Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Do Ancestors speak?

If we accept the possibility that in fact the ancestors do live among us, the question is, 'Do these ancestors interact with us? In particular, do they speak to us?'
African culture and religious belief relies heavily on the concept of guidance by the ancestors. They believe that ancestors speak to them in their dreams and direct them. While western Christians talk about the call of God on their lives, Africans will speak of the call of the ancestors. I am not sure whether the church, by and large, has managed to differentiate between these two ideas of calling.
Now, what does the Bible say about the dead speaking to us?
We have the Old Testament prohibition against consulting the dead - which Saul defied when visiting the witch of Endor. We also have Hebrews 11:4 which says that Abel, though dead still speaks. We have the Lord's refusal to allow the rich man to warn those still alive of the future consequences of their actions. We have the meeting between Jesus, Elijah and Moses on the mountain of transfiguration.
In cases where people are spoken to by spirits these are always referred to as dangerous, if not evil - and there is no case where the spirit is permitted to remain. There are so many instances of spirits being cast out that I don't think I need to list them!
Perhaps I should mention three other 'experiential things'. I don't believe that I have ever conversed with a dead person. I do believe that when someone has experienced the loss of a loved one there is the tendency to believe that the loved one is around, watching over them and listening to them. The Roman Catholics' belief in the intercession of the saints may come into this discussion somewhere.
However, I cannot come to the conclusion that the Bible admits of safe, healthy interaction with the dead. The trend is to warn us away from 'other' spirits. So, if the dead are living amongst us communication with them is not the norm - to say the least.
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It occurred to me after writing this that I have not taken angels into account. Angels are really God's messengers - could he use ancestors in this way? It is possible - although then one would assume that the ancestors are living with God (as we know the angels do) and not among us.

8 comments:

Thomas Scarborough said...

I spoke to a minister who once spoke to the ancestors. I asked him how he did that, and he showed me how. But he said there came the moment when he understood that God had all power, not the ancestors, and I think that is the crucial point.

Jenny Hillebrand said...

I agree that is the crucial point. But I think the other matters too. I wonder how he knew it was the ancestors. Could he 'call them up' on demand? Is it different to astral travel and spirit guides?

Steven Jones said...

I know that, as Westerners, when we find ourselves in a pickle, we sometimes ask ourselves what would Dad / Gran, etc. have said, and when we dewll on the memories, we sonmetimes get a sense of their wisdom speaking to us. But those are more a case of drawing on memories, rather than actually conversing with our ancestors. I share your struggle...

PS: Word verification - what's a "dinglodg" - some kind of bell house?

markpenrith said...

"Now, what does the Bible say about the dead speaking to us?"

I read this and the post the day before and spent some time thinking. Outcome: I'm deeply persuaded by study of Scripture that there is an immediate transition of believers to an incomplete glorious fellowship with Christ after death.

Paul’s clear: to be absent in body is to be present with Christ. Philippians 1:23, “For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better” and 2 Corinithians 5:8, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.”

Anonymous said...

Dear Jenny, Not only do we ancestors speak. We drop comments on blogs. This very comment here is proof of the same. Thank you for an interesting blog. We look forward to meeting you (I can't tell you the date we decided).

Jenny Hillebrand said...

Hi Mark - I have not really considered a state of incomplete glorification! I suppose that is a way of reconciling the 'sleep' passages with the 'be with Jesus' passages. What would you say happens to those who do not or will not pass the test of judgement in the interim?
I am inclined to agree with your implication that there is a complete separation of the living and the dead/resurrected/waiting. But it may, perhaps, do no harm to believe that the living dead walk among us unseen if that is one's cultural belief.

markpenrith said...

“What would you say happens to those who do not or will not pass the test of judgement in the interim?”

I think it’s safe to assume that if those believers who have passed on (Revelation 6:9) and are now with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:23) are awaiting a future resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:50-54; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17). It follows that those unbelievers who have died are also awaiting (Psalm 9:17; 31:17; 49:14; Isaiah 5:14) a future judgement (Revelation 20:13-15).

“But it may, perhaps, do no harm to believe that the living dead walk among us unseen if that is one's cultural belief”

Could it be that not all cultural practices resonate well with Biblical revelation?

Jenny Hillebrand said...

Hi Mark - on your second point: I agree completely. Not all cultural practices resonate with Biblical revelation. But I am wondering if the existence of the living dead amongst us is inconsistent with that revelation, or whether the revelation is unclear on that point.
On your first point I would then ask if the believers are with the Lord, could it be that the unbelieving dead have a place of waiting in this world?
For myself, I am inclined to believe that the living dead are not amongst us - but I think that is based on science not on my understanding of the Bible.