March 22, 2022

How Do I Find Life In Death?

And I know that this man–whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows– was caught up to Paradise. He heard inexpressible things; things that man is not permitted to tell.  2 Corinthians 12:3-4

In 1975 Raymond Moody, a medical doctor, published a book entitled Life After Life.   It chronicled the experiences of 150 people who died, or were near-death and then came back.  Moody was the first to use the expression “near death experience” and he tells how these experiences forever changed the lives of the people who had them.  In some cases, as death approached, individuals had flashbacks, going back to childhood.  In some cases, they saw Jesus standing in the shadows.  Some saw light—a brilliant, vivid light which they believed was God—at the end of a long, dark tunnel.  But no matter how the experiences differed, their lives changed.  They became “more altruistic, less materialistic, and more loving.”

Since Moody first published his book, scores of individuals have gotten in on the “near death experience” talk circuit, and if there could be a rule of thumb in evaluating the validity of those who allegedly have had them, it might well be that the ones who are the most vocal are least credible and those who least want to talk about what happened are probably the most valid.

Researchers say that a lack of oxygen or the release of enzymes in the brain can trigger flashes of light or duplicate the experiences which some have described.  Yet individuals who have stared death in the face could never, ever be convinced that what they saw or experienced was the result of a lack of oxygen.  Those who have worked closely with them are unconvinced as well—doctors, health care providers, and family members.  Diane Komp, a pediatric oncologist at Yale, described herself as an atheist until… until, that is, she began working with children who were dying with leukemia and cancer.  As she heard dying children tell of choruses of angels and seeing Jesus, she did an about face.  “It changed my view of spiritual matters.  Call it a conversion,” she said, adding, “I came away convinced that these are real spiritual experiences.”

When Paul wrote to the Philippians, he described death and entrance to heaven as departing here and “being with Christ.”  Had Paul himself had a near death experience?  Was he describing something which he, in fact, had encountered personally?  Perhaps!  We do know that on several occasions, Paul was knocked about and left more nearly dead than alive.  In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul opened his heart in a very candid and personal way and said, “And I know that this man—whether in the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise.  He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell” (2 Corinthians 12:3,4).  Was Paul talking about himself?  Probably.  But there’s one thing for sure:  He missed a great opportunity to “grandstand” –you know, get a big crowd by telling about that near encounter with death.

I, for one, am convinced that as some approach death they see what we who remain on this side just cannot see.  My mother was one of them.  Three days before her death she told how she saw Jesus standing in the shadows saying, “Not yet, Ruby.”  But three days later, as her eyes focused with clarity, I asked, “Mother, what do you see?”  The question was never answered, but I could never be convinced that she did not see what I could not see but some day hope to see.

For those so privileged to see across the threshold, their lives are never the same.


Resource reading: 2 Corinthians 12:1-10.