Question: "Is seeing spirits / demons an ability God gives to some people?"
Answer: There are many who believe they have the gift to be able to see spirits, ghosts, angels, etc. A quick internet search will reveal that there is no shortage of people who give advice on what to do with this gift, and there are books available, including children’s books, that purport to help people use their gift. However, the Bible says nothing about a gift or ability to see spirits, demons, or even angels.
The Holy Spirit has manifested Himself in visible form on occasion: as a dove in Matthew 3:16 and as a flame of fire in Acts 2:3. There is no record of an evil spirit manifesting or being seen. Normally, the evil spirit would take over the body of a person and use his body and voice or, in at least one case, the bodies of pigs (see Mark 5:1–13 for an example of both). Of course, angels have often manifested themselves throughout the Old and New Testament, but most of the time it is the angel who takes the initiative to reveal himself. He is not seen because someone had the “ability” to see him. Some prophets had visions of God and angels, but, once again, this was not any ability on the part of the prophet, but an occasional glimpse into the spirit world that God allowed for His own purposes. When the king of Aram attempted to capture the prophet Elisha, Elisha’s servant was fearful. Elisha seemed to know that angels were all around (the passage never says that Elisha could see them), and he prayed for his servant’s benefit: “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he saw the surrounding hills were full of horses and chariots of fire (2 Kings 6:17).
In spite of the times that the Bible records people seeing spiritual beings, there is never mention of any special “gift” or “ability” to do it. Christians who are trusting God can be sure that angels and possibly even demons are all around us doing what they do behind the scenes. We don’t need to physically see them to understand that they are there.
King Saul visited the witch of Endor and wanted her to summon the spirit of Samuel so that he could ask Samuel’s advice (see 2 Samuel 28). The woman was only too happy to oblige but then reacted in fear when Samuel really did appear. This might lead one to think that she did not usually get this kind of result! There are psychics and mediums today who, like the “witch” of Endor, claim to be able to communicate with spirits. Some of these are no doubt charlatans, and some may actually get communication from the spirit world; however, this communication is not to be relied upon because it is prohibited by God. Saul was condemned for his actions regarding the witch: “So Saul died for his breach of faith. He broke faith with the Lord in that he did not keep the command of the Lord, and also consulted a medium, seeking guidance. He did not seek guidance from the Lord. Therefore the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse” (1 Chronicles 10:13–14). Furthermore, any supernatural communication may be the work of deceitful spirits. Paul warns that Satan masquerades as an angel of light in order to deceive (2 Corinthians 11:14). Christians should seek guidance from the Lord and from His Word.
People who claim the ability to see demons or possess some type of extrasensory perception are functioning apart from Scripture. While there are many who claim to see spirits and teach others how to use that gift, there is no such gift or ability spoken of in Scripture, and Scripture must be our final authority in spiritual matters.