Can the Dead Help the Living?

TAMBA, a young man in West Africa, was about to take a school examination. * His mother insisted that he needed the help of dead relatives in order to succeed. In Palermo, Sicily, tourists visit catacombs where hundreds of carefully preserved corpses are on display. Some believe that these mummified remains provide divine protection for the living. Each year, people visit Lily Dale, a town in western New York State, U.S.A., known for the unusually high number of spirit mediums who live there. Visitors come in hopes that they can contact dead relatives or friends and receive their help.

Across the globe, the belief that the dead can help the living persists. What do you think? Perhaps you have been taught such a belief or are close to some who cherish the idea. It is only natural to long for loved ones whom we have lost in death. Spirit mediums promise to meet that need. One medium was quoted in Time magazine as saying that the spirit realm “is always available if called to help.” Is that true? Can the dead really help the living? The Bible’s clear answer may surprise you.

Are the Dead Alive Somewhere?

The Bible explains in simple, easy-to-understand terms the condition of the dead. Note what Ecclesiastes 9:5 states: “The living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all.” Is it possible that the dead have feelings? Verse 6 answers: “Their love and their hate and their jealousy have already perished, and they have no portion anymore to time indefinite in anything that has to be done under the sun.” Note, too, that verse 10 of that same chapter states that “there is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in Sheol, the place to which you are going.” The Hebrew word “Sheol” used here means “mankind’s common grave.” Interestingly, the Greek equivalent of this word, “Hades,” is used in the Scriptures to indicate where Jesus Christ went for a time after he died.​—Acts 2:31.

Jesus helped many while he was alive, but he knew that he would have to die. Did he expect that he would still be able to help people during his time in the grave? No. He compared his own impending death to a nighttime when work would be impossible. (John 9:4) Jesus well knew that when humans cease to live, they are “impotent in death.”​—Isaiah 26:14.

Jesus also used a comparison that made a similar point about death. When his friend Lazarus died, Jesus likened death to sleep. (John 11:11-13) We do not expect a sleeping person to help us, do we? A sleeper is unconscious, unable to act in anyone’s behalf.

Does the Soul Survive Death?

Many have been taught that the soul is a shadowy thing that survives death. The Bible teaches something different. The first book  of the Bible, Genesis, identifies the soul for us. Genesis 2:7 states that at the first man’s creation, he “came to be a living soul.” Man, in his entirety, is a soul; animals are also souls. (Genesis 1:20-25) So, logically, when a human or an animal dies, the soul dies. The Bible confirms this.​—Ezekiel 18:4.

However, some may ask, ‘What about the many stories of people contacting the dead, hearing their voices, or even seeing them?’ Such accounts are common in many parts of the world. They fill bereaved relatives or close friends with hope, moving many to seek out a spirit medium who claims to be able to contact the dead.

Are such stories true? If so, would this not contradict the above Bible-based statements? Christ Jesus described God’s Word as truth. (John 17:17) Truth does not contradict itself. Actually, there is clear direction in the Bible on how we should view claims that the dead can help the living. The Bible tells us about someone who attempted to get help from the dead. A careful reading of the account will reveal the truth.

A King Asks for Help From the Dead

The setting was a battlefield in northern Israel. King Saul and his forces were confronted by a fearsome Philistine army. When Saul got to see the camp of the Philistines, “his heart began to tremble very much.” At this point in his kingship, Saul had abandoned true worship. As a result, his pleadings to Jehovah were answered with silence. Where would Saul turn for help? God’s prophet Samuel was dead.​—1 Samuel 28:3, 5, 6.

Saul sought direction from a spirit medium in En-dor. He begged the medium to “bring up Samuel” from the dead. The medium summoned an apparition. This “Samuel” told Saul that the Philistines would prevail and that Saul and his sons would die in battle. (1 Samuel 28:7-19) Was that really Samuel returned from the dead?

Think about it. The Bible states that at death a person “goes back to his ground” and that “his thoughts do perish.” (Psalm 146:4) Both Saul and Samuel knew that God condemned contact with spirit mediums. Why, Saul had earlier taken the lead in ridding the land of spiritistic practices!​—Leviticus 19:31.

Reason on the matter. If faithful Samuel were still alive as a spirit, would he violate God’s law and cooperate with a spirit medium in order to meet Saul? Jehovah had refused to talk with Saul. Could a medium, in effect, force God Almighty to communicate with Saul by means of dead Samuel? No. Clearly, this “Samuel” was not God’s faithful prophet in any form. It was a spirit​—a wicked demon pretending to be dead Samuel.

Demons are angels who rebelled against God’s authority early in man’s history. (Genesis 6:1-4; Jude 6) These demons can observe people while they are alive; they know how each one talked, looked, and acted. They are  eager to promote the idea that what the Bible says is untrue. No wonder the Bible warns against having any contact with such spirit forces! (Deuteronomy 18:10-12) These wicked spirits are still active today.

Now we may see why many tell of “hearing” or “seeing” dead loved ones. Though such apparitions at times may seem friendly, wicked spirit forces are out to deceive humans. * (Ephesians 6:12) Also, think about this: Jehovah is a loving God who cares for us. If the dead were alive somewhere and they could come to the aid of their friends and family, would our loving Creator forbid such contact and refer to it as “detestable”? Surely not! (1 Peter 5:7) Is there, then, any reliable source of help?

Real Help for the Living and the Dead

We understand from the foregoing that the dead are powerless to help the living. What is more, efforts to seek the help of the dead are worse than ineffective; they are extremely dangerous, as they violate God’s law and put us at risk of demonic influence.

The Bible directs us to the best Source of help​—our Creator, Jehovah. He can deliver us from death itself. (Psalm 33:19, 20) Today, he is available to help us. He thus provides real hope, unlike false hopes from spirit mediums.

Tamba, mentioned in the introduction, learned firsthand the difference between the false hopes that spirit mediums offer and the truth that Jehovah holds out to us. Mediums claimed that if he did not perform a sacrifice to his dead ancestors, he would fail the school exam. Tamba had begun to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. He had learned the real condition of the dead and also the evil source of those who pretend to be dead ancestors. Despite great pressure from his mother to get help from a medium, Tamba refused, telling her, “If I fail, I will try harder next year.”

What was the result? He finished first in the exam! His mother was amazed, lost faith in the mediums, and never mentioned sacrifices of that nature again. Tamba learned that Jehovah warns us to avoid making “application to dead persons in behalf of living persons.” (Isaiah 8:19) Bible study gave Tamba the confidence that if he took delight in God’s law, he would succeed.​—Psalm 1:1-3.

What, though, about the loved ones we have lost? Is there no hope for them? In addition to helping us who are alive, Jehovah has promised to help those who are in the grave. After describing how powerless the dead are, notice what the prophet Isaiah announces in chapter 26, verse 19: “Your dead ones will live. . . . Awake and cry out joyfully, you residents in the dust!” The prophecy further states that “those impotent in death” will live again.

Imagine that! The helpless billions who lie sleeping in the grave will be brought back to life! In fact, the Bible reveals that Jehovah has “a yearning” to give life to the dead. (Job 14:14, 15) Do such promises sound too good to be true? Jesus Christ was so sure of this hope that he described the dead as already alive in Jehovah’s eyes.​—Luke 20:37, 38.

Would you like to make this hope your own? * Continue to take in accurate knowledge from the Bible. As you study, you will be convinced that Jehovah can help the living and the dead and that his promises are “faithful and true.”​—Revelation 21:4, 5.


^ par. 2 Name has been changed.

^ par. 18 For more information on this subject, see the brochure Spirits of the Dead​—Can They Help You or Harm You? Do They Really Exist? published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

^ par. 26 For more information about the Bible’s promise of a resurrection, see chapter 7 of the book What Does the Bible Really Teach? published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

[Blurb on page 19]

It is only natural to long for loved ones whom we have lost in death

[Picture on page 20]

Did the prophet Samuel come back from the dead and communicate with King Saul?