THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK: The ghost story Jesus told

Undated handout photo of the Rev David Clarke, elected Wednesday February 8th 2006 as the new Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Rev Clarke, who has been minister of Terrace Row Church in Coleraine, Co Londonderry for over 20 years, is the son of a butcher, and his brother played professional football for Sunderland. See PA story ULSTER Church. PRESS ASSOCIATION photo. Photo credit should read: PA
Undated handout photo of the Rev David Clarke, elected Wednesday February 8th 2006 as the new Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Rev Clarke, who has been minister of Terrace Row Church in Coleraine, Co Londonderry for over 20 years, is the son of a butcher, and his brother played professional football for Sunderland. See PA story ULSTER Church. PRESS ASSOCIATION photo. Photo credit should read: PA

An Archbishop of Canterbury, no less, was in some measure responsible for one of the most baffling of ghost stories in the English language.

Archbishop Edward White Benson was present at a country house-party where guests were swopping stories.

Benson related a true story which was seized upon by one in the party, the author Henry James. James took the Archbishop’s story and used it as the basis for his puzzling story entitled ‘The Turn of the Screw’ - a story turned into film and most recently an opera.

Jesus once told a ghost story about a house haunted by evil spirits. When the spirits were driven out, the house lay vacant for a spell, until the spirits returned and resumed occupancy. Check the story out in Luke’s gospel, chapter 11, verses 24-26.

The house is the human personality, and in the story Jesus was warning of the dangers of idleness. The house was vacant, and therefore at the mercy of unsavoury squatters. In our day, we are likely to hear of the dangers of being too busy. A man drives himself relentlessly to build up his business, only to find himself in a hospital bed, his health shattered, and his home life in tatters.

But idleness in even more dangerous than busyness. C.S.Lewis once wrote to a friend, because he was travelling across what was, in the terminology of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, a plain called Ease. King David’s great sin of adultery and murder took place at just such a time of ease. Other kings were going forth to war (2 Samuel 11;1), and it was just then, at ease in his palace that Bathsheba’s beauty, and the moonlight overthrew him. Saint Benedict once said, ‘Idleness is the enemy of the soul.’

Jesus’s parable about the house of the human personality warns that the house must not be left empty. Neutrality is not possible. The verse immediately before the parable runs, ‘He that is not with me, is against me.’ Nature abhors a vacuum; some force will ultimately fill it. Parents who imagine that children ought not to be influenced to religious things until they reach the ‘age of discretion’(whatever that is), ought to realise that other forces are not so reticent.

The materialist will shout at young people that all that matters is wealth and possessions; the sensualist will urge them towards sexual freedom; the atheist will scoff at religious convictions.

The only solution is to fill the life with things that are positive. As Paul wrote, ‘whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything if excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things’(Philippians 4;8). That’s a guaranteed way to keep the house secure.