catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 1, Num 4 :: 2002.10.25 — 2002.11.07


How to see dead people

A ghostly guide to apparitions and phantoms in film and literature

Memory and the Holy Ghost


“Now Cain said to his brother Abel, ’Let’s go out to the field.’ And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ ‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ The Lord said, ‘What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground?” (Genesis 4:8-10)

We often read Cain’s response to God as a wise-crack, a smart remark to keep the Creator from discovering his murderous deed. But what if Cain really doesn’t know the answer to God’s question? Cain certainly knows that he has killed his brother, but perhaps he is sincere in his statement of ignorance. How could he be held responsible if he really didn’t know he was responsible? This is, in a sense, what Cain is asking God when he says, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” We might imagine him wearing a look of surprise rather than that all-knowing, rebellious smirk.

God does not accept Cain’s excuse of ignorance, however. The Creator hears the blood of the faithful Abel crying out from the ground and demands that Cain hear it too. But Cain does not hear it. He is too concerned with his own fate.

Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” (Genesis 4:13)

Cain continues to think only of himself. His unrepentant heart proves he still has no idea where his brother is and that he really doesn’t care. Cain has forgotten his dead brother already just as he neglected to think of his brother in life. God establishes a precedent in Genesis by punishing Cain for his forgetfulness.

God does not like forgetfulness. He often rebukes His people for it and frequently boasts of His own perfect memory. The Old Testament is full of reminders that God always remembers His promises and keeps them, and the New Testament brings the point home. Yet, time and time again, God’s people forget the wondrous works he has done among them, even though the story of His redeeming love is in writing.

Reading the written words of Scripture, however, does not guarantee an understanding of God’s message. The message of the Bible cannot be understood, says John Calvin, without God’s Spirit.

“[T]he testimony of the Spirit is more excellent than all reason. For as God alone is a fit witness of himself in his Word, so also the Word will not find acceptance in men’s hearts before it is sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit, therefore, who has spoken through the mouths of the prophets must penetrate into our hearts to persuade us that they faithfully proclaimed what had been divinely commanded. (81, Institutes of the Christian Religion).

As Calvin indicates, the Spirit of God that hovered over the formless earth before creation, that directed the hands of the authors of Scripture, that came to the prophets and guided the early church, still directs us in our reading of God’s Word.

God’s written Word is not merely a historical document preserving past events. Scripture tells the story of God’s love for His creation by recounting the remembered promises of the Creator. The Holy Spirit itself is the fulfillment of God’s promise to His people. Because the Spirit of God is given to the church not as the ghost of Christ crucified, but as the ghost of the risen and ascended Lord, the Spirit indicates God’s presence, not His absence, which is the gift of nearness God promised in the Old Testament. As God’s presence the Holy Spirit dwells among the people, not as a ghost trapped between life and death, but as an intercessor for humankind. God’s faithfulness to his people is shown, then, in this gift of presence, which also is given to those of the past.

Reading the Bible with an ear to this Holy Ghost is a reminder of God’s goodness, which brings Christians together not just as Believers here and now. The faithful from days gone by are also remembered, and we are reminded that God’s faithfulness to our forefathers assures His faithfulness to us as well. As Hebrews 11 indicates, the remembrance of the faithful who have gone before expands our immediate family to include those of the past, which is perhaps the great work of God’s Spirit in the church. As can be seen by the list of names in Hebrews 11, we are called to remember the dead for their faithfulness because they are our sisters and brothers: Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, Ruth, David, and of course, Abel.

By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead. (Hebrews 11:1-4)

As faithful brothers and sisters of Abel, we must not, like Cain, be surprised at our responsibilities toward our brother. We must not cease to wonder where our brothers and sisters are or forget about those who have gone before us. The God who won’t tolerate forgetfulness demands that we hear the blood of Abel as faithful witnesses in His family.

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