During my drive time, I occasionally listen to a podcast called Radio Lab. It’s an excellently produced piece of story-telling/investigative radio done for NPR by some really talented people. For me, it’s a great window into current modes of thought (and I learn a lot from it too). The other day I listened to an episode called “Haunted” about a guy who lost both his parents in his thirties, moved in to their house to remodel and sell it, and then started having dreams about them non stop. After a few friends said they felt a “presence” in the house, he agreed to have a “Paranormal Investigation Team” come and see if there were any spirits in the house. They used partially unscrewed flashlights to communicate with the spirits, which were supposed to turn the lights on and off to answer questions yes or no. During this team’s visit Dennis believed he had an experience where he communicated with his dead parents. Not long after that, however, Dennis (who describes himself as a skeptic who doesn’t believe in ghosts) learned the explanation of how the lights turned on and off (metal in the lights heating and expanding and then cooling, which caused intermittent contact on the circuit, causing them to flash). He stopped believing he had spoken to his dead parents–but only kind of. The episode ends with a discussion between two of the show’s producers, Andy and Robert, about how Dennis now describes his experience. It offers some pretty profound insight into where so many people are at in our culture. Here’s what they said:
Dennis: “I know that the way the way that the world works is the way that the world works. People don’t come back from the dead. People don’t talk to you through flashlights.”
Andy: “But he also said that he’s not going to let go of that experience. He wants to have it both ways.”
Dennis: “I guess so. I guess I want to have both yes this didn’t happen and yes this absolutely happened.
Robert: “I understand that.”
Andy: “Yeah. Cause even if you are the world’s biggest skeptic–you don’t believe in Ghosts– there really aren’t that many ways to talk about these sorts of things, these sorts of things that we all feel–you know, guilt for the things that we’ve done in our past, the loss of those who we’ve loved that like Ghosts stories kind of seem to stick around because they are an experience, albeit, like a metaphorical experience, but an experience that lets us talk about these things that we can’t adequately talk about, you know, that feeling of being haunted.
I was surprised to hear the producers of the show move into this realm of universal human experience in explaining why Dennis wants to hold on to this experience with Ghosts even though he doesn’t really believe it. If you didn’t catch it, they say that we can all kind of understand, since everyone knows that we all have some things that “haunt” us, and which we don’t really have ways of talking about:
- Guilt over things we’ve done
- The loss of people we love
You’re probably already making the obvious connections in your mind. These are two of the central things the Gospel of Christ addresses. All we Christians do is talk about how to deal with your guilt, and people being raised to life after they die. It is our message, in a unique way, that not only gives people ways to talk and think about these things, but actually deals with the problems, and changes the situation, for everyone who believes. Through the cross of Christ we proclaim real washing away of guilt, real forgiveness and a new status of righteousness, and through the resurrection of Christ we proclaim the possibility for everyone to “come back” after they die.
Of course, the worldview Dennis holds prevents him from having any of these thought categories. “I know that the way the way that the world works is the way that the world works,” he says. “People don’t come back from the dead.” Now, because he is right about the next thing he says–“People don’t talk to you through flashlights”–it makes it even harder for him to see the error in his declaration about life and death.
Like so many around us, it doesn’t occur to Dennis, or Andy, or Robert, that maybe the inescapable, universal (in their own judgment) feelings of guilt and loss we all experience actually point to, not fantasy or wishful thinking, but reality. Maybe the guilt and loss that haunt us are supposed to make us question whether we really do understand “the way the world works.”
Because if once, someone really did “come back from the dead,” then Dennis can no longer bank on his understanding of the world. And if that resurrected man proclaimed that the fact of guilt and the terror of death were completely intertwined, that in fact, the solution to death was the solution to guilt–we would do well to listen to him.
People so quickly dismiss the message of Christ, but then spend their lives unsuccessfully trying to get rid of the very things Christ came to deal with.
Dennis–why this skepticism? And then why the admission that, when the chips are down, you’d rather believe in ghosts then your own skepticism? Why not embrace reality, even the reality contained in your own soul?
Why not let these things lead you to the one who has conquered sin and death?
Why believe in ghosts over the Christ?