Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sunday Command: "Come with me. I want to show you something."

And a question, which I'll get to in a moment. A passage came to mind from a book I read a long time ago (don't ask why; things just come to mind, okay?). It's a long passage, so I'll try to summarize a lot.

There was this fellow, middle-aged or thereabouts I'm guessing, afflicted with bronchial asthma and emphysema, who got into a coughing fit and ruptured a disc which left him in agonizing pain. He was eventually referred to a neurosurgeon who put him in the hospital and into traction. He needed surgery, so a lung specialist was called in to help strengthen the patient. The anesthesiologist didn't want to put him under, but finally consented. The operation was scheduled for Friday. On the previous Monday

I went to sleep and had a restful sleep until sometime early Tuesday morning, when I woke up in severe pain. I turned over and tried to get in a more comfortable position, but just at that moment a light appeared in the corner of the room, just below the ceiling. It was just a ball of light, almost like a globe, and it was not very large, I would say no more than twelve to fifteen inches in diameter, and as this light appeared, a feeling came over me. I can't say that it was an eerie feeling, because it was not. It was a feeling of complete peace and relaxation. I could see a hand reach down for me from the light, and the light said, "Come with me. I want to show you something." So immediately without any hesitation whatsoever, I reached up with my hand and grabbed onto the hand I saw. As I did, I had the feeling of being drawn up and of leaving my body, and I looked back and saw it lying there on the bed while I was going up towards the ceiling of the room."

As he left his body, he felt that he had taken on the same 'form' as that of the light. He experienced it as mostly circular in shape, of the substance of "a wisp of smoke or a the clouds of cigarette smoke...illuminated as they drift around a lamp." And yet he knew that the form had certain attributes, for he had taken the light's hand with his own. After this, he and the light begin traveling - through walls and down corridors - with a sensation of motion but not speed. Instantaneously, it seemed, they arrived at the hospital's recovery room, the location of which the patient had not known. Below them, doctors and nurses in green uniforms went about their chores.

This being then told me, "That's where you're going to be. When they bring you off the operating table they're going to put you in that bed, but you will never awaken from that position. You'll know nothing after you go to the operating room until I come back to get you sometime after this."

The light's voice, by the way, was not an audible one. But the patient insists that it was "vivid" in form and unmistakable in content. Then the light revealed the reason for this little trip: that he didn't want our patient to experience any fear when the time came, because "he", the light, would not be there at once, though he "would be overshadowing everything that happened and would be there for me at the end."

They returned to the patient's room and he to his body. He knew now that he was going to die, but was "not in the least afraid," and entertained no questions, such as "What can I do to keep this from happening?" When shaving before the mirror, he "noticed that my hand didn't shake like it had been doing for six or eight weeks before then." On the day before the operation, he began writing letters to his wife and adopted son, a nephew, with whom they were "having some trouble." While writing he began to weep, uncontrollably, and again felt the presence. No light this time, but it asked him, "Jack, why are you crying? I thought you would be pleased to be with me." And Jack said that he very much wanted to go with 'him,' but that he was worried his wife wouldn't "know how to raise" their nephew, and thought that his own presence might have done the boy some good. The presence replied that "Since you are asking for someone else, and thinking of others, not Jack, I will grant what you want. You will live until you see your nephew become a man." And then he was gone.

The operation went flawlessly, and Jack woke up in the same bed that the presence had pointed out. The anesthesiologist was there when he regained consciousness, with all kinds of fancy equipment on hand, but was amazed that he didn't have to use any of it. Jack had recovered like a man with normal lungs.

It was three years after the event that he gave this testimony. Up to that point, he had told only his wife, brother and minister of his encounter with the presence. He felt no need to proselytize, or to convince others. He claimed that the encounter was as real as any waking experience in his life, even more so, though he could not explain why. And further, "I don't have any doubts anymore. I know there is life after death."

Taken from Raymond Moody's well-known book, Life After Life, 1975.

My question is: Is this sort of thing possible?


Lydia McGrew said...

Sure it's possible. Is it actual is a much, much tougher question, especially since I am not Jack and since I don't know Jack personally. Could be, is all I can say. I've often said that personal experiences like this have the best evidential value even for the person if they have tie-downs to things outside the experience. For instance, if Jack got to check on what the recovery room looked like, and it really looked like it did in the experience, that would be a tie-down. Jack's recovering better than expected from surgery is somewhat of a tie-down, as was his living to see his nephew become a man (as I gather from the story he did), unless of course he was expected to live that long anyway.

The made-up example I like to give is this: Suppose one day I seemed to "hear" a command (like Jack seemed to "hear" a voice) telling me, "Go to Jim, your neighbor. He needs help." If I went next door and Jim needed me, that would be a tie-down, an indication that the experience was a veridical message from God, an angel, or whatever.

In Jack's case, of course, the alternative is just that he had a really cool dream and an imaginative semi-hallucination later on based on the dream.

I'm assuming for the sake of the argument that we can take Jack to be a truthful guy who didn't make the whole thing up for some unfathomable reason years later, as that seems pretty implausible prima facie.

William Luse said...

Yeah, he seems truthful, and I doubt Moody would have included him if he did not think likewise.

"For instance, if Jack got to check on what the recovery room looked like, and it really looked like it did in the experience, that would be a tie-down"

He did and it did. I cut some stuff so that may not have been clear. As he was coming out of anesthesia, he told the doctor beside him that he knew exactly where he was - first bed on the right as you come into the room. The doc laughed it off. But his neurosurgeon's response to his not needing the breathing equipment was "Miracles still happen."

The narrative doesn't say what Jack believed before this incident, whether, e.g., he was a Christian or whatever. It seems he had doubts, but so can a Christian I guess. Some people are bothered by the question: What did he (or any of the other interviewees) do to earn such a comforting visit? Strictly speaking, I guess no one can earn it. But I've heard a few Christians complain because a lot of the visitants don't identify the light specifically as Christ, or an angel at his bidding (though some do).

Marie said...

I believe St. Bernadette did not get an identity for her vision for some time? But I may be relying on the movie for that. . . .

I don't know why it wouldn't be possible. I don't think anything about it contradicts reason or our knowledge of God. For me personally, though, they don't strike me.
I also read at some point some warnings from St. John of the Cross about how deceptive visions can be, how you don't know where they come from. I think in some evangelical branches there are actually "protocols" in place so that people don't run with visions without some kind of checking back with folks in the community for guidance?

William Luse said...

" deceptive visions can be, how you don't know where they come from."

Yes, a prudent reminder. This one, though (assuming it's real) doesn't sound like the work of the devil. I find it interesting that the "being" did not identify himself. I wonder why.

Lydia McGrew said...

Insofar as things like this are real, I believe they confirm a view of heaven and hell that I have come to hold through C.S. Lewis: Namely, that we have reason to believe that people have a real chance to choose. God has all sorts of ways of working with people that go beyond the ordinary ones, and it is therefore a false dichotomy to insist that one must hold either a) anyone who isn't an explicit creedal Christian (as far as anyone knows) at the time of death is definitely going to burn in hell forever or b) hey, it doesn't matter what you believe, all roads lead to heaven, kumbaya, blah, blah.

The third option is that God may reveal himself in an extraordinary way at death to an individual who has not previously been a Christian. That person will be a Christian in heaven, at the end-point, as it were. :-)

William Luse said...

I think I can go along with all that, but it does remind me of the need for a place called purgatory.

Anonymous said...

The light didn't say who or what it was or where it wanted the man to go. This doesn't sound like an angel or the Lord giving someone the choice to follow Christ. Christ isn't mentioned or even implied.

Yet Jesus tells us plainly who He is and where He's going.

Nor did the being admonish him to live for the Beloved from henceforth or address his spiritual condition in any way.

Grantiing the man a boon based on a correct choice sounds like the plotline of a fairy tale. The reward of organic life is meaningless in itself and the time given of till his nephew grows up is arbitrary from the point of view of the man's own spiritual needs and condition.

It's also the kind of promise fraught with tricks in stories. What if the man doesn't do enough for his nephew with his additional years? Will Jack be in fear as his nephew approaches 18 or 21 (the bliss of the experience can't possibly abide for very long).

What if the nephew never reaches manhood--or is his life charmed, too? What if the nephew turns out bad--will their be repercussions for his uncle in this unknown spiritual regime? (And how are we defining becoming a ma?) What if the nephew reaches manhood then kills him--THAT would be a good ironic twist.

The whole thing is goofy.

Demons can also be extraordinarily winsome and appear as angels of light. Apart from silly hospital bed details, what "tiedown" was there to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? God, be not coy.

Lydia McGrew said...

Yeah, when I spoke of "tie-downs," I meant tie-downs to something real external to the mind of the person--evidence that it wasn't just a dream or hallucination or something. Of course, in theory a real, external vision could originate from hell as well as heaven, given that we Christians believe in bad supernatural beings as well as good ones.

I think you do have to look at context to try to determine what is going on there. For example, if Jack had been into the drug culture, Wicca, Satan worship, or anything of that kind, I'd have instant suspicions of the sort of thing Anon is concerned about. I think we also have to ask some things about what Jack believes now, how Jack interpreted the vision, how he knew that the "he" who spoke to him was good, and so forth.

The business about "not asking for yourself" _does_ have a slightly fakey feeling, and it is one of the things that might make me suspect that Jack either made up the whole thing or that some part of it was hallucination, imagination, or dream while another part of it may have been veridical. That is also possible.

If part, at least, of the experience was indeed sent from God, I would assume that more revelation would have followed if the whole process had continued, that it wouldn't just have been a matter of "following the sweet yellow brick road" to heaven without any knowledge or content.

Even in C.S. Lewis's wonderful scene at the end of _The Last Battle_ where a young man goes to heaven after having worshiped a false god all his life, he has to fall down at the feet of Aslan and feel ashamed that he has always worshiped Tash. There follows a little catechesis on the fact that Tash and Aslan are not by any means one and the same, as well.

William Luse said...

how he knew that the "he" who spoke to him was good, and so forth.

Yes, I didn't quote the whole passage, but it seems that Jack understood the goodness of the encounter in a very immediate way, in that trust, peace, etc. suffused his whole being.

If part, at least, of the experience was indeed sent from God, I would assume that more revelation would have followed

Indeed. And that since the "light" knew beforehand the outcome, and Jack seems to have been in some doubt, a full revelation would not have been appropriate (though the appropriateness is always fully in God's hands). One really does (in general) have to earn the privilege of seeing the face of God. The tie-down with the God of Abraham, etc., may have lain in the future. We simply don't know, not having all the facts.

But I think it's wrong to call the whole thing "just goofy" and then to remind us that demons can appear as angels of light. I don't think that would be a goofy encounter, but rather serious. Nor are hospital bed details "silly" since there are many stories like this out there with similar supporting tie-downs, some of them quite impressive.