Is Life After Death Real?

I have spent the last couple of years writing about what the Bible says about life after death.  Today I am asking, “why believe any of it?

We are certainly motivated to think that this life isn’t all that there is for us.  The idea of simply disappearing drains any real purpose from our existence.  It also makes our aging an ever worsening scenario for which there is no escape nor hope.

There are plenty of reasons to think that life after death is more than false hope.  Real faith is the gift of God, but a little extra-biblical evidence certainly doesn’t hurt; especially if you are skeptical of the Bible at this point.

I often joke about the value of a field-trip to Heaven.  Of course, this is not something God is offering, but do some people actually have them?  Near Death Experiences are a curious phenomena that are actually quite common. One in seven people come close to death without permanently dying.  Thirty-five percent of those report a NDE (that’s 5% of the population) Skeptics want to dismiss NDE’s as simply a spike in brain activity right at death.  This explanation doesn’t quite fit the evidence.  Many don’t have enough of a brain left for the spike, and still have an NDE.  Most have been in a coma for a prolonged time, lowering their brain activity. A better theory for the brain activity spike is that when our spirit and body divide there is a surge of electrical activity.

NDEs happen to people of all sorts all over the world.  They do not seem to follow only people who expect life after death.  Many aspects are common among those who have experienced NDE’s.  For instance, going down a tunnel toward a light, being greeted by people they know, a sense of peace, and often the experience of being above your body and able to make detailed, accurate observations of things in the room or even down the hall.

Most people who have an NDE don’t want to come back to life.  Most, but not all.  Some people have experienced Hell.  They were eager to back to life.  That experience is life changing, too.  Would the prevalence of positive experiences suggest that most will be saved or that those with positive experiences are going to be saved?  I wouldn’t draw that conclusion at all.  Here I would count on the words of Jesus, who states that “few find life” and “no one comes to the Father accept through Me.”

I expect that NDE’s and their counterpart Out of Body Experiences (OBE) are similar to the experiences of Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1f) and John in Revelation.  They are not exactly tours of Heaven, but rather visions intended for them.  Isaiah certainly experienced Heaven like a field trip, but Jesus states later that no one has gone into Heaven except the One who came from Heaven (John 3:13).  That doesn’t mean that no one can go there now and come back, but it does suggest an out-of-body middle state (Not yet in Heaven and not on Earth).  I would approach the information gained through NDE and OBE’s with caution, because it could be a vision created to deceive.

In the book “Death of a Guru”, Rabi Maharaj talks about the powers of Transcendental Meditation (TM) to take a person out of body and to places perceived as heavenly or at least other-worldly.  His later conversion would convince him that he was in great danger in these states of being deceived by Satan.  Some who have experienced NDE’s, later attempt to repeat the trip through methods similar to TM.  One famous example is neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander who was skeptical of NDEs until he contracted a serious case or meningitis and had one himself.  In a lecture of his that I attended, he announced that he was part of a group investigating the use of certain sound frequencies to liberate spirit from the body.  I think this is a bad idea.

Some NDEs may be legitimate God-given gifts.  They may even be direct experiences of Heaven, but Scripture remains the one safe standard of truth in this matter.  Other methods of experiencing life after death give some credence to dismiss a materialistic philosophy, but do not have God’s approval.  In my next blog entry I will discuss communication with the dead.

Grief

Death isn’t meant to be celebrated.  It only exists as the wages of sin.  The body wasn’t initially created to be mortal.  When humanity essentially rejected God, the results of their actions introduced a biology that could die.  We’ve been dying ever since.  To die and have your body undergoing decay, even if your conscious soul is somewhere much better, is a consequence that is tragic.

It is right to grieve.  Many people want their funeral to be a celebration of their life.  Even more, for a Christian, we want it to be a celebration of the fact that we are liberated from our sinful nature and from a body under God’s curse.  But if we were valuable at all to the people we left behind, there will be grief.

How can we survive grief?  The victory over grief starts with an understanding of your own God-given purpose.  Life isn’t the prize.  Life is the time of accomplishing God’s plan for you.  As we navigate through this world, we are blessed to have people we love and who support us on our way.  They are valuable, but they will all die either before us or after us.  They may be dependable, but we can’t depend on them absolutely, because they are mortal.  We must depend on God.  Perhaps through a part of your journey, God will be the only one you have on which to depend.

The second necessary ingredient to surviving grief is hope.  This should be the understanding that you will have eternal life with God through Jesus.  All of life’s losses are temporary.  At least their impact is temporary.  When we leave this life ourselves we will leave behind every loss.  A clear certainty that we have eternal life and that we have a God-given purpose takes most of the sting of grief away.  The rest heals as we walk with God.  Jesus died so that you can have that hope, that reality.  What He has for you will overwhelm all sense of loss.

This is true even if we have reason to doubt that the person we are grieving has been saved.  While we live, we want to do whatever is possible to bring the Gospel of Jesus to those we know and love.  That doesn’t mean that they will believe it.  It is wrong to absolutely judge a person as damned.  You can’t always see what God has managed to do in the soul of a person.  Still, you might have a pretty good idea that there was no connection with Jesus from the words and actions of the person.  I have that situation personally.  I could be wrong.  I hope I am wrong.  What I have found is that God has given me peace.

Unexpected, tragic death can put an extra dimension on grief.  We recently had the tragic death of a beautiful young woman in our congregation.  Her loss is a grievous loss for her parents and the community.  There are many layers to pain that people are feeling, too.  There is grief, guilt, anger, confusion.  In addition to the self-understanding and hope mentioned above, a person needs to talk through their pain and experience the love of those around them.  They need to forgive and be forgiven.  And they need to reimagine life without her.  In this case, that life includes an eventual reunion, thanks to Jesus.

If we get stuck in grief, if we tell ourselves we will never get over this, then we might not.   Grief hurts.  But not progressing through grief does not honor the person you lost, nor does it serve God, nor does it help you.  Be determined to get beyond grief.  It is possible.

Preparing to Die

For sake of full disclosure, I have never died before, but I have observed the process many times.  We may get close and cheat death a couple of times, but even that experience wouldn’t necessarily give you insight helpful to all.

So for what it is worth, this is how I would recommend approaching your impending death, based on the Bible and observation.  The first thing I encourage is for you to talk about dying, if you can.  People try to avoid the subject at all costs.  This is foolish, we all have to die and most likely will all mourn.  What should you talk about?

Mend Fences if Possible  If there are hard feelings or misunderstandings between you and anyone, take the initiative to talk, forgive and repent.  Don’t let pride or stubbornness ruin this for you.  If you must agree to disagree, then do so peaceably.

Express Your Love  Some of us are not good at stating our love for others.  People need to hear this in words.  Say it.  It will mean much to those who will mourn your passing.

Don’t Extract Promises  Guilt trips should not be your legacy.  You may express desires, but don’t twist arms, issue threats or have others make vows that they may not be able to keep.

Share Your Fears  Are you afraid of death or the process of dying?  Tell somebody.  There is no shame in this and it will help.  You don’t have to tell everybody, but share with someone you trust.

Express Your Confidence  Has God given you a strong faith in Jesus’ saving power?  Then make sure that everybody knows.  Be gentle, they may not be at the same place spiritually, but this is your last chance at making a strong witness to people who really matter to you.  Consider even writing a witness to be read at your funeral or doing a video to be shown there.

Support Those Who Are Taking It Hard  Hopefully, people will miss you.  Express your confidence in their ability to carry on.  Remind them of the promise of eternal life and emphasize that you can be together again in Heaven.

Beyond talking to others, make prayer a vital part of your dying process.  Jesus died for your sins so that you can be with Him.  That relationship is about to take a big step, so anticipate that step by praising God, thanking God for things in your life, confessing your sins and asking for His intercession in situations you will leave behind.

If you do struggle physically in the last days or hours, don’t be surprised or interpret the situation as  God’s punishment.  Death is the result of sin.  It isn’t meant to be easy, but because of grace, it is only temporary.  God can bring you safely home.