For years, as I drove Highway 101 in central California, I saw signs advertising the Winchester Mystery House. I’ve never visited that tourist attraction but, out of curiosity, I did do some research about it. Apparently, a woman named Sarah Pardee married William W. Winchester, who, during the Civil War, became the heir to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.
In due time, Sarah gave birth to a baby girl, whom they named Annie, but the child died a few weeks later. Some years after that, William Winchester died of tuberculosis. Sarah was distraught and reportedly visited a spirit medium, who told her that the spirits of people who had been killed by Winchester rifles were seeking vengeance.
But the medium assured Sarah that she could counteract the curse by moving to the West Coast and building a house. As long as she continued building, she could confuse the bad spirits, please the good ones, and remain safe.
Sarah Winchester moved to the San Jose area in California, bought a farmhouse with eight rooms, and began adding to it. Because she was the heiress of a $20-million fortune and had few responsibilities, she built, built, and built, often tearing down and rebuilding. When she died in 1922, the Winchester Mansion had 160 rooms. Builders who’ve examined the house estimate that she actually built 600 rooms, but because of limited space on her property, she had to tear down many of them and build something else.
The house is a most bizarre arrangement of halls, chambers, and steps. No two rooms are on the same level. Some cupboards open up to a half inch of nothing. Many of the stairs have 13 steps, some of them very short. The halls are very narrow. Mrs. Winchester built secret chambers, where she supposedly received information on what to build next during nightly séances with her mediums.
Sara Winchester also had 40–60 servants and carpenters who worked around the clock every day for 38 years, endlessly building to appease the angry spirits.
This 38-year project is an exaggerated example of what a distorted understanding of death can lead a person to do! And Mrs. Winchester’s story is a classic example of why this topic is so important today.
The danger of spiritualism
According to spiritualists, when our bodies die, our spirits continue a conscious existence in another realm. We cannot see these spirits, but they can contact us. Mrs. Winchester’s belief in this foundational teaching of spiritualism made her willing to following the medium’s instructions about perpetual building.
Mrs. Winchester apparently didn’t know that the Bible condemns all efforts to communicate with the dead through spirit mediums. “ ‘ “Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists,” ’ ” Moses told the ancient Israelites (Leviticus 19:31). “Let no one be found among you who . . . practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead” (Deuteronomy 18:10, 11).
Centuries later the prophet Isaiah cautioned, “When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?” (Isaiah 8:19).
There’s a good reason why the Bible writers so forcefully condemned spiritism and witchcraft: these practices are an open invitation for demonic beings to deceive us! The Bible warns us that “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). Revelation predicts that in the final days of earth’s history, an apostate Christian religion will be become “ ‘a home for demons and a haunt for every evil spirit,’ ” and that evil spirits will “go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty” (Revelation 18:2; 16:14).
Satan’s deceptions in the end time will be so clever that God’s people themselves will be in danger of being deceived! (Matthew 24:24). No wonder God warns Christians against the deceptive allure of spiritualism! I propose that the best protection we have today against this deception is a correct understanding of death.
Two false views of death
There are two extreme views about death. One is that death is the absolute end. People turn into dirt—and that’s it! The world’s humanists claim that we’ll turn into fertilizer that will feed the trees and other plants, so we’ll live again in the grass, the flowers, and the apples. I don’t find that very satisfying.
Reincarnationists, on the other hand, claim that human beings always have lived and always will live. Each individual keeps dying and reincarnating, ideally into successively higher life-forms. An insect may reincarnate as a mouse, the mouse as a dog, the dog as an ape, and the ape as a human.
Before I became a Christian, I sincerely believed in reincarnation. My friends and I tried to figure out who we’d been in previous existences. We’d ask each other, “What were you in your former life?” Nobody ever said, “I used to sweep up after elephants,” or “I used to be a trash collector.” Everybody had always been someone very important: “I used to be Cleopatra!” or “I was Julius Caesar.” It annoyed me that everyone had visions of grandeur about their former lives.
What the Bible says
Then I discovered what the Bible says—death is real, but resurrection day is coming. Paul called death an enemy that will be destroyed (1Corinthians 15:26), for the dead “will be raised imperishable,” “clothed . . . with immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:52, 54).
The question is, What happens between the day we die and the day we are raised back to life? The answer is very simple: We will lie in the grave asleep, unconscious of all that’s going on in the world around us. “The living know that they will die,” Solomon wrote, “but the dead know nothing” (Ecclesiastes 9:5). And David said that when a person dies, “In that very day his thoughts perish” (Psalm 146:4, KJV).
Jesus taught the same thing in the New Testament. When His friend Lazarus died, Jesus told His disciples that Lazarus was asleep. When they asked Jesus why He would want to wake a sleeping man, Jesus told them plainly, “ ‘Lazarus is dead’ ” (John 11:14). And Paul told the Christians in Thessalonica that on resurrection morning Jesus will awaken those who have fallen asleep, that is, who are dead (1 Thessalonians 4:13, 16).
The biblical comparison of death with sleep is a clear indication that death is a state of unconsciousness.
It’s too bad that Mrs. Winchester didn’t understand this fact about death. It would have saved her many sleepless nights and millions of dollars in wasted money. Fortunately, you and I do understand the good news about death: it’s a sleep that has an end.
The important question is, How does one come up on the right side when that sleep ends? Jesus answered that question. “ ‘God so loved the world,’ ” He said, “ ‘that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ ” (John 3:16).
Our assurance of eternal life is in Jesus. Why not accept Him as your Savior today so that you can be assured of waking up on resurrection morning?