be able to speak to our loved ones, their actions can live on. What is said of Abel can be true of all faithful Christians, “And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks” (Hebrews 11:4).
God can hear them. The slain saints in the Revelation are pictured as crying out to the “Sovereign Lord” for justice against their Roman oppressors (Revelation 6:10). Their plea for vengeance was answered in God’s time (Revelation 6:11).
Finally, we should be comforted knowing that death could not silence our Lord. From earth, the risen Savior comforted, encouraged, and educated his disciples. From heaven, the ascended Lord heard the prayer of Stephen, called Saul to be his apostle, and gave John the Revelation. From heaven, Jesus’ words direct our lives, give us peace, and offer up hope.
If he were here now, I can know exactly what he would say, and you can too. Open up the New Testament and listen carefully, for he is still speaking.