Sunday April 22, 2018 | Greg Boyd
This is the second message in our series “Non-Perishable”, where we’re exploring death from a Kingdom perspective. This week, Greg explains the evidence for life after death, why Heaven may not be what we thought, and how to gain a more beautiful picture of life after death. Greg played a song during his message, you can find that here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ekZ187l-Vn8
In this message, we will explore two questions:
The hope of the New Testament is NOT “going to heaven when you die” but rather the resurrection of the dead at the end of the age.
1 Corinthians 15:20: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.”
At the end of every harvest, Israelites would pick fruit that ripened early, and would consecrate it to God instead of eating it. Jesus is our first-fruits of the resurrection – our picture of what that will be like.
Acts 23:6: “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead…”
Resurrection is always the New Testament Hope. But what is between the death and “the end of the age” that Scripture? There isn’t necessarily a lot about this in the Bible, because it places emphasis on the resurrection at the end of the age.
Greg shared his former view of what happens after we die – something called soul sleep. Soul sleep is the idea that there is no consciousness between our death and the final resurrection – at death, our souls literally fall asleep, so that our next conscious-waking moment is at the resurrection of all things. This, however, seems like a hard thing to tell those who’ve lost loved ones (that the departed are not conscious at all, presently). Greg doesn’t believe in “soul sleep” anymore, though. So what changed his view?
Philippians 1:23-24 (Paul from jail, facing execution, to those in Philippi): “I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better, but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.”
2 Corinthians 5:6-9: “So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord – for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.”
Paul talked about being away from his body and thus believed he could exist outside of his body, and spoke of the time after death as a time of disembodied union with the Lord. This asserts that the idea of resurrection is physical.
2) Documented Near Death Experiences (“NDE’s”)
NDE’s happen when some people who have died for a short period of time are resuscitated and speak of distinct experiences that took place when they had no heartbeat or brain activity.
Skeptics explain these by asserting that they’re simply hallucinations that occur when the brain is shutting down – merely hallucinations that tap into memories and emotions stored inside the brain. But even if this does explain a large portion of NDE’s…it doesn’t explain them all. Greg has found dozens of cases of NDE’s where individuals come back to life with verifiable information that they could not have known otherwise. Science is now beginning to document such cases.
Here are 2 Examples (both from medical journals):
1) In 1984, a lady named Maria suffered a heart attack while visiting a friend in Seattle. Medics were able to revive her, and she was in hospital for 3 days when another, more massive heart attack occurred. She was, again, resuscitated and eventually recovered, but she later described that when her heart stopped (with no blood going to her brain) she could describe watching her own operation from out of her body. She also described those present in the room and what they were doing and saying in great detail – even though she had never been in this operating room before. This type of thing can be quite common among NDE accounts. The most interesting part, however, is she found herself floating out of the hospital, toward the North side, and up toward the third floor. There, on a ledge beneath a window, she saw a blue tennis shoe…which would be impossible to see unless you go to the third floor, open/hang out the window, and look down onto the ledge (which cannot be done by patients because the windows are always locked). She said the shoe was blue, worn out on the big toe, and had one of the laces was stuck to the heel (because of something sticky). A doctor who heard this story decided to go up to the third floor to check it out…and as he dangled out the window, he saw the blue shoe, with details exactly like the one Maria described.
When we hear stories like these, we generally have 2 options: 1) To believe Maria because this actually happened (proving consciousness after death) or 2) Write it off as a hoax, which would mean that the entire staff (and Maria) concocted this story. But why would self-respecting doctors do such a thing? This would discredit their reputation, because these types of “supernatural” occurrences are looked down on among medical professionals.
2) An account by a nursing professor named Norma Bowe. Prior to this experience, Norma did not believe in NDE’s, and wasn’t sure about life after death either – but this experience convinced her. A lady was in a terrible car accident and died en-route to the hospital. She was revived shortly after arrival but was in a coma for 10 months. Upon waking up, she said she saw and remembered the whole accident and explained it, as well as the subsequent surgery and recovery in staggering detail (including conversations, names, and an instance where someone knocked something over). More impressive, this lady has OCD, and one specific trait of this is the need to memorize numbers. While floating out of her body, she noticed a 12-digit number…7 feet above the floor, on the top of a ventilator. It would have been impossible for anyone to even see the number unless they climbed up onto the top of the ventilator. But this lady saw it, memorized it, and recounted it perfectly upon gaining consciousness.
3) Accounts of those dying interacting with those already dead
The third bit of evidence that convinced Greg is the amount of common, documented, instances of professionals (working with those in process of dying) recounting incidents of conversations between those dying and people who are not there (who the dying claim are people that have already died). Again, skeptics explain this as basic hallucinations. But some are way too specific to be that.
Greg described an account of a 6-year old, dying of brain cancer. He’d been unconscious for 2 days, and his family were holding vigil there, waiting for him to pass on. Suddenly he woke up and had a countenance full of wonder, and was talking toward the ceiling. His parents and Grandmother asked who he was talking to and he told them it was his Grandfather, who he never knew, and was never talked about. He described him in great detail – voice, eyes, tattoos (and when he got it and why it wasn’t in the wedding photos), and other characteristics. His Grandmother began crying because the boy had described her late husband in full detail. There was only one photo of the Grandfather in her house, but it was before many of the characteristics described were acquired (such as the tattoo), so there was no possible way that the boy would have known any of these things.
Then the boy then began to giggle profusely, to the point that his parents and Grandmother were taken out of their tears and into laughter as well. When asked what he was giggling at, the boy turned to the Grandmother and said, “Carolyn’s here too. She’s really funny. She wants you to know that she loves you very much and she’s having lots of fun here.” The family, once again burst into tears… because Carolyn was the Grandmother’s first-born (fun-loving, vivacious) daughter who tragically died at the age of 7… in 1951. The boy had no idea of her existence.
All of these instances prove that there is life after death.
Most people think that their loved ones appear and welcome them to heaven. But in reality, this is a pre-heaven, disembodied state…where those passed on are waiting for the real heaven…the Resurrection.
So what about Ghosts?
Evangelicals like to assert that much of what people describe about ghosts is simply demonic activity. This isn’t always the case, but many times that seems to be right.
Greg told a story of a lady in the same city as Woodland Hills, who came to him asking for an exorcism in her townhouse. Her townhouse was next to an older man who had proved to be a sick, perverted man and was surrounded with darkness. The man’s son had previously been murdered in a drug transaction and thrown in a dumpster, while his other son had committed suicide. As it turns out, this man had a heart attack and died in bed (on the other side of this lady’s bedroom wall) and was found three weeks later. When she found this out, she was astonished, because during the previous three weeks, she had been experiencing eerie things in her townhouse and began documenting them (cupboard doors opening and shutting by themselves, phones jumping off tables, the stove turning on by itself, a heavy rug thrown across the room and folded up). A friend of hers had taken one of Greg’s classes in college on Spiritual Warfare and referred her to him.
Greg and his friend taught this Lutheran lady about her identity and authority in Christ, and led her to cleanse her own house. She proceeded to boldly go through her house, room by room, commanding the evil to leave. The activity subsided but hasn’t stopped completely – but she isn’t afraid anymore. She knows she has the authority in Christ to cast it out.
Doesn’t matter what exactly the source of activity like this is… you have the authority to cast it out. There is a trend today of attempting to contact the dead – whether they be family or friends or tv shows or mediums or whatever. I understand missing your loved ones terribly and wanting to have one more conversation with them… but don’t do it. The Bible says much about the dangers of divination and conjuring spirits and things. It is dangerous territory…especially if you are venturing outside Kingdom boundaries without God’s blessing. It’s one thing if your loved ones come to you moments before death, but it’s quite another if you seek to divine them into our realm. Those who attempt such things may find that sometimes, Satan, the master deceiver, appears as an angel of light to deceive those who follow Christ. So don’t go chasing after dead loved ones or ghosts or angels… keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.
There is only one mediator between God and man, and that is Jesus Christ – and we are only authorized to communicate with the Father through His Son and Spirit.
Imagining the Kingdom
The main hope of the New Testament is the Resurrection – when the Kingdom comes in fullness, God’s love defines every square inch of the universe, everything will be made new, and all creation will be as it’s supposed to be. Romans 8:18 says that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” We don’t know what happens in between death and this beautiful vision, but we can imagine what this vision might look like.
A great spiritual practice is to allow the Holy Spirit to inspire our imaginations with pictures of this…yet knowing that our minds won’t be able to do it justice. Our brains only identify as real things that are concrete. If something identifies with our experiences, then we perceive it as real…if not, it won’t. Those who don’t take time to imagine Heaven may have an idea of what could happen after death, but are also those who fear death. Those who do, tend to find their place within the big Kingdom story, and have confidence and excitement in what comes after this life.
Greg concluded with a story about an 11-year old boy named Matt, a friend of his son, who passed away in a tragic car accident. Until this time, Greg’s picture of death was more grim than glorious. One day as Greg was listening to a piece of classical music, he pictured Matt very much alive, savoring every minute. After listening to the piece as a congregation, Greg spoke of his niece, who recently took her own life at 34, after two decades of drug addiction. He recounted how much it has helped his soul to remember the long-term, Kingdom story, instead of the short painful one. He mentioned that those who have experienced near death experiences talk about how much the experience changed them forever. This is our Hope in Christ – one day, God will make all things new. Resurrection is coming. And all our tears will be wiped away.