A month ago I posed the question, “What will happen to you when you die?”
The responses I received were all over the theological map. One thing most responses had in common was the absence of any talk about a judgment or punishment in the hereafter.
Since none of us have been to the “other side” and the Hebrew, Christian and Muslim scriptures all include a fair amount of talk about God being a judge who punishes as well as being a healer and redeemer, my follow up question is, “From where do you get your intelligence, i.e. your information?”
It’s an important question. To make a foreign policy analogy, bad intelligence got us into Iraq. We had spy satellites and bugged rooms and monitored phone calls and spies who were actually in Iraq feeding us tons of information, and we still got it wrong. How are we supposed to get reliable intelligence about what happens on the other side when CNN has no reporters “on the ground” giving us the latest news in real time?
I ask that question, because when I was a pastor I, of course, participated in a lot of funerals. And, most of the time I would hear comments like “Jim had a hard life, but he’s at peace now” or “grandma is finally with her husband again.” When I’d hear that kind of talk, I would always want to ask, “How do you know?” What are the sources of your intelligence about the other side? Where do you get your information from?”
It used to be that most folks would get their information about the other side from what I’ll call traditional religions. Americans, however, have always tended to view life through the lens of individualism. We like to sing “I did it my way” with Frank Sinatra. Conservatives tell the government, “don’t tell me I can’t carry a gun” while liberals declare “don’t tell me what to believe.”
Turns out that the red party and the blue party are two branches on the same tree, and the tree is rooted in a deep sense of what William Ernest Henley expressed in his poem Invictus: “You are the master of your fate and the captain of your soul.” In other words, I’m going to think for myself, and even when it comes to the nature of ultimate reality, I am the final authority regarding what I will believe.
The problem with that posture when it comes to what happens on the other side, of course, is that none of us have been there. It’s like the definition of an opinion poll offered by one commentator. In an opinion poll you ask a lot of people who don’t much about an issue what they think about it.
Now, when I state that none of us have been there, I have to acknowledge that there are a few folks out there who say they’ve had what are usually referred to as near death experiences, i.e. their hearts stopped beating—usually on the operating table—were more or less clinically dead for several minutes, and then came back to life. Many report the same kind of thing. They talk about light and a feeling of peacefulness.
Others don’t claim to have gone to the other side themselves but have received messages from loved ones who are already there. Bonney Rega, a hospice chaplain and a Forest Park resident, records the stories of many people, including herself, who say they have been contacted by family members and friends after they died. Her book is entitled Everyday Miracles, Tales of Life Beyond Life.
Likewise, Marti Matthews, in a oped in the Wednesday Journal reported having the same kinds of experiences which Rega writes about. She has attended meetings of the International Association of Near Death Experiences in which she has heard stories about people who died sending back “intelligence” from the other side which says that after dying they were warmly met by a guide or family member, did a very fast life review, felt they were in a tunnel, were surrounded by love and felt pulled toward a greater loving light.
If you want to read a critique of communications from the dead and near death experiences, go the website SKEPTIC. Personally, I confess that the religious jury I am a part of is still out on the credibility and accuracy of that kind of intelligence.
Next week I’ll explain where I get my “intelligence” from and why I think it’s more trustworthy than any other source.