(Photo of Denali Mountain, Denali, Alaska by Tim Griffin)
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” John 14:27
Last month some of us finished discussing the book, “Proof of Heaven,” by Dr. Eben Alexander. Eben had worked for years as a medical neurological surgeon, even teaching many years at the Harvard Medical School. In 2008 he contracted E. coli bacteria which infected the neocortex part of his brain, part the large cerebral cortex, composing the complex, layered tissue site of our highest brain functions. He went into a coma which lasted seven days. The medical staff was about to unhook the life sustaining apparatus when suddenly he slowly opened his eyes and began to slowly awaken. He surprised his surrounding family but not nearly as much as attending physicians.
In November 2012 Dr. Alexander published a book describing his experiences titled, “Proof of Heaven,” in which he saw himself going through a fantastic near death experience in which he saw numerous visions and experiences on the other side or heaven. It’s an amazing book many of us discovered in our sharing in this church. Having long considered himself a secular atheist, Dr. Alexander titled his book, “Proof of Heaven”. He described the experience as a non-time/space dimension in which he experienced being everywhere at once. Many similar books have been written by people who experienced NDE experiences but this is one of the most exciting ones for me.
A few days ago I read of the execution of a young man in Huntsville, Texas convicted of the murder of a young man 11 years ago after shooting at two women one whom he raped. As awaited a few days ago his execution, Richard Cobb, age 29, was asked if he had any last words. Addressing the family and gallery he said, “Life is death, death is life. I hope that someday this absurdity that humanity has become will come to an end. Life is too short. And I hope anyone who has negative energy towards me will resolve that. Life is too short to harbor feelings of hatred and anger. That’s it, Warden!” But it really wasn’t the end. In moments lethal drugs were injected into his body. In moments he suddenly twisted his head back, raised it off the pillow placed on the gurney, looking with wide open eyes toward the Warden standing behind him. “Wow! he said. “That is great. That is awesome! Thank you Warden! Thank you Warden!” Then he stopped, remaining in position for 15 minutes before a physician entered the chamber and pronounced him dead. The families of the victims were shocked and felt he should have been more remorseful and the form of death should have been more torturous. But I ask, “Was it not perhaps another one of those proofs of heaven?”
Do you believe in heaven, a place of eternal rest, bliss and everlasting peace? I would think organized religions would teach it but oft times we wonder if it’s even believable any more. Can we know?
Being involved in organized Christian churches most of my life, serving as an ordained pastor for nearly 40 years, I also wonder. While serving a small congregation in McKeesport, Pennsylvania in the early 1970’s, I was told of parents in the congregation who estranged from their daughter for 30 years. Why? I asked. She married a man of another faith whom they did not approve! A few days ago I heard of another family who served many years as leaders in their congregation. I discovered many years ago they also had conflict with one of their children and they’ve never spoken to each other since! In fact they don’t even know where their daughter lives! Life and proof of heaven? Sounds more like hell to me.
I believe God wants us to experience heaven as recorded in some words from Jesus. He wants us to have peace with untroubled hearts living with a sense of oneness with their Maker. He says the piece given to us is not of this world but it is different. How can that be?
It all depends on the ideas we have of God. After all, the God is an idea. No one has actually seen God with biological eyes but people do see or feel him based on mental ideas. So what is your idea of God? Is your idea one Who forgives certain people who say and do the proper things? Is your idea of God one Who forgives just a few certain people who keep your idea of dogmatic faith, trusting in the “blood of Jesus”? Is your idea of God one Who is always in conflict, war and anger lashed out against his enemies with perfect hatred? If that’s your idea of God, I don’t want it! I have enough conflicts and problems in my life without worshiping and praying to a God who creates even more. Most wars being fought in today’s world, and for past centuries, have been waged in the name and idea of a God of war, a warrior God. The Crusades carried out in the name of our Christian God endured from 1095 to 1291 in which one to five million people were slaughtered trying rescue a holy land from Muslims! The fighting going on killing hundreds of thousands of civilians in the Middle East today are the result of people follow ideas of God as a mighty warrior who can never lose! It’s not heaven; it’s insanity. I will take a pass on that God.
But what if our ideas of God are different? What if your idea of God is one of deep love, a deep unconditional love that loves us and people regardless of our many sins and mistakes? What if your idea of God is one with endless patience, peace, forbearance, joy, and endless hope? What if your idea of that God was so instilled into your brain and thinking that you could live your whole life in peace and joy? You would experience “proof of heaven”!
“Proof of heaven” on this earth will only come from living it and thus feeling it! The idea of a forgiving God is extremely critical for this to be experienced. But how does this idea become integral to our very being? It comes from a new identity we can have as God’s eternal Child, the Eternal Son or Daughter of God. It was a part of the identity given to parents and children in their baptisms. We all were baptized into Christ with an identity the Apostle Paul says is beyond male and female, beyond any nationality, beyond any race, and beyond any class of economic division.
The model of this new identity can be seen in the ancient recorded life of Jesus. He healed people of their hatred and sicknesses of mind by telling them the presence of heaven was within them! We also read of those in religious leadership who threatened by his teachings and ideas killed him. And even though they killed him, he never lost his loving and kind heart. Dying on a cross suffering 6 to 8 hours for death to soul it slowly arrive, much different from a lethal injection, he said “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” And just before his last breath, “into your hands I commend my spirit!”
So our experience can become a “proof of heaven”. We remember God is spirit, that the very essence of us is one in Spirit with God’s. It means remembering we are not our temporary bodies, we are not our religious denominations, we are not our political parties, and we are not our dogmatic beliefs which make us fight to the end! Dogma divides but Spirit unites.
Every anger, every burn within creates a sense of separation and ends our experience of heaven on earth. We could attain this oneness experience alone in the woods or an island away from people. The test, however, is seeing every meeting with another becoming a holy encounter. We then quickly see how defensive we become, how quickly impatience and anger arise with the sudden loss of forbearance and enduring peace. Every marriage becomes a great testing ground of our identity as a Child of God or as an ego totally identified with the body and ego mind. Marriage need not become a battleground if we see one another as an equal Child of God and practice forgiveness for its forgetfulness.
Other exercises to “prove heaven” include our children and grandchildren. Our neighbors and work colleagues test our memories. We slowly grow to awareness that taking sides in constant conflict becomes a contradictory effort.
I wrote a few days ago on my Facebook page, “What if all the people of the world who now feel that they are suffering oppression, racism and deep prejudice because of class, religion or nationality, would stop fighting and decide to find peace within and begin to share it with those around them? What would happen?” For one thing millions of people need not die violent deaths. Millions of dollars would be saved. We caught glimpses of this methodology in the last century in leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and his inspired follower, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The latter by the way also saw the deep vision as he read the stories of Jesus. These two developed what is called peaceful, passive resistance, one of the most effective ways to create lasting change in a constantly changing world. Their methods were certainly not without blemish, but it seemed a move toward a better alternative.
So do you want proof of heaven, proof of eternal peace in Paradise? Then live the Identity you are. Regain the identity symbolized in your baptisms. When we understand this first, and the understanding is defined by repentance, we will experience joy peace, love or heaven on a level never known. And when you smile, even when you cry, and when you sing people will know within you is the everlasting joy, overflowing.
Summary of talk offered at the South Park United Presbyterian Church, Buffalo, NY on May 5, 2013.