Categories
God Is With Us Religion

Chapter 17: What Near-Death and Other STEs Teach Us About God and Afterlife

By Dr. Ken R. Vincent

HomeChapter 7Chapter 16
DedicationChapter 8Chapter 17
ForewordChapter 9Appendix A
Chapter 1Chapter 10Appendix B
Chapter 2Chapter 11References
Chapter 3Chapter 12About Ken
Chapter 4Chapter 13Resources
Chapter 5Chapter 14Permissions
Chapter 6Chapter 15Acknowledge
God Is With Us Index

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction to the Near-Death Experience
  2. Defining the Near-Death Experience
  3. Near-Death Experience Commonalities
  4. NDEs as the Basis for World Religions
  5. Insights into God and Afterlife
    a. God (aka, Ultimate Reality/Great Spirit) Is With Us and Not Distant
    b. Judgment Is a Reality
    c. Hell Is Not Permanent
    d. Jesus Is Not An Only Child
    e. What’s In Your Heart – Not What You Believe – Is What Matters
    f. “By Their Fruits You Shall Know Them”
    g. The NDE Implies Mind-Body Dualism
    h. Reincarnation Is THE Unanswered Question
    i. The NDE Is Not Without Its Skeptics
  6. Conclusion
  7. References

1. Introduction to the Near-Death Experience

In 1975, the near-death experience burst into contemporary consciousness with the publication of Raymond Moody‘s famous book Life After Life. The public was newly fascinated, unaware that the phenomena had been described throughout recorded history (the story of Er in Plato’s Republic being the most famous example).

2. Defining the Near-Death Experience

In 1979, Sir Alister Hardy began his exploration of all types of religious/spiritual/mystical experiences with the publication of his book The Spiritual Nature of Man in which he reported that one “trigger” for these phenomena was the “prospect of death.” Working with cases from Hardy’s original sample, Mark Fox in his book Religion, Spirituality, and the Near-Death Experience labeled these “crisis experiences” because it was unclear whether some persons had been clinically dead. Fox found little difference between these “crisis” cases and other religious experience cases.

From the beginning of NDE studies, some researchers have included individuals who had only come “close to death” with those who were resuscitated after being clinically dead for a brief period of time. In their effort to clarify the terminology, Peter and Elizabeth Fenwick in their book The Art of Dying coined the term “temporary death experience” to separate those who came near to death from those who revived following clinical death.

Continuing this effort to define the characteristics of the NDE, Vince Migliore used a large sample from the files of the International Association of Near-Death Studies (IANDS) and published it in his book A Measure of Heaven. Comparing a sample of 193 accounts of clinical death to a sample of 189 accounts of “NDE-like” experiences (e.g., mystical experiences) that were not near death, Migliore found that the NDEs were more in-depth than the mystical experiences, but the difference was not statistically significant.

Unfortunately, there is still no agreed-on definition of the NDE or other religious experiences in the literature.

3. Near-Death Experience Commonalities

People can and do have mystical experiences that resemble near-death experiences without dying. St. Paul’s out-of-body experience (OBE) in which he went to heaven is a famous example (2 Corinthians 12). The NDE is unique among religious /mystical /spiritual experiences in that its “trigger” is clinical death, and we now have over 35 years of research that enable fascinating insights into what the NDE teaches us about God and afterlife.

I begin with Jeff Long‘s “proofs of afterlife” from his book Evidence of the Afterlife because of the magnitude of the sample (N=1300) and the fact that 613 subjects were given an objective questionnaire. They are as follows:

(1) NDErs report increased alertness and consciousness.

(2) NDErs provide evidence from verifiable OBEs.

(3) NDErs blind from birth report a form of “vision” during their NDE.

(4) NDErs report experiences while under anesthesia.

(5) NDErs report life reviews that include experiencing the feelings of others.

(6) NDErs report seeing dead relatives, including people unknown to them who were identified to them later by viewing family photographs.

(7) NDErs who are children report having every NDE element of older NDErs, and this is true whether their account is told during childhood or as an adult who had the experience in childhood.

(8) NDErs who were non-English-speakers from Long’s database form the largest collection of cross-cultural NDEs and provide evidence that NDEs are the same all over the world.

(9) NDErs report that their lives were changed as a result of their NDE and, for the majority, the change was for the better.

To this list of “proofs,” we can add the “Shared Death Experience” which Raymond Moody describes in his book Glimpses of Eternity. This occurs when a person or persons at the bedside of an individual who is dying experiences the beginning of the dying individual’s first moments of death, including such things as alternate reality, mystical light, OBE, coliving the life review, unworldly or heavenly realms, and mist at death.

4. NDEs as the Basis for World Religions

Over a century ago, William James in Varieties of Religious Experience made the case that:

“The founders of every church owed their power originally to the fact of their direct personal communication with the Divine.”

His research was reinforced by the work of Evelyn Underhill who in Practical Mysticism proclaimed:

“This unmistakable experience has been achieved by the mystics of every religion; and when we read their statements, we know they are all speaking of the same thing.”

In Conceptions of Afterlife in Early Civilizations, Gregory Shushan makes the case that the NDE is the basis for afterlife accounts in the world’s religions. His main points are:

(1) There is a remarkable consistency among largely unconnected cultures and times regarding belief in life after death.

(2) The core elements of these religious beliefs are largely similar to the core elements of the NDE.

(3) These consistent beliefs in life after death contrast with the widely divergent creation myths of different religions.

In other words, the above studies taken together demonstrate the NDE to be a world-wide phenomenon and that it is at the generic core of afterlife beliefs in the world’s religions. Organized religion is, at best, second-hand.

5. Insights into God and Afterlife

Using the same tools that social scientists employ to study all other facets of human behavior, researchers have gained fresh insights into how humans experience God in the here-and-now and in the hereafter. The following 9 findings are the ones I personally find most compelling:

a. God (aka, Ultimate Reality/Great Spirit) Is With Us and Not Distant

Sir Alister Hardy in The Spiritual Nature of Man states that, from the evidence:

“[God is] partly transcendent, and felt as the numinous beyond the self, and partly immanent within him.”

“The spiritual side of man is not the product of intellectuality.”

In other words, the data from NDEs and other religious experiences indicate that the God of the panentheist is the Ultimate Reality; in The God We Never Knew, Marcus Borg makes a strong case for panentheism being biblical.

b. Judgment Is a Reality

In the NDE, the experiencer is often brought before a divine judge/being of light for a “life review“. This can be frightening, comforting, or both; nevertheless, it is awesome. Judgment is virtually universal in world religions.

c. Hell Is Not Permanent

Hell is for purification and rehabilitation — not eternal punishment. In Universalism, the Prevailing Doctrine of the Christian Church During Its First 500 Years, J. W. Hanson makes a good case that universalism was the dominant theology of early Christianity. In the West, it has been relegated to a minority position for the past 1,500 years; nevertheless, it is the norm in the religions of the East (e.g., Hinduism, Buddhism).

Whether they use the word “universalism” or not, a large number of NDE and/or religious experience researchers have come to the conclusion that ALL people are unconditionally loved by God and that, in the end, ALL will be “saved” regardless of religion or denomination. A list of 20 researchers who express this view can be found in Chapter 8: Religious Experience Research Reveals Universalist Principles.

But there is also a dark side. Nancy Evans Bush offers her analysis of distressing NDEs using 21 studies (N=1,828) in The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences: Thirty Years of Investigation by Jan Holden, Bruce Greyson, and Debbie James. Nine of these studies had no distressing NDEs, but the remaining 12 had a 23% rate of distressing NDEs. One of her blockbuster findings was that anyone – not just “evil” people – can face a “time of trial.” Evidence that hell is not permanent includes the fact that NDErs are rescued from hell when they call out to God (or in the West, Jesus).

One very interesting case regarding the impermanence of hell is that of an 18th century NDEr, Dr. George De Benneville, who died of a consumptive-like illness and revived 42 hours later at his wake. During his tour of heaven and hell, he saw angels taking people out of hell and into heaven when they repented. A full account of his experience can be found in Chapter 11: An 18th Century NDE: The Case of George de Benneville.

Both George Ritchie in his book Return from Tomorrow and Raymond Moody in his book Reflections on Life After Life report accounts of people trapped in negative/hellish states as having beings of light standing by them, waiting to rescue them. James McClenon in his book Wondrous Events describes a 7th century Japanese account of a butcher having a hellish deathbed vision which turns positive when he begins chanting the name of the Amida Buddha. Merete Jakobsen notes in Negative Spiritual Encounters that the antidote for negative spiritual experiences is prayer and religious rituals.

d. Jesus Is Not An Only Child

Jesus is called “the only begotten son” four times in the Gospel of John and one time in the 1st Letter of John, but none of the other New Testament writers mention this. There are also a number of Bible verses which indicate that God is the King of the gods (Psalms 82:1, John 10:30-36, Daniel 2:47, 1 Corinthians 8:5). While non-Christians sometimes encounter Jesus in their NDEs and mystical experiences, they also report encounters with other divine entities. Divine beings that individuals encounter are discussed in Religious Experience in Contemporary China by Xingong Yao and Paul Badham and in At the Hour of Death by Karlis Osis and Erlendur Haraldsson. The latter book compares the death-bed visions and NDEs of people in India and the United States.

e. What’s In Your Heart – Not What You Believe – Is What Matters

Religious groups that declare that theirs is the only path to God and salvation are totally wrong. NDE and other religious experiences (e.g., after-death communications, death-bed visions) are replete with stories of people of all faiths and denominations in heaven.

f. “By Their Fruits You Shall Know Them”

Virtually all of the books on the NDE and other religious experiences mentioned in this article speak to the fact that these events change people’s lives for the better, with some authors devoting a whole chapter to this finding.

g. The NDE Implies Mind-Body Dualism

In The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences: Thirty Years of Investigation, Jan Holden notes that attempts to place targets in hospitals for NDErs to see during their OBEs have been unsuccessful to date; however, the sheer volume of veridical perception anecdotes over 150 years demonstrates the reality of NDErs being out of their bodies. Additional evidence for mind-body dualism is presented in E. F. Kelly et. al.’s Irreducible Mind and Pim van Lommel‘s Consciousness Beyond Life.

h. Reincarnation Is THE Unanswered Question

Reincarnation is an essential part of the belief system of Eastern religions. The “official” position in Western religions is “no,” although 25% of Christians in the UK and USA tell us that they believe this. The data supporting reincarnation is beginning to come in, as this is a major research area at the University of Virginia Medical School’s Division of Perceptual Studies. Jim Tucker‘s book Life Before Life is based on 2,500 cases of reported reincarnation from the division’s files.

i. The NDE Is Not Without Its Skeptics

The NDE has attracted numerous detractors, many of whom offer only explanations rather than data. An excellent refutation of questions raised by major skeptics of the NDE can be found in Bruce Greyson’s chapter on the topic in The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences: Thirty Years of Investigation.

6. Conclusion

Research into the NDE and other spiritual experiences broadens our understanding of God and afterlife and serves as an essential counter to the oppressive religion that is all too common in today’s world. Thanks to research over the past 150 years, we currently know more about how humans experience God and afterlife than at any time in recorded history.

To me, the greatest contribution of Sir Alister Hardy and the Religious Experience Research Centre has been to demonstrate that religious /spiritual /mystic experiences are, in fact, quite common. The picture emerging is of a generic God and afterlife that are universal; its essential elements are an “off-the-rack” fit for all the world’s religions but a “tailor-made” fit for none of them. What is universal is from God; the remainder of religion is cultural. I pray that we continue this research.

7. References

Borg, M. (1997). The God We Never Knew: Beyond Dogmatic Religion to a More Authentic Contemporary Faith. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco.

Fenwick, P., & Fenwick, E. (2008). The art of dying. New York, NY: Continuum.

Fox, M. (2003). Religion, spirituality and the near-death experience. New York, NY: Routledge.

Hanson, J. W. (2007/1899). Universalism, the prevailing doctrine of the Christian Church during its first five hundred years. San Diego: St Alban Press.

Hardy, A. (1997). The spiritual nature of man: A study of contemporary religious experience. Oxford, England: The Religious Experience Research Centre. (Original work published 1979).

Holden, J., Greyson, B., & James, D. (Eds.). (2009). The handbook of near-death experiences: Thirty years of investigation. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger/ABC-CLIO.

Jakobsen, M. D. (1999). Negative spiritual experiences: Encounters with evil. Lampeter, Wales: Religious Experience Research Centre.

James, W. (1958). The Varieties of Religious Experience. New York, NY: Signet. (Original work published 1901).

Kelly, E. W. & Kelly, E. F., et al. (2007). Toward a psychology for the 21st century. In E. F. Kelly, E. W. Kelly, A. Crabtree, A. Gauld, M. Grosso, & B. Greyson, Irreducible mind: Toward a psychology for the 21st century (pp. 577-643). New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield.

Lommel, P. (2011). Consciousness beyond life: The science of the near-death experience. HarperOne.

Long, J., & Perry, P. (2010). Evidence of the afterlife: The science of near-death experiences. New York, NY: Harper One.

McClenon, J. (1994). Wondrous events: Foundations of religious beliefs. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Migliore, V. (2009). A measure of heaven: Near-death experience data analysis. Folsom, CA: Blossom Hill Books.

Moody, R. (1975). Life after life: The investigation of a phenomenon – survival of bodily death. Covington, GA: Mockingbird Books.

Moody, R. & Perry, P. (2010). Glimpses of eternity: Sharing a loved one’s passage from this life to the next. Guideposts; Book Club Edition.

Moody, R. (1977). Reflections on life after life. Bantam.

Osis, K., and Haraldsson, E. (1977). At the Hour of Death. New York, NY: Avon.

Ritchie, G. G., and Sherrill, E. (1978). Return from Tomorrow. Old Tappan, NJ: Sprite.

Shushan, G. (2009). Conceptions of afterlife in early civilizations: Universalism, constructivism, and near-death experience. London, England: Continuum International.

Tucker, J. (2005). Life before life: Children’s memories of previous lives. New York, NY: St. Martin’s.

Underhill, E. (2006). Practical mysticism: A little book for normal people. Cosimo Classics.

Yao, X & Badham, P. (2007). Religious experience in contemporary China. Cardiff: University of Wales.

Categories
God Is With Us Religion

Chapter 15: Scientific Investigation of the “Dark Side”

By Dr. Ken R. Vincent

HomeChapter 7Chapter 16
DedicationChapter 8Chapter 17
ForewordChapter 9Appendix A
Chapter 1Chapter 10Appendix B
Chapter 2Chapter 11References
Chapter 3Chapter 12About Ken
Chapter 4Chapter 13Resources
Chapter 5Chapter 14Permissions
Chapter 6Chapter 15Acknowledge
God Is With Us Index

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction to Spiritually Transformative Experiences
  2. Surveys of Spiritually Transformative Experiences
  3. Judgment and Afterlife in Ancient and Modern World Religions
  4. Near-Death Experiences
  5. Deathbed Visions
  6. After-Death Communications
  7. Religious /Spiritual /Mystical Experiences
  8. Hell is for Rehabilitation and is Not Eternal
  9. Conclusion
  10. References

1. Introduction to Spiritually Transformative Experiences

Religious experiences, currently known by the term, “Spiritually Transformative Experiences” (STEs) have been studied scientifically for the past 150 years by social scientists and biomedical researchers. For purposes of this study, Spiritually Transformative Experiences have been divided into four categories:

(1) Religious /Spiritual /Mystical Experiences (RSMEs)
(2) Near-Death Experiences (NDEs)
(3) Death-Bed Visions (DBVs)
(4) After-Death Communications (ADCs)

While most reported STEs are “positive” in that they are pleasant and provide clarity or insight, a significant minority of reported cases are “negative” in that they are frightening. As indicated by the word, “Transformative,” the most consistent characteristic of both positive and negative STEs is that they change people’s lives.

Most of you know me as a Professor of Psychology, but you may not realize that my main research focus over the past 20 years has been to ascertain the role that religious experience plays in the human psyche. The material I research can usually be found in no more than one or two chapters of a Psychology of Religion textbook. Just let me remind you again: Research into Spiritual Experiences CAN BE and IS conducted using the same criteria that we use to investigate any other psychological phenomena (Vincent, 2006). These include:

(1) Case studies of transpersonal experience

(2) Sociological surveys that tell who and what percentage of the population have STEs

(3) Psychological tests that measure not only the mental health of the individual but also evaluate the depth of mystical experiences

(4) Biomedical and neuroscience testing, including the EEG, PET-scan, and functional MRI to, in some cases, document genuine altered states of consciousness and demonstrate that mystical experiences are not just wishful thinking; additionally EEGs and EKGs allow us to document death in NDEs that occur in hospitals

(5) Sociological and psychological investigations that assess the after-effects these experiences have on people

(6) Controlled experimental research (such as Pahnke‘s experiment testing psychedelics) (Smith, 2000, pp. 99-105)

Even though we are talking about human experience that is basically “religious” in nature, scientists have a legitimate role to investigate it using all the tools of analysis at our disposal. In this way, we separate ourselves from the sensational and fictitious accounts of the National Enquirer and gradually move toward a greater understanding of the broad spectrum of human experience.

2. Surveys of Spiritually Transformative Experiences

Current research documents the following facts:

(1) A large percentage of the population have experienced STEs.

(2) The overwhelming majority of those having STEs are mentally normal and not psychotic.

(3) STEs change people’s lives for the better (Vincent, 2006).

To date, research has shown that negative STEs are far less common than positive ones.

In his initial study of 3,000 cases of STEs sent to the Religious Experience Research Centre (RERC) (formerly at Oxford; now at University of Wales Lampeter), Sir Alister Hardy (1979, p. 28) found 4% negative.

Somewhat later, using 4,000 cases at the RERC, Merete Jakobsen (1999, p. iv) also found 4% negative experiences.

Recently, Zinzhong Yao and Paul Badham (2007, pp. 9,45-46) of the RERC found in studying 3,196 Chinese that 56.7% had religious experiences, but only 8.5% of them were negative. They compared this to a 1987 British survey which found 12% negative experiences (Yao & Badham 2007, p. 185).

Regarding NDEs, in a monumental analysis of over 21 studies, Nancy Evans Bush (2006) found 17.2% of them to be negative.

Also, most researchers of STEs feel that the numbers are under-reported because of the stigma sometimes associated with having a negative STE.

3. Judgment and Afterlife in Ancient and Modern World Religions

Do Spiritually Transformative Experiences prove the existence of a God who interacts with us personally? Do encounters with dead humans prove the existence of an afterlife? From my perspective, they point in that direction for this reason:

Virtually all religions have their genesis in the Spiritually Transformative Experience of their founder.

Also, the subsequent theology of virtually all ancient and contemporary religions includes some form of Judgment by Divine Beings and subsequent relegation to Heaven or Hell based on the ratio of good to bad deeds of the deceased person while on Earth. Hell, of course, is the ultimate experience of the “Dark Side.”

Before we go any further, it is important to realize that when one studies the experiential aspect of comparative religion that:

The angels, saints, and jinn of the West = The “gods” of the East.

This is because they perform the same function. This will become apparent as we look at some variations in cultural expectations surrounding Judgment.

In Ancient Egypt, we have a Judgment in the Book of the Dead whereby the heart of the deceased is weighed against a feather, and woe to those whose heart is heavy with sin! This Judgment is presided over by the savior god Osiris and his wife Isis (Budge, 1895/1967, pp. 253-261).

Later, in Zoroastrianism (the religion of the Magi), Judgment is conducted by three angels whose duty is to weigh the good deeds against the bad deeds of the deceased. If his or her life reflects an overwhelming preponderance of GOOD deeds, they are allowed to proceed across a WIDE bridge; if the deceased has been more evil than good, the bridge becomes narrow, and he or she falls into hell.

This same bridge imagery lives on in Shiite Islam where it is the job of the Angel Gabriel to hold the divine scales of Judgment (Vincent, 1999, pp.5-6; Masumian, 1995, p.79).

In Judaism, according to the Book of Daniel (Daniel 12:1-3), the Archangel Michael holds the scales of Judgment on which the deeds of the deceased are weighed.

In Medieval Christian artwork, the Archangel Michael still holds the scales, but Jesus sits above him as judge.

Now let us move from West to East. In Hinduism and its children, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism, Yamaraj (King Yama) is the judge of the dead. In all these religions, weighing your good deeds against your bad deeds on the divine scales of justice determines not only whether or not you go to heaven or hell in the intermediate state but also the status of your next life after reincarnation (Masumian, 1995, pp.5-7, 143). To me, reincarnation is the only major theological difference in world religions. The East has it, and in the West, reincarnation is only a minority position (such as in the Christianity of the Gnostics and the Islamic sect of the Druze).

We see these same themes repeated in the Native American religions of North America, Mezzo-America, and South America where the themes of Paradise and Punishment are repeated (Nigosian, 2000, pp. 382, 384).

In virtually all religions, assignment of the deceased to the “Dark Side” is either:

(1) determined by God’s emissaries, or
(2) determined by the natural law of the universe.

4. Near-Death Experiences

Now let us look at the “Dark Side” of the NDE. In an article in Psychiatry journal, Bruce Greyson and Nancy Evans Bush (1992) identified three types of negative NDEs:

(1) The first type is the NDE that is initially frightening but later turns positive, most often after the person calls out to God or God’s emissary.

(2) The second type is a non-existent or “eternal void” experience — in other words, an existential hell.

(3) The third type is a “graphic and hellish landscape and entities.” In her book Blessing in Disguise, Dr. Barbara Rommer (2000, p. 87-96) adds a fourth category of a frightening life-review.

The following two examples describe distressing near-death experiences that turn positive. (Note that both contain graphic imagery of hell.)

“I was in hell … I cried up to God, and it was by the power of God and the mercy of God that I was permitted to come back.” (Rommer, 2000, p. 42)

“God, I’m not ready, please help me … I remember when I screamed (this), an arm shot out of the sky and grabbed my hand at the last second. I was falling off the end of the funnel, the lights flashing; and the heat was really something.” (Greyson & Bush, 1992, p. 100)

Next is an example of both the void and a frightening life review:

“It was not peaceful, much baggage, much unfinished business. All things are connected. You are not your body, you are a soul. Mine was in limbo. I knew I would be in limbo for a long time. I had a life review and was sent to the void. The life review was so disquieting. I saw many different ways my life could have taken. I saw my past life in there and other past lives I was unable to recall.” (Vincent, 1994, p. 119)

It is interesting to note that these experiences are highly similar despite differences in time or culture. Thomas Harriot (who was a member of the Jamestown Colony in 17th Century Virginia) recorded two stories of NDEs told to him by the Roanoke Indians which, significantly, took place prior to the arrival of the British settlers. The first story told of an Indian who died and was buried; the next day, the grave seemed to move, and he was dug up. He told of being very near a terrible place of torment, but the gods saved him and let him come back to life to teach his friends what they should do to avoid hell. The second story was similar, except that in this story, the Indian went to Paradise (Baym, pp. 76 – 80).

James McClenon (1991) discusses NDEs in Medieval China and Japan. In one case, he tells of a ruler named Muh who died but revived 2-1/2 days later. He told of meeting the Emperor of Heaven, hearing beautiful music, seeing 10,000 dances, and returning to life with prophetic information. Prof. McClenon notes that these Medieval Taoist NDEs resemble modern ones.

5. Deathbed Visions

The next example describes the death-bed vision of a 7th Century Mahayana (Northern) Buddhist. They believe that the Amida Buddha is a “savior god” who can rescue you from hell and take you to the pure land of bliss. Once there, you can work out your final ascent to Nirvana under blissful conditions:

“A butcher is dying. He first has a vision of hell, whereupon he was terrified into chanting the name of ‘Amida;’ He then had a vision of the Amida Buddha offering him a lotus seat and passed peacefully away.” (McClenon, 1994, p.176)

6. After-Death Communications

If a negative after-death communication is delivered by a stranger, he or she is properly termed a “ghost!” If it comes from some super-human entity, it is usually called a “demon.” The following two examples are taken from Merete Jakobsen’s Negative Spiritual Experiences: Encounters with Evil (pp.17, 21).

The first is an evil presence in a British house:

“This evil presence was masculine and seemed to come from the wall facing me, nearer and nearer as though straining to get me. I saw nothing but the blackness of the room, as my sister had (previously), but although it is 20 years or more ago, I’ll never disbelieve that there are powers of evil. A very violent family had lived there.”

The second account is Danish and takes place in the woods:

“As we progressed, I found several dead birds along the path. We reached an open space where there had been a bonfire. I felt more and more anxious and eventually said to my husband, ‘I don’t know how you feel, but I have a sense of evil and horror in this wood.’ My husband said he had not wanted to tell me, but he had heard that a satanic cult had used the wood. I wanted to go home immediately. I find it extraordinary that human evil can change the whole atmosphere in a large wood.”

7. Religious /Spiritual /Mystical Experiences

There are ancient and modern accounts of tours of the afterlife. St. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12 tells us of his out-of-body experience in which he is transported to the third level of heaven. Mohammed in Sura 17:1 of the Quran, tells us of his out-of-body experience in which he also is transported to heaven.

Other religious figures in history have had encounters with evil, including Jesus’ encounter with Satan recorded in the Synoptic Gospels and Buddha’s encounter with the demon, Mara. The following is St. Teresa of Avila‘s account of her mystical experience of hell:

“The entrance, I thought, resembled a very long, narrow passage like a furnace, very low, dark and closely confined; the ground seemed to be full of water which looked like filthy, evil-smelling mud, and in it were many wicked-looking reptiles. At the end, there was a hollow place scooped out of a wall like a cupboard, and it was there that I found myself in close confinement. But the sight of all this was pleasant by comparison to what I felt there … I felt a fire within my soul, the nature of which I am utterly incapable of describing … The fact is that I cannot find words to describe that interior fire and that despair which is greater than the most grievous torture and pains … There was no light, and everything was in the blackest darkness” (Bush, 2002)

There are accounts of individuals who are given tours of both heaven and hell. One is the story of Arda Viraf, a 9th Century follower of the religion of the Magi who was given hensbane (a non-hallucinogenic drug) that put him in a coma for several days. (Segal, 2004, pp.195-196) The Magi had chosen him for this holy quest because of his righteousness. He awoke to tell of his tour of heaven and hell. The psychiatrist George Ritchie (1998, pp.37-41) who had an NDE in 1943 tells of visiting hellish realms invisible but on the earth-plane, as well as tours of other realms where people were trapped because of their own desires. All around these lost souls were Beings of Light just waiting to assist them out of their hellish state. During his NDE, Ritchie reports that he was given this tour by Jesus Christ himself!

Regarding mystical religious experiences, Merete Jakobsen (1999, p.52) notes that evil encounters are terminated when the person calls upon God or God’s emissary, usually through prayer.

8. Hell is for Rehabilitation and is Not Eternal

Is there a way out of hell? Most (but not all) religious experience researchers think so. Both Nancy Evans Bush (2002) and Barbara Rommer (2000, p. 27) note that these negative NDEs are for instruction and are thought to be a “wake-up call” to those who have them. This echoes the purpose of hellish experience as expressed in the Tibetan Book of the Dead (Evans-Wentz, pp. 28-68).

Both the Northern Buddhist and Universalist Christian traditions have saviors (Amida Buddha and Jesus) who rescue people from hell (Vincent, 2005, p. 8). In the New Testament book of 1 Peter (1 Peter 3:18-20; 1 Peter 4:6, NRSV), it is stated that Jesus descended into hell after his crucifixion but before his resurrection:

“For Christ also suffered for sins once and for all, the righteous for the unrighteous in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey.” (1 Peter 3:18-20, NRSV)

“For this reason, the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is, they might live in the spirit as God does.” (1 Peter 4:6, NRSV)

It would seem from modern NDE accounts like some of those mentioned above; Jesus is still rescuing people from hell (Vincent, 2003). There is also an interesting 18th Century autobiographical NDE account by Dr. George de Benneville who died of a “consumption-like” illness and revived at his wake 42 hours later (Vincent & Morgan, 2006). He told of seeing angels rescuing people from hell, after they had repented.

As in the Buddhist DBV above, the Amida Buddha stands ready to save any human who finds him or herself in hell if they call out to him as few as ten times (Nigosian, 2000, p.89). It should be noted that in all of the Eastern religions, hell is not permanent but is a method for instruction. In the West, this was the view of the Christian church for its first 500 years but has become a minority view since that time (Hanson, 1899/2007, p. 139-141). In Islam, there are a few references in the Hadith to the view that hell is not permanent, but this view is held by only a few of the Sufis (Vincent, 2005, p. 12).

9. Conclusion

Only 150 years ago, scientific research into STEs began. The scientific methods used to do this research are the same as those used to research any other social or biomedical phenomena. We now know that, like positive STEs, negative STEs are widespread, that they occur in people who are normal and not mentally ill, and that they change people’s lives for the better. While it may be too early to reach any final theological conclusions from this data, it would appear that there is a universal underpinning to the religions of the world, that humans are accountable for their actions, and that nothing good is ever lost.

10. References

Baym, N. (Ed.) (1998). Norton anthology of American literature, vol. 1. New York: W. W. Norton.

Budge, E, A, W, (1967/1895). The Egyptian book of the dead: The papyrus of Ani in the British Museum. New York: Dover Publications.

Bush, N. E. (2002). Afterward: Making meaning after a frightening near-death experience. Journal of Near-Death Studies, 21 (2), 99-133. Reprinted with Permission.

Bush, N. E. (2006). Distressing western near-death experiences: Research summary. Paper presented at the IANDS Conference, M.D. Anderson Hospital, Houston (DVD available from: www.iands.org).

Evans-Wentz, W. Y. (ed.) (1957). The Tibetan book of the dead: Or the after-death experiences on the bardo plane, according to Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup’s English Rendering. London, England: Oxford University Press. (Original work published 11th century)

Greyson, B., and Bush, N. E. (1992). Distressing Near-Death Experiences. Psychiatry, 55, 95-110.

Hanson, J. W. (2007/1899) Universalism, the prevailing doctrine of the Christian Church during its first five hundred years. San Diego: St Alban Press.

Hardy, A. (1997). The spiritual nature of man: A study of contemporary religious experience. Oxford, England: The Religious Experience Research Centre. (Original work published 1979).

Jakobsen, M. D. (1999). Negative spiritual experiences: Encounters with evil. Lampeter, Wales: Religious Experience Research Centre.

Masumian, F. (1995). Life Ater Death: A Study of the Afterlife in World Religions. Oxford, England: One World.

McClenon, J. (1991). Near-death folklore in medieval China and Japan: A comparative analysis. Asian Folklore Society, 50, 319-342.

McClenon, J. (1994). Wondrous events: Foundations of religious beliefs. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Nigosian, S. A. (2000). World religions: A historical approach (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Ritchie, G.G. (1998). Ordered to return: My life after dying. Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing Co.

Rommer, B. R. (2000). Blessing in Disguise: Another Side of the Near-Death Experience. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn.

Segal, A. F. (2004). Life after death: A history of the afterlife in the religions of the West. New York, NY: Doubleday.

Smith, H. (2000). Cleansing the doors of perception: The religious significance of entheogenic plants and chemical. New York, NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam.

Vincent, K. R. & Morgan, J. (2006). An 18th century near-death experience: The case of George de Benneville. Journal of near-death studies, 25 (1), 35-48. Reprinted with Permission.

Vincent, K. R. (1994). Visions of God from the Near-Death Experience. Burdett, NY: Larson.

Vincent, K. R. (1999). The Magi: From Zoroaster to the “Three Wise Men.” North Richland Hills, TX: Bibal Press.

Vincent, K. R. (2003). The near-death experience and Christian Universalism. Journal of near-death studies, 22, 57-71. Reprinted with Permission.

Vincent, K. R. (2005). Magic, deeds, and Universalism: Afterlife in the world’s religions. Universalist Herald, 156 (4), 5-8,12)

Vincent, K. R. (2006). The search for God and afterlife in the age of science. Paper presented at the IANDS Conference, M.D. Anderson Hospital, Houston (CD available from: www.iands.org)

Yao, X & Badham, P. (2007). Religious experience in contemporary China. Cardiff: University of Wales.

Categories
God Is With Us Religion

Chapter 10: The Near-Death Experience and Universal Salvation

By Dr. Ken R. Vincent

HomeChapter 7Chapter 16
DedicationChapter 8Chapter 17
ForewordChapter 9Appendix A
Chapter 1Chapter 10Appendix B
Chapter 2Chapter 11References
Chapter 3Chapter 12About Ken
Chapter 4Chapter 13Resources
Chapter 5Chapter 14Permissions
Chapter 6Chapter 15Acknowledge
God Is With Us Index

Table of Contents

  1. Abstract and Keywords
  2. Introduction to NDEs and Universal Salvation
  3. Validity of the Bible
  4. Christian Universalism
  5. Universalism and the Near-Death Experience
    a. Out-of-Body Experiences
    b. Light
    c. Judgment or Life Review
    d. Hell Is Not Permanent
    e. Universal Salvation
    f. Aftereffects
  6. Summary
  7. Notes
  8. References

1. Abstract and Keywords

ABSTRACT: I explore the near-death experience (NDE) in the context of the theology of Christian Universalism. I provide data on various models of Christian theology, and present the model of Restorative Universalism as the one most compatible with reports of afterlife in the NDE. I interface quotations from actual NDE accounts with New Testament verses to illustrate these similarities. Restorative Universalism includes a judgment (“life review” in NDE terminology), followed by punishment for some but eventual universal salvation for all. I present an analysis of New Testament verses supporting the theologies of “Jesus Saves,” Predestination, Good Works, and Universal Salvation, which reveals Salvation by Good Works to be supported by the greatest number of verses, followed by verses advocating Universal Salvation for All. Christian Restorative Universalism is based upon these two predominant New Testament teachings and affords the greatest harmony with the NDE.

KEYWORDS: near-death experience; Universalist; Restorative Universalism; Christianity.

2. Introduction to NDEs and Universal Salvation

Of all the theological explanations for the near-death experience (NDE), the Doctrine of Universal Salvation, also known as Universalism, is the most compatible with contemporary NDE accounts. Universalism embraces the idea that God is too good to condemn humankind to Eternal Hell and that, sooner or later, all humanity will be saved. Interestingly, a belief in Universal Salvation can be found in virtually all the world’s major religions (Vincent, 2000, pp. 6-8). It is particularly essential to Zoroastrianism, the religion of the Magi (Vincent, 1999, pp. 9-10 and 46-47).

The Universalist theology that acknowledges a temporary Hellish state for those who need some “shaping up” before proceeding to their ultimate reward is termed more specifically “Restorative Universalism.” In my book Visions of God from the Near-Death Experience, I included a chapter on frightening NDEs, coupled with Hell as portrayed in sacred scriptures. My intention then was to present the topic of Universal Salvation in the world’s religions from a spiritual perspective (Vincent, 1994). In this article, I want to show that Christian Universalism, a doctrine with solid support in the New Testament, blends seamlessly with the experience of NDErs.

By exploring the connections between the NDE and Universalist theology, I have no interest in reviving the so-called “Religious Wars” in the NDE movement (Ellwood, 2000; Ring, 2000; Sabom, 2000a, 2000b). I do hope to offer a source of comfort to NDErs, both Christian and non-Christian, who may have had their experience marginalized by assaults from Fundamentalist or Conservative Christians. They can be assured that a more loving alternative to Christian “exclusivity” (that is, “only Christians go to Heaven”) exists within the same New Testament they have known since childhood.

In a recent national poll for Religion & Ethics Newsweekly and U. S. News & World Report (Mitofsky International and Edison Media Research, 2002), only 19 percent of Christians and 7 percent of non-Christians stated a belief that their religion was the only true religion. This contrasted with a 1965 poll in which 65 percent of Protestants and 51 percent of Catholics reported that “belief in Jesus Christ as Savior was absolutely necessary for Salvation” (Glock and Stark, 1965).

Americans appear to be becoming more Universalist in their orientation. The 2002 study also found that “an individual’s spiritual experience (as opposed to doctrines and beliefs) is the most important part of religion” was answered in the affirmative by 69 percent of Christians and 73 percent of non-Christians (Mitofsky International and Edison Media Research, 2002). Americans also appear to be more spiritually aware, or at least more willing to admit it. In 2002, 86 percent of Americans stated that they had “experienced God‘s presence or a spiritual force that felt very close to you one or more times” (Mitofsky International and Edison Media Research, 2002).

Spirituality has always been part of religious experience. In this article, I will explore how Universalist ideas are expressed in the Bible, and, more importantly, how Universalism helps place the near-death experience within the context of Christian theology.

3. Validity of the Bible

To examine these questions, we must first consider the status of the Bible and theological interpretations of it. In polls regarding the validity of the Bible, about one-third of Americans reported a belief that the Bible is “the actual Word of God” (about as many as report being Fundamentalist). One-sixth (about the number of non-Christians in America) described it as a “book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts.” One-half believed it to be the “inspired Word of God but that not everything should be taken literally” (Mitofsky International and Edison Media Research, 2002, p.2; Wood, 1989, pp. 130 and 361). These views of the general population reflect modern scholarship regarding the Bible. Today, Biblical inerrancy is a view adhered to by only the most Fundamentalist scholars (Borg, 2001).

The Bible contains a treasure trove of ancient accounts of mystical religious experiences. Conservative Christian scholar Luke Timothy Johnson (1998) correctly noted that modern studies of Christian origins ignore the mystical religious experiences so clearly described in the New Testament. Moderate Christian scholar James D. G. Dunn noted, in referring to Jesus, that “there is no incidence of a healing miracle that falls clearly outside the general character of psychosomatic illness” (1975/1997, p. 71). Nevertheless, his book is a study on what may be called “communicative theism,” the direct contact between God and humanity in the New Testament. Even the liberal Jesus Seminar voiced no doubt that Jesus appeared to some of his followers after his death (Funk and The Jesus Seminar, 1998).

From the time the Bible was written to the present, individuals have reported mystical experiences (Argyle, 2000; Hick, 1999; James, 1901/ 1958). The NDE is unique among the categories of mystical union with God (Borg, 1997) because of its identifiable “trigger.” The big question is: How much credibility should one give to reports of mystical experiences in the Bible, as most are not first-person accounts but rather written down as “much-told tales” following many years of oral tradition?

As stated above, most scholars do not consider the Bible to be inerrant. In light of this, it becomes untenable in theological interpretation to base one’s theological program on one or two Bible verses. For example, the basis of papal authority is inferred from two verses in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 16:18-19). Even more difficult is justification for the Trinity, which is not in the Bible and can at best only be inferred by the fact that God, God’s Spirit, and Jesus are mentioned together in two verses (Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:13). I will discuss further below how theology can be based on a preponderance of verses in the New Testament.

4. Christian Universalism

At this time, let me state that I am a Unitarian Universalist Christian and, like most Liberal Christians, I believe that God was in Jesus, but not that Jesus was God. Universalism as a theological system traces its history back to Origen (185-254 CE) (Origen, 1885/1994). The Universalist Church in North America was, for a time during the 19th Century, the fifth or sixth largest denomination in the United States (Howe, 1993). The Universalist Church merged with the Unitarians in 1961, and Unitarian Universalist Christians still make up a majority of our members worldwide. In the United States, ours has developed into an interfaith church in which Unitarian Universalist Christians comprise only a minority.

As stated above, there are several variants of Christian Universalism. Some Universalists believe that God will save you “no matter what.” This is a variant of “Jesus Saves” theology, except that “Jesus Saves Everybody” by his atoning sacrifice (Howe, 1993, pp. 34-35). Another variant is the belief that Christians will be saved immediately, and all others will be saved after becoming believers (Howe, 1993). Restorative Universalism assumes a judgment (“life review” in NDE terminology) and punishment for some, followed by Universal Salvation for all.

Today, most Christians who profess a belief in Universal Salvation belong to variety of other denominations. Despite their questions about doctrine, most Liberal Christians choose to remain within more mainline denominations, most often for reasons of tradition. Examples of prominent contemporary Universalist Christian theologians in other denominations are Jan Bonda of the Dutch Reformed Church (1993/1998); Tom Harpur, an Anglican (1986); John Hick of the United Reformed Church (Hick, Pinnock, McGrath, Geivett, and Phillips, 1995), and Thomas Talbott, an Independent Christian (Talbott, 1999).

It is noteworthy that, in a addition to being a Christian scholar, Tom Harpur is a near-death researcher, and he included a strong Universalist Christian statement at the end of his book, Life After Death (1991).

Christian theologies are systems created to explain the diverse and conflicting accounts given by the various authors of the New Testament. Often theologians will arrive at differing interpretations of what the words in a particular Bible verse mean. For example, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6) is a primary verse used by “Jesus Saves” theologians; however, this verse has been interpreted by Liberal Christians as meaning that salvation comes from following the teachings of Jesus, rather than through his death on the cross (Borg, 2001; Harpur, 1986; Hick, 1993a).

In an article in Christianity Today entitled, “The Gift of Salvation,” Timothy George (1997) made the case for “Jesus Saves” theology by citing just 23 verses from the New Testament. By my own calculations, there were 139 verses in the New Testament supporting “Jesus Saves” , theology; 551 verses supporting Salvation by Good Works, with 389 of those verses being the words of Jesus himself; and 178 verses supporting Universal Salvation, including 31 verses that speak to Hell not being permanent. It is worth noting that a fourth theological position, the Doctrine of Predestination, has 77 verses to support it (Hastings, Grant, and Rowley, 1953). One can see from the sheer magnitude of data that Salvation by Good Works has the most support, followed by Universal Salvation for All. The two taken together form the case for Christian Restorative Universalism.

5. Universalism and the Near-Death Experience

When it comes to the near-death experience, Universalism appears to be the most compatible theological position. Why is that so? Let us explore some basics of Christian Restorative Universalism and the NDE.

a. Out-of-Body Experiences

NDEs often begin with an “out-of-body” experience (OBE). The Bible records this 2000-year-old OBE by St. Paul:

“I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third Heaven – whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person – whether in the body or out of the body 1 do not know; God knows – was caught up into Paradise and heard things that were not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat.” (2 Corinthians 12:2-5)

b. Light

One of the most commonly reported characteristics of a deep NDE is the experience of Light or Being of Light (Vincent, 1994). Some NDErs feel that this Light represents God or God’s emissary, as in the following:

“I was in the Universe and I was Light. It takes all the fear of dying out of you. It was Heavenly. I was in the Presence of God.” (Vincent, 1994, p.27)

“I went directly into the Light, and my pain ceased. There was a feeling of extreme peace.” (Vincent, 1994, p. 27)

“God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5)

“Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” (James 1:17)

“He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light.” (1 Timothy 6:15-16)

NDErs routinely report an immense amount of unconditional love radiating from the Being of Light:

“An absolute white Light that is God-all loving. The unification of us with our Creator.” (Vincent, 1994, p. 27)

“I left my body, and I was surrounded by God. It didn’t feel male or female, young or old, just me. I was surrounded by Love … I looked down at the little girl in bed … Later when I realized it was me, I was back in my body.” (Vincent, 1994, p. 21)

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.” (Lamentations 3:22)

Near-death experiencers report a feeling of “Oneness with God” and a sensation of being “In God”:

“It is something which becomes you and you become it. I could say, “I was peace; I was love.” It was the brightness … It was part of me.” (Vincent, 1994, p. 29)

“For in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)

“For from him and through him and to him are all things.” (Romans 11:36)

“One God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:6)

Sometimes NDErs encounter Jesus in the Light:

“The light was in me and between the molecules, the cells in my body. He was in me – I was in him … I knew all things. I saw all things. I was all things. But not me; Jesus had this. As long as I was “in Him,” and he was “in me,” I had this power, this glory (for lack of a better word).” (Vincent 1994, p. 57)

“I left but stood there wanting to help this poor soul (which was in effect me). Then I was on the third level and a voice said, “choose.” I saw Jesus, the Blessed Mother, and the archangel Michael. My message was unconditional love; learn to love your family; you love others, but learn to love your family.” (Vincent, 1994, p. 59)

These accounts recall the Apostle Paul’s experience of Jesus. Many scholars consider his account in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 as the only first-hand account of the resurrection of Jesus (Funk and the Jesus Seminar, 1998; Harpur, 1986; Hick, 1993b). Paul also provided verified secondhand accounts of Jesus’ appearance to Peter and James. In Acts, we have a description of Paul’s experience of Jesus:

“Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from Heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:3-4; also Acts 22:6-7; Acts 26:12-14)

Researcher Philip Wiebe (1997) maintained that there is (no difference between modern-day visions of Jesus and similar visions of Jesus described in the Bible. Although Wiebe excluded NDEs from his research, numerous NDE accounts over the past quarter century attest to face-to-face meetings with Jesus. Curiously, even people of religions other than Christianity have described encounters with Jesus (Rommer, 2000).

Before turning our attention from the Light, it is worth noting that Fundamentalists often counter this common NDE phenomenon with a verse from St. Paul:

“Even Satan disguises himself as a being of Light” (2 Corinthians 11:14)

This is of dubious relevance for NDEs for two reasons: first, it places too much weight on a single Bible verse; and second, the overwhelming amount of data leaves no doubt that the Light experienced by the NDEr radiates love. Jesus told us how to distinguish false prophets:

“You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16)

When Jesus himself was accused of being Satanic, he explained:

“And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebub and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.’ And he called to them and spoke to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end is come.'” (Mark 3:22-26)

Fundamentalist Christians cannot have it both ways. The Light cannot represent goodness for a Christian and deception for non-Christians. Satan may be a neon sign, but God is the Light of the Universe.

Jesus told us that God is our Father too:

“I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” (John 20:17)

“You have one Father – the one in heaven.” (Matthew 23:9)

“‘I will be your Father and you shall be my Sons and Daughters’ says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:18)

“Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, would give him a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, would give a snake? If you then who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give good things to those who ask Him?” (Matthew 7:9-10)

What kind of parent abandons his or her child? Surely not the loving God Jesus talked about.

c. Judgment or Life Review

Judgment, in NDE terminology, is called “life review.” This is usually a positive experience:

“I found myself in a corridor. The corridor did not end. I was not afraid. There was a white light. Very clear white colors of light. Off to the side, I could see shades of gray. Off to the side, I could see my childhood passing, going left to right. I thought to myself, “I am getting younger.” I did not see my adult life. I felt like I was not alone, but I did not see anybody.” (Vincent, 1994, p. 95)

“During the Judgment [it was] like on a Rolodex. I could feel the person by me. I was waiting for the bad to come up, but nothing bad was coming up.” (Vincent, 1994, p. 93)

For others, there is a perception of one’s effect on other people:

“I saw this life pass in front of my eyes, like watching a movie. I felt others’ pain, joy, sorrows.” (Vincent, 1994, p. 93)

For some, life review is a negative experience:

“It was not peaceful, much baggage, much unfinished business. All things are connected. You are not your body, you are a soul; mine was in limbo. I knew I would be in limbo for a long time. I had a life review and was sent to the void.” (Vincent 1994, p. 119)

In Christianity, sometimes God is seen as Judge of the World, but more often, Jesus is seen as the Judge (Masumian 1996). In Jesus’ parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), he stated that judgment began prior to him, was ongoing, and occurred immediately after death. In the Judgment of the Nations (Matthew 25:31-46), Jesus is Judge of all the world, both Christian and non Christian. Judgment is based on good works done to the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40).

Jesus taught that we must be judged, but that God is Light and goodness:

“God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5)

NDErs often note that the Being of Light in the life review offers total acceptance:

“My near-death experience was before Moody’s book came out. When it did, I said, “Oh my God! Mine is pretty classic – just like the book. It was incredibly clear – my life – going through what happened. There were figures around I did not know. The white Light was wonderful! It was just love. I knew my life would be reviewed. It was like flipping pages. I knew I had done things I was not proud of, but there was total acceptance. I wanted to stay, but I was told to go back and be loving.” (Vincent 1994, p. 91)

I have already noted above that this is also true when the Being of Light is specifically identified as Jesus. This is the picture that the New Testament presents of Jesus. In the mystic Gospel of John we read:

“You judge my human standards. I judge no one.” (John 8:15)

“And I, when I am lifted up from the Earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32)

Jesus said: “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30)

The following makes it clear that Jesus is an advocate for both Christians and non-Christians:

“My children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father; Jesus Christ the Righteous. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2)

With Jesus as Judge, no one is ever abandoned – Christian or non-Christian. Jesus told us that the Kingdom of God is not only for the pure (Matthew 5:8) but also for the impure (Matthew 15:2, Luke 18:10-14), the pagan (Matthew 15:21-28), and the heretic (Luke 10:25-37; John 4:16-30). NDErs often feel that they judge themselves, as these quotes from three NDErs indicate:

“You are judging yourself. You have been forgiven all your sins, but are you able to forgive yourself for not doing the things you should have done and some little cheaty things that maybe you’ve done in your life? This is the judgment.” (Ring and Valarino, 1998, p. 167)

“I didn’t see anyone as actually judging me. It was more like I was judging myself on what I did and how that affected everyone.” (Ring and Valarino, 1998, p. 167)

“I told the Light that … I expected him to judge me rather sternly. He said, “Oh, no, that doesn’t happen at all.” However, at my request, they then played back over the events that had occurred in my life … and I was the judge.” (Ring and Valarino, 1998, p. 167)

Jesus clearly told us:

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” (Matthew 7:1-2)

The judgment of Jesus is not based on belief in Doctrine. The test is not about correct belief, but good deeds:

“Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in Heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)

Good deeds will be rewarded:

“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.” (Matthew 16:27)

St. Peter reiterated:

“I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation, anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to Him.” (Acts 10:34-35)

St. Paul said:

“For he will repay according to each one’s deeds.” (Romans 2:6)

“For God shows no partiality.” (Romans 2:11)

St. John of Patmos wrote:

“And the dead were judged according to their works as recorded in the books.” (Revelation 20:12)

d. Hell Is Not Permanent

The experience of Hell has been recorded in NDEs since the beginning of modern research (Ritchie and Sherrill, 1978). In current near-death research terminology, these are called “frightening” NDEs.

In religious terms, the place of punishment is called variously “Hell,” “Hades,” “Limbo,” “Purgatory,” “Gehenna,” and “Eternal Punishment.” Modern day near-death researchers have about as many types of frightening NDEs (Atwater, 1992; Greyson and Bush, 1992; Rommer, 2000) as the ancient and medieval authors had categories of Hell (Zaleski, 1987). Often in the NDE, accounts of Hell are not permanent:

“I was in Hell … I cried up to God, and it was by the power of God and the mercy of God that I was permitted to come back.” (Rommer 2000, p. 42)

“God, I am not ready, please help me. I remember when I screamed (this) an arm shot out of the sky and grabbed my hand and at the last second I was kept from falling off the end of the funnel, the lights flashing; and the heat was really something.” (Greyson and Bush, 1992, p.100)

If Hell is not permanent, one might wonder why Jesus said the “goats” will endure “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46).

Universalist scholar Thomas Talbott noted that the Greek word for “forever” is better understood as “that which pertains to an age” (1997, pp. 86-92). For example, when Jonah was swallowed by the great fish, he “went down to the land whose bars closed on me forever” (Jonah 2:6). However, the story ended when Jonah was released by God from his bondage after just three days. In other instances – his parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:34-35) and his descriptions of a prisoner’s fate (Matthew 5:25-26, Luke 12:59) – Jesus indicated that punishment is not eternal but lasts only until one’s entire debt is paid (Matthew 18:34). The following are classic passages supporting Christian Universalism (Howe, 1993, pp 34-35):

“For Christ also suffered for sins once and for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the Spirit in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey.” (1 Peter 3:18-20)

“For this reason the Gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is, they might live in the Spirit as God does.” (1 Peter 4:6)

Modern NDE accounts suggest that Jesus is still rescuing people from Hell!

e. Universal Salvation

According to Christian Universalism, in the end, we will all be united with God. Two of Jesus’ most poignant parables proclaim Universal Salvation. In Matthew, God (the Good Shepherd) sought and saved the lost sheep; the sheep did not return to the flock of its own accord. The parable ends, “So it is not the will of your Father in Heaven that one of these little ones should be lost” (Matthew 18:14). In the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), the returning son did not ask to be a member of the family, but for a job as his father’s servant. It was God (the father) who took him back into the family. The father was the character with the active role. People often have difficulty with this story because they wrongly identify with the good son and not with the father. Considering how much human parents love their own children, the story puts some perspective on how much God, who is all good, loves each of us. This theme is echoed in the mystic Gospel of John:

“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold, and 1 must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:16)

“And I, when I am lifted up from the Earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32)

Universal salvation is reiterated in numerous writings of the other Apostles:

“When all things are subjected to him then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.” (1 Corinthians 15:28)

“For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” (1 Timothy 4:10)

“And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying, “This is the covenant I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts and I will write them on their minds,” he also adds: “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.” (Hebrews 10:15-18)

“He has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on Earth.” (Ephesians 1:9-10)

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.” (Titus 2:11)

f. Aftereffects

One of the most profound aspects of the NDE is its aftereffects (Greyson, 2000). Experiences of God change and affirm lives, and sometimes this represents a “soft” change:

“It took some time for me to realize I was consumed with an insatiable thirst for knowledge. Dr. Pat Fenske wrote in the June, 1991, Vital Signs newsletter that individuals shift to a higher level of consciousness. This I can relate to 100 percent and this has enabled me to understand why I look at things from an entirely different perspective than most people.” (Vincent 1994, p. 109)

“Why did this experience change me so greatly? Why am I convinced that this was the most real thing that ever happened to me when logic and common sense dictate it wasn’t. Why so many unexplained events since then. The experience left me a changed person but not knowing why, full of questions and still seeking answers.” (Vincent, 1994, p. 113)

In some cases, the changes following an NDE are dramatic – as life changing as St. Paul’s mystical religious vision of Jesus that transformed him from a persecutor of Christians to an Evangelist for Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:3-8; Galatians 1:13-16). That kind of powerful effect occurred in the life of art professor Howard Storm, who, after his encounter with Jesus during his NDE, abandoned his atheism and became a Christian minister. Storm related that when he began to pray, his NDE changed from a Hellish experience to a positive, loving one: “Simply stated, I knew God loved me” (Ring and Valarino, 1998, p. 292).

6. Summary

Like NDEs, deathbed visions (Osis and Haraldsson, 1977) and post death visions (Kircher, 1995) point to an afterlife. But NDEs, like mystical religious experiences throughout the ages (Argyle, 2000; James, 1901/1958), are especially rich in insights as to the nature of God. NDEs, like other mystical religious experiences, both complement and continue the testimony of that great repository – of Western mystical experience, the Bible.

God’s love is greater than we imagine or than we can imagine – this is the testimony of the prophets, sages, saints, mystics, and ordinary people throughout the ages who have shared with us their incomparable sense of Oneness with God and God’s unconditional love for us all. Truly God is with us always and, in time:

“All flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Luke 3:6)

7. Notes

1 All Scripture quotations in this article are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

8. References

Argyle, M. (2000). Psychology and Religion: An Introduction. New York, NY: Routledge.

Atwater, P. M. H. (1992). Is there a Hell? Surprising Observations About the Near-Death Experience. (PDF) Journal of Near-Death Studies, 10, 149-160. Reprinted with Permission.

Bonda, J. (1998). The One Purpose of God: An Answer to the Doctrine of Eternal Punishment. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans. (Original work published 1993).

Borg, M. (1997). The God We Never Knew: Beyond Dogmatic Religion to a More Authentic Contemporary Faith. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco.

Borg, M. (2001). Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously But Not Literally. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco.

Dunn, J. D. G. (1997). Jesus and the Spirit: A Study of the Religious and Charismatic Experience of Jesus and the First Christians as Reflected in the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans. (Original work published 1975).

Ellwood, G. F. (2000) Religious Experience, Religious Worldviews, and Near-Death Studies. (PDF) Journal of Near-Death Studies, 19, 5-21. Reprinted with Permission.

Funk, RW., and The Jesus Seminar. (1998). The Acts of Jesus: The Search for the Authentic Deeds of Jesus. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco.

George, Talbott. (1997, December 8). The Gift of Salvation. Christianity Today, pp. 35-37.

Glock, C. Y, and Stark, R (1965). Religion and Society in Tension. Chicago, IL: Rand McNally.

Greyson, B. (2000). Near-Death Experiences. In Cardella, E., Lynn, S. J., and Krippner, S. (eds.), Varieties of Anomalous Experience: Examining the Scientific Evidence (pp.315 352). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Greyson, B., and Bush, N. E. (1992). Distressing Near-Death Experiences. Psychiatry, 55, 95-110.

Harpur, T. (1986). For Christ’s Sake. Toronto, Canada: McClelland and Stewart.

Harpur, T. (1991). Life After Death. Toronto, Canada: McClelland and Stewart.

Hastings, J., Grant, F. C., and Rowley, H. H. (eds.). (1953). Dictionary of the Bible. New York, NY: Scribner’s.

Hick, J. (1993a). Disputed Questions in Theology and the Philosophy of Religion. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Hick, J. (1993b). The Metaphor of God Incarnate: Christology in a Pluralistic Age. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press.

Hick, J. (1999) The Fifth Dimension. Boston, MA: One World.

Hick, J., Pinnock, C. H., McGrath, A. E., Geivett, R D., and Phillips, W.G. (1995). More Than One Way? Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Howe, C. A. (1993). The Larger Faith: A Short History of American Universalism. Boston, MA: Skinner House.

James, W. (1958). The Varieties of Religious Experience. New York, NY: Signet. (Original work published 1901).

Johnson, L. T. (1998). Religious Experience in Earliest Christianity: A Missing Dimension in New Testament Studies. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

Kircher, P.M. (1995). Love is the Link: A Hospice Doctor Shares Her Experience of Near Death and Dying. Burdett, NY: Larson Publications.

Masumian, F. (1995). Life After Death: A Study of the Afterlife in World Religions. Oxford, England: One World.

Mitofsky International and Edison Media Research. (2002). Exploring religious America. Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, May 10, 2002, Retrieved May 16, 2002, from: ww.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week534/cover.html

Origen. (1994). Origen De Principiis. In Roberts, A. R., and Donaldson, J. (eds.) Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 4 (pp. 260-279). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers. (Roberts and Donaldson original work published 1885).

Osis, K., and Haraldsson, E. (1977). At the Hour of Death. New York, NY: Avon.

Ritchie, G. G., and Sherrill, E. (1978). Return from Tomorrow. Old Tappan, NJ: Sprite.

Ring, K. (2000). Religious Wars in the NDE Movement: Some Personal Reflections on Michael Sabom’s Light and Death. (PDF) Journal of Near-Death Studies, 18, 214-244. Reprinted with Permission.

Ring, K., and Valarino, E. E. (1998). Lessons from the Light: What We Can Learn from the Near-Death Experience. New York, NY: Plenum/Insight.

Rommer, B. R. (2000). Blessing in Disguise: Another Side of the Near-Death Experience. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn.

Sabom, M. (2000a). Response to Kenneth Ring’s “Religious Wars in the NDE Movement: Some Personal Reflections on Michael Sabom’s Light and Death.” (PDF) Journal of Near Death Studies, 18, 245-271. Reprinted with Permission.

Sabom, M. (2000b). Response to Gracia Fay Ellwood’s “Religious Experience, Religious Worldviews, and Near-Death Studies.” (PDF) Journal of Near-Death Studies, 19, 23-44. Reprinted with Permission.

Talbott, T. (1997). The Inescapable Love of God. Parkland, FL: Universal Publishers.

Vincent, K. R. (1994). Visions of God from the Near-Death Experience. Burdett, NY: Larson.

Vincent, K. R. (1999). The Magi: From Zoroaster to the “Three Wise Men.” North Richland Hills, TX: Bibal Press.

Vincent, K. R. (2000). Unitarian and Universalist concepts of salvation in the Bible and world religion. Universalist Herald, 152(5), 4-8.

Wiebe, D. H. (1997). Visions of Jesus: Direct Encounters from the New Testament to Today. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Wood, F. W. (1989). An American Profile – Opinions and Behavior 1972-1989. Chicago, IL: National Opinion Research Center.

Zaleski, C. (1987). Otherworld Journeys: Accounts of Near-Death Experience in Medieval and Modern Times. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Categories
God Is With Us Religion

Chapter 8: Religious Experience Research Reveals Universalist Principles

By Dr. Ken R. Vincent

HomeChapter 7Chapter 16
DedicationChapter 8Chapter 17
ForewordChapter 9Appendix A
Chapter 1Chapter 10Appendix B
Chapter 2Chapter 11References
Chapter 3Chapter 12About Ken
Chapter 4Chapter 13Resources
Chapter 5Chapter 14Permissions
Chapter 6Chapter 15Acknowledge
God Is With Us Index

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction to Universalism in Religious Experience Research
  2. Twenty Religious Experience Researcher’s Universalist Conclusions
    a. God Loves ALL and Will Save ALL
    (1) Bill and Judy Guggenheim’s Research of ADCs
    (2) Ken Ring and Evelyn Valarino’s NDE
    (3) Richard Bucke’s Comparative Religion Research
    (4) Mark Webb’s Philosophy of Religion Research
    (5) J. Harold Ellens’ Religious Experience Research
    (6) Tom Harpur’s Life After Death Research
    (7) Nona Coxhead’s Religious Experience Research
    (8) Meg Maxwell and Verena Tschudin’s Research
    (9) John Hick’s Mystical Experience Research
    (10) Paul Robb Religious Experience Research
    b. Hell Is for Instruction and Is Not Permanent
    (1) Dr. George Ritchie’s Near-Death Experience Research
    (2) Leslie Weatherhead’s Theological and Psychical Research
    (3) Kevin Williams’ Near-Death Experience Research
    (4) Nancy Evans Bush’s Negative Near-Death Research
    (5) Barbara Rommer’s Negative Near-Death Research
    (6) F. W. H. Myers’ Psychical Research
    (7) Karlis Osis and Erlendur Haraldsson’s Deathbed Research
  3. Conclusion
  4. References

1. Introduction to Universalism in Religious Experience Research

What is a religious experience? What can we learn from “mystical” experiences, and how do “spiritual” experiences affect our lives? You may be unaware that social and biomedical scientists have been exploring these questions aggressively for the past 100 years. My own research into religious experience began over 20 years ago, and during that time, I began to recognize a recurring pattern of Universalist principles among the conclusions of my fellow researchers. Granted, many of them may be unaware of the term “Universalist” and the vital role of Universalist thought in early Christianity and world religion; however, their findings sound like classic Universalism:

(1) God loves ALL and will save ALL.

(2) Hell is for rehabilitation (not torture) and is not eternal. In addition, people who know that God loves us ALL show greater respect and kindness toward others in this earthly life.

Research into religious experiences can be and is conducted using the same criteria that is used to investigate any other psychological phenomena. These include:

(1) Case studies of transpersonal experience

(2) Sociological surveys that tell who and what percentage of the population have religious experiences

(3) Psychological tests that measure not only the mental health of the individual but also evaluate the depth of mystical experiences

(4) Biomedical and neuroscience testing, including, in some cases, the EEG, PET-scan, and fMRI to document genuine altered states of consciousness and demonstrate that mystical experiences are not just wishful thinking; EEGs and EKGs that allow us to document death in near-death experiences (NDEs) that occur in hospitals

(5) Sociological and psychological investigations that assess the after-effects these experiences have on people

(6) Controlled experimental research (such as Pahnke’s experiment testing psychedelics)

Religious or spiritual experiences relate to the direct experience of the Holy Spirit of God (or if you prefer, Ultimate Reality according to David Hay, former head of the Religious Experience Research Centre, both terms describe the same phenomena, but “religious” experience is preferred by people who attend church and “spiritual” experience is favored by people who don’t. I also include those religious experiences that point to life after death — namely near-death experiences, death-bed visions, and after-death communications.

2. Twenty Religious Experience Researcher’s Universalist Conclusions

a. God Loves ALL and Will Save ALL

The following is a sampling of 20 religious experience researchers whose conclusions can reinforce our confidence in the validity and truth of our Universalist message.

(1) Bill and Judy Guggenheim’s Research of After-Death Communications

“No one regardless of cruelty of malicious crimes he or she may have committed on earth is ever forgotten or forsaken.” (Guggenheim, B., & Guggenheim, J., 1996)

They go on to state that the criterion for healing seems to be admission of responsibility for the hurt, pain, and suffering they have caused others (www.after-death.com).

(2) Ken Ring and Evelyn Valarino’s Near-Death Experience Research

One of the most thoughtful and prolific near-death researchers is social psychologist Ken Ring (www.kenring.org). In his most recent book with Evelyn Valarino (www.elsaesser-valarino.com) Lessons from the Light, he reiterates his absolute certainty that everyone will come to the light. He tells the story of a person sexually abused by her father who, when asked if Adolf Hitler would eventually come into the light, and she said, “Yes.” Later she said, “Even my father will see the light.” In an earlier book, Heading Toward Omega, Ken Ring states:

“Indeed, the strongest evidence of the NDErs’ universalistically spiritual orientation and in many ways the culmination of the qualities already discussed is their belief in the underlying unity of all religions and their desire for a universal religious faith that will transcend the historical divisiveness of the world’s great religions.” (Ring, 1985)

(3) Richard Bucke’s Comparative Religion Research

Richard Bucke, a Canadian neuropsychiatrist and comparative religion scholar, saw a unity of all religions and people. His universalist perspectives came to him in a powerful mystical experience and lead him to research and write the book Cosmic Consciousness.

(4) Mark Webb’s Philosophy of Religion Research

The philosopher Mark Webb (www.webpages.ttu.edu) notes in his article, “Religious Experience as Doubt Resolution,” that:

“Nearly all religious experiences result in the belief that the universe is an essentially friendly place; that is, that we shouldn’t worry about the future. People who have had experiences of this sort tend to live more calmly than others, having acquired a strong feeling that the world is essentially just and that they particularly are ‘cared for.’ This is true even of those experiences that include a conviction that the world is fallen and sinful, because they also include a conviction that God is sovereign and loves his creatures. The second area agreement is that all humans are closely interrelated in some way … the pragmatic value of these two results is clear: people who believe these propositions will tend to be happier and more concerned about each other.”

(5) J. Harold Ellens’ Religious Experience Research

The Presbyterian minister and theologian J. Harold Ellens writes in his book Understanding Religious Experience that he personally has had at least a dozen such religious experiences. He states that:

“God has declared God’s covenant of unconditional and universal grace to all people, guaranteeing that we are all God’s people and God is our God, no matter what.

Rev. Ellens (www.jharoldellens.com) is a committed Universalist who was once accused of heresy by an elder for preaching Universalism and subsequently brought before trial by the Presbyterian hierarchy where the charges were eventually dismissed.

(6) Tom Harpur’s Life After Death Research

Journalist, near-death researcher, and former Anglican priest Tom Harpur (www.tomharpur.com) is a committed Universalist. In his book Life After Death, he states:

“If we truly believe in an all-loving gracious Source of all things, the kind of accepting presence imaged by the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, then it seems to me to be utterly incongruous to hold that anyone will be lost. We are all God’s off-spring or children as New Testament Christianity — and most other religions — makes clear … I fail to see how heaven or eternal life would be bliss of any kind unless one were assured that all will be sharers in it. At this ultimate family occasion, there will finally be no empty chairs, no missing faces.”

(7) Nona Coxhead’s Religious Experience Research

Religious experience researcher Nona Coxhead in her book The Relevance of Bliss states:

“For just as the sun shines of everyone without discrimination, the realization that love and light will be fully accessible to all of us following our bodily demise is a message of joy that those who have returned from ‘the gates of death’ bring us.”

(8) Meg Maxwell and Verena Tschudin’s Religious Experience Research

Religious experience researchers Meg Maxwell and Verena Tschudin, in their book, Seeing the Invisible, note:

“The most striking element of the personal experiences in the collection of the Religious Experience Research Centre is that they are overwhelmingly positive in nature. They enhance and enrich life; they point forward; they are positive; they are benign.”

(9) John Hick’s Mystical Experience Research

The great Universalist/pluralist philosopher John Hick (www.johnhick.org.uk) acknowledges that he has had several mystical experiences. In his book The Fifth Dimension, he notes that what we know from mysticism is that:

“If our big picture is basically correct, nothing good that has been created in human life will ever be lost … this is not a faith wherein no harm can befall us in this present life, or those we love, but a faith that ultimately, in Lady Julian’s words (Julian of Norwich), ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.'”

(10) Paul Robb Religious Experience Research

Paul Robb (www.kindnessofgod.com), author of The Kindness of God, a book that is a collection of religious experiences, notes:

“If there is a single message in the accounts of this book, I believe it is this: God loves us all without exception. No matter how black the soul, the soul is still loved. I believe God’s love is like sunlight. The sun gives off light; it is incapable of giving off darkness. God gives off love; he is incapable of giving off anger or hatred or vengeance or jealousy or punishment. The themes of God’s love, and His kindness, occur again and again in the accounts in this book and at the Religious Experience Research Centre.”

b. Hell Is for Instruction and Is Not Permanent

(1) Dr. George Ritchie’s Near-Death Experience Research

The first near-death experience I ever read was that of the psychiatrist George Ritchie. Dr. Richie happens to be the professor who trained near-death pioneer Raymond Moody (www.lifeafterlife.com). In his elaborate vision described in his book Ordered to Return in which his guide was no less than Jesus himself, he was shown a variety of hellish experiences, some which were on the earth-plane and others in other realms. In all of these places, there were beings of light standing by the lost souls, and these angels were trying to get them to change their thoughts. Ritchie also relates that Jesus told him that he would draw ALL people to himself, echoing that great Universalist passage:

“When I (Jesus) am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to me.” (John 12:32)

(2) Leslie Weatherhead’s Theological and Psychical Research

The prolific liberal Christian writer, Methodist theologian, psychical researcher, and committed Universalist Leslie Weatherhead states in The Christian Agnostic:

“Hell may last as long a sinful humanity lasts, but that does not mean that any individual will remain in it all that time. The time of purging can only continue until purification is reached. And a God driven to employ endless hell would be a God turned fiend himself, defeated in his original purpose … but God will never desert the soul.”

It should be noted that Rev. Weatherhead was converted to Universalism in theology school as a result of a powerful mystical experience.

(3) Kevin Williams’ Near-Death Experience Research

Kevin Williams, webmaster of the #1 NDE website on Google and Yahoo (www.near-death.com), is a committed Universalist. In his book, Nothing Better Than Death, he states that:

“Universal salvation is the concept that everyone will eventually attain salvation and go to heaven. This is a foreign concept to most Christians today, although it was not to many early Christians. Many Christians today cannot accept the NDE because it generally affirms Universal Salvation. While it is true Universal Salvation is generally affirmed in NDEs, it is not true that everyone enters heaven immediately upon death. It is well-documented in NDEs people going to hell upon death. However, NDEs show hell to be a temporary spiritual condition, much like Catholic purgatory, not eternal damnation.”

(4) Nancy Evans Bush’s Negative Near-Death Research

Near-death researcher and experiencer Nancy Evans Bush (www.dancingpastthedark.com) who is a retired pastoral counselor of the Congregational Church has recently completed the analysis of 31 research studies on negative near-death experiences that shows, in addition to the fact that “good” people sometimes have negative experiences, there is evidence that these experiences are for instruction and that eventually, “a positive experience is likely to emerge.”

(5) Barbara Rommer’s Negative Near-Death Research

This same view is shared by internist and near-death researcher Barbara Rommer who wrote Blessing in Disguise about negative near-death experiences. Rommer reports that negative experiences often change to positive, and it is her belief that if they are allowed to continue, the white light of God and peaceful experiences will and do unfold.

(6) F. W. H. Myers’ Psychical Research

Psychical researcher F. W. H. Myers, in his book Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death, notes that in veridical cases indicative of afterlife, there seems to be a:

“… disintegration of selfishness, malevolence, pride. And is this not a natural result of any cosmic moral evolution? … the student of these narratives will, I think, discover throughout them uncontradicated indications of the presence of Love, the growth of Joy, and the submission to Law.”

(7) Karlis Osis and Erlendur Haraldsson’s Deathbed Research

A death-bed vision occurs when a person is dying and tells people in the room what he or she is seeing at the point of death. In their book, At the Hour of Death, psychical researchers Karlis Osis (www.aspr.com) and Erlendur Haraldsson (www.hi.is) note that in a cross-cultural study of 1700 people in the United States and India, only one of these cases was hellish. In all cases, the take-away person was an apparition of a dead person, either a dead loved one or a religious figure. This was true, regardless of whether the person was Christian, Hindu, Jew, Moslem, or unbeliever.

3. Conclusion

While a good many researchers like the Unitarian Sir Alister Hardy (www.studyspiritualexperiences.org), author of The Spiritual Nature of Man and founder of the Religious Experience Research Centre (formerly at Oxford) at the University of Wales Lampeter have had religious experiences themselves, there are a few like the Unitarian William James (www.survivalafterdeath.info), author of The Varieties of Religious Experience, who have not. My own commitment to Universalism is based in part on my own two mystical experiences of God but also on the testimony of hundreds of people I have interviewed and the thousands more I’ve read about in the works of the authors I have cited. Although this ongoing research has expanded the known “data” available, in a very real way, I don’t know any more than I knew fifteen years ago when I wrote this conclusion in my book, Visions of God from the Near-Death Experience:

— God is love.
— We are all connected.
— We are all part of God.
— God’s plan for the Universe may be beyond humanity’s understanding, but we are a part of it.
— Hell is the absence of God.
— Hell is the land of the self-preoccupied who have shut out the Love of God and others.
— It is never too late to call out to God, even from Hell.
— It is never too late to turn to the ones who love you and go toward The Light.

4. References

Bucke, R. M. (1931). Cosmic consciousness: A study in the evolution of the human mind. New York, NY: E. F. Dutton. (Original work published 1931).

Bush, N. E. (2006). Distressing western near-death experiences: Research summary. Paper presented at the IANDS Conference, M.D. Anderson Hospital, Houston (DVD available from: iands.com).

Coxhead, N. (1986). The relevance of bliss: A contemporary exploration of mystic experience. St Martins Pr.

Ellens, J. H. (2008). Understanding religious experiences. London, UK: Praeger.

Guggenheim, B., & Guggenheim, J. (1996). Hello from heaven: A new field of research-after-death communication confirms that life and love are eternal. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

Hardy, A. (1997). The spiritual nature of man: A study of contemporary religious experience. Oxford, England: The Religious Experience Research Centre. (Original work published 1979).

Harpur, T. (1991). Life after death. Toronto, Canada: McClelland and Stewart.

Hick, J. (1999) The Fifth Dimension. Boston, MA: One World.

James, W. (1994). The varieties of religious experience. New York, NY: Modern Library. (Original work published 1901).

Maxwell, M., & Tschudin, V. (2005). Seeing the invisible: Modern religious and other transcendent experiences. Ceredigion, Wales: Religious Experience Research Centre. (Original work published 1990).

Myers, F. W. H. (1915). Human personality and its survival of bodily death. London, England: Logmans, Green. (Original work published 1903)

Osis, K., and Haraldsson, E. (1977). At the hour of death: A new look at evidence for life after death. New York, NY: Avon.

Ring, K. (1985). Heading toward omega: In search of the meaning of the near-death experience. Harper Perennial.

Ring, K., and Valarino, E. E. (1998). Lessons from the light: What we can learn from the near-death experience. New York, NY: Plenum/Insight.

Ritchie, G.G. (1998) Ordered to return, My life after dying. Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing Co.

Robb, P. (2006). The kindness of God: How God cares for us. Outskirts Press.

Rommer, B. R. (2000). Blessing in disguise: Another side of the near-death experience. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn.

Vincent, K. R. (1994). Visions of God from the near-death experience. Burdett, NY: Larson.

Weatherhead, L. (1990). The Christian agnostic. Abingdon Pr.

Webb, M. (1985). Religious experience as doubt resolution, International journal for philosophy of religion.

Williams, K. (2002) Nothing better than death: Insights from sixty-two profound near-death experiences. Xlibris Corp.

Categories
God Is With Us Religion

Appendix A: The Salvation Conspiracy: How Hell Became Eternal

by Dr. Ken R. Vincent

HomeChapter 7Chapter 16
DedicationChapter 8Chapter 17
ForewordChapter 9Appendix A
Chapter 1Chapter 10Appendix B
Chapter 2Chapter 11References
Chapter 3Chapter 12About Ken
Chapter 4Chapter 13Resources
Chapter 5Chapter 14Permissions
Chapter 6Chapter 15Acknowledge
God Is With Us Index

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. In The Beginning
  3. “Harrowing of Hell” in Canon and Apocrypha
  4. The Church-State Conundrum
  5. Jesus Seminar “Endorses” Christian Universalism
  6. Mistranslations and Misanthropes
  7. Universalism in the East and Zoroastrian Roots
  8. Universalism Officially Condemned in the West
  9. Conclusion
  10. References

1. Introduction

Universal Salvation is the theological position that ALL people will be saved. This concept, present from the earliest days of Christianity, is supported by numerous verses in the Bible [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20], second in number only to those advocating Salvation by Good Works [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11]. Universalists do not reject the undeniable fact that Hell is in the Bible but contend that the function of Hell is for purification. Much later in the Christian story, when some claimed that Hell was a place for everlasting punishment, Universalists countered with their conviction that God was too good to condemn anyone to Eternal Hell! Today’s world news is saturated with the tragedies resulting from religions that insist on their own “exclusive” path to God, and Universalists are reasserting the relevance of that loving doctrine known to the earliest Christians — Salvation for ALL.

In this paper, I will attempt to make the following points clear:

a. For the first 500 years of Christianity, Christians and Christian theologians were broadly Universalist.

b. Translation/Mistranslation of the Scriptures from Greek to Latin contributed the reinterpretation of the nature of Hell.

c. Merging of Church and State fostered the corruption of Universalist thought.

d. Modern archeological findings and Biblical scholarship confirm Universalist thought among early Christians.

e. Contemporary Christian scholars find Universalist theology most authentic to Jesus.

To examine Universal Salvation during the first 500 years of Christianity, the works of three scholars are indisputably the finest: Hosea Ballou II’s Ancient History of Universalism (1842), Edward Beecher’s History of Opinions on the Scriptural Doctrine of Retribution (1878), and John Wesley Hanson’s Universalism, the Prevailing Doctrine of the Church for its First 500 Years (1899). I have used all these resources but have broadened Universalist history to include 20th Century discoveries and scholarship pertinent to Universalist Christianity.

2. In The Beginning

At its beginning, Christianity was a hopeful religion. In the words of St. Paul:

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Communal meals, a culture of sharing and a tradition of helping others were the hallmarks of the early church. Despite a paternalistic culture, women were Apostles (Luke 8:2-3) and ministers (Romans 16:1).

One of the best clues to early Christian theology is in artwork discovered at the Catacombs in Rome. Graves of common people were adorned with drawings of Jesus as the Good Shepherd — beardless and virtually indistinguishable from the Greco-Roman savior figure Orpheus. Other popular images there were the Last Supper and the Magi at the birth of Jesus. Occasionally in early Christian art, Jesus is shown working miracles using a magic wand! Significantly, the crucifix is noticeably absent from early art, as is any depiction of judgment scenes or Hell.

As we move into the middle of the 2nd Century, a shift takes place from writing works considered “Holy Scripture” to interpretations of it. The first writer on the theology on Christian Universalism whose works survive is St. Clement of Alexandria (150 – 215 CE). He was the head of the theology school at Alexandria which, until it closed at the end of the 4th Century, was a bastion of Universalist thought. His pupil, Origen (185 – 254 CE), wrote the first complete presentation of Christianity as a system, and Universalism was at its core. Origen was the first to produce a parallel Old Testament that included Hebrew, a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew, the Septuagint, and three other Greek translations. He was also the first to recognize that some parts of the Bible should be taken literally and others metaphorically. He wrote a defense of Christianity in response to a pagan writer’s denigration of it.

Prior to the Roman Catholic Church’s condemnation of all of Universalist thought in the 6th Century, Church authority had already reached back in time to pick out several of Origen’s ideas they deemed unacceptable. Some that found disfavor were his insistence that the Devil would be saved at the end of time, the pre-existence of human souls, the reincarnation of the wicked, and his claim that the purification of souls could go on for many eons. Finally, he was condemned by the Church because his concept of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit did not agree with the “official” Doctrine of the Trinity formulated a century after his death! After the 6th Century, much of his work was destroyed; fortunately, some of it survived.

According to Edward Beecher, a Congregationalist theologian, there were six theology schools in Christendom during its early years — four were Universalist (Alexandria, Caesarea, Antioch, and Edessa). One advocated annihilation (Ephesus) and one advocated Eternal Hell (the Latin Church of North Africa). Most of the Universalists throughout Christendom followed the teachings of Origen. Later, Theodore of Mopsuestia had a different theological basis for Universal Salvation, and his view continued in the break-away Church of the East (Nestorian) where his Universalist ideas still exist in its liturgy today.

3. “Harrowing of Hell” in Canon and Apocrypha

One of the primary beliefs of the early Christians was that Jesus descended into Sheol / Hades in order to preach to the dead and rescue all of those, as it clearly says in 1 Peter 3:20:

“… who in former times did not obey.” (1 Peter 3:20)

This terminology is familiar to anyone who has recited the Apostle’s Creed which states that Jesus descended to Hell after his death, before his resurrection. Known as the “Harrowing of Hell,” this is a major theme in Universalism because it underscores the early belief that judgment at the end of life is not final and that all souls can be saved after death. Interestingly, in the early Church there were not only prayers for the dead, but St. Paul notes there were also baptisms for the dead (1 Corinthians 15:29).

In later times, the church attempted to reinterpret the text to narrow the categories of people saved from Hell to the Jewish prophets and the righteous pagans. Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan take this approach in their latest book, The Last Week. (Curiously, they omit the key verse “those who in former times did not obey.”) However, in his earlier book, The Cross That Spoke, John Dominic Crossan is more favorable to the Universalist view. For example, he relates a story from the non-canonical Gospel of Peter in which two angels come down from Heaven to get Jesus out of the tomb on Easter morning. As they are carrying him out and are about to ascend to Heaven, a voice from Heaven asks them:

“Hast thou preached to them that sleep?” The wooden cross that is somehow following them out of the tomb speaks and says, “Yes!” (Gospel of Peter)

In discussing Jesus’ decent into Hell, Crossan also sites another classic Universalist text, 1 Peter 4:6 which says:

“For this is why the Gospel was preached even to the dead, that though they were judged in flesh like men they might live in the spirit like God.” (1 Peter 4:6)

He also notes that in Colossians 2:15, Jesus:

“… disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them.” (Colossians 2:15)

and in Ephesians 4:8-9:

“Therefore it is said, ‘When he ascended on high, he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.’ (When it says, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that he also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all heavens, so that he might fill all things.'”) (Ephesians 4:8-9)

Understanding the role of the “Harrowing of Hell” has been expanded by recent archeological findings and modern Biblical scholarship. Among the discoveries over the past 100 years is the Apocalypse of Peter, written about 135 C.E. (not to be confused with the Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter discovered at Nag Hammadi in 1947). For a time, it was considered for inclusion into the New Testament instead of the Revelation to John. It is referred to in the Muratorian Canon of the early Church, as well as in the writings of St. Clement of Alexandria. (It should be noted that the Universalist passage from the Apocalypse of Peter is found in the Ethiopian text but is not part of the fragment text found at Akhmim, Egypt.) In the Ethiopic copy, Peter asks Jesus to have pity on the people in Hell, and Jesus says they will eventually all be saved. Later, Peter (who is writing to Clement) says to keep that knowledge a secret so that foolish men may not see it. This same theme is repeated in the Second Book of the Sibylline Oracles in which the saved behold the sinners in Hell and ask that mercy be shown them. Here, the sinners are saved by the prayers of the righteous.

Another 2nd Century work, The Epistle of the Apostles, also states that our prayers for the dead can affect their forgiveness by God. The 2nd Century Odes of Solomon, which was discovered in the early 20th Century, was for a time considered to be Jewish, then Gnostic, and more recently, early Christian. Its theme is that Jesus saves the dead when they come to him in Hell and cry out:

“Son of God, have pity on us!” (Odes of Solomon)

In the 4th/6th Century Syriac Book of the Cave of Treasures, Jesus:

“… preached the resurrection to those who were lying in the dust” and “pardoned those who had sinned against the Law.” (Book of the Cave of Treasures)

In the Gospel of Nicodemus (a.k.a. Acts of Pilate), a 4th /5th Century apocryphal gospel, Jesus saves everyone in the Greek version but rescues only the righteous pre-Christians in the Latin translation. In What is Gnosticism?, Karen King identifies the Nag Hammadi Gospel of Truth as teaching Universal Salvation; she states that The Apocryphon of John (a.k.a. The Secret Book of John) declares all will be saved except apostates. In the Coptic Book of the Resurrection, all but Satan and his ministers are pardoned.

Interestingly, belief in the “Harrowing of Hell” has had some validation by modern day near-death experiencers (people who have been resuscitated following a period of clinical death). While most near-death experiencers report a “heavenly” experience of Light and overwhelming love, many of those whose experience begins in “hellish” turmoil and darkness say that their descent was reversed when they called out to God or Jesus.

4. The Church-State Conundrum

Many think that Christianity was at its best during its first 300 years — a time of immense diversity of opinion, creativity, and expectation. Although the official sanction of governments provided the Church with some very critical benefits (like not feeding Christians to lions!), some of the vitality of the young Church was inevitably compromised. Its legitimization in the 4th Century, first by the king of Armenia, then by Constantine of Rome, and finally by the king of Ethiopia, led to a new era for Christianity. Constantine, being a military man, wanted standardization in all things. The Emperor called the Council of Nicea because at the time, the Bishop of Rome was not yet Pope (in the way we think of him today). According to Roman Catholic scholar Jean-Guy Vaillancourt, the Pope did not become the head of the Roman Church until 752 CE. At that time, Charlemagne recognized the Bishop of Rome as the singular Pope, and Pope Leo III reciprocated by legitimizing Charlemagne as the Holy Roman Emperor. It should be noted that the 6th Century Emperor Justinian — NOT the Bishop of Rome — called the Church council where Universalism was condemned.

5. Jesus Seminar “Endorses” Christian Universalism

Of all modern Biblical scholars, none have gained so much publicity and been so readily accessible to the lay reader than a group called the Jesus Seminar. Over 150 Biblical scholars pooled their knowledge for the express purpose of analyzing the Gospels to determine which words and deeds were authentic to Jesus. Their resulting “Scholars’ Editions” of the Gospels were remarkable for the few passages that were thought to be original to Jesus. For Universalists, the most significant result of the Seminar’s scrutiny was their inadvertent highlighting of many Universalist passages. By far, verses advocating Universal Salvation received the most endorsement from the Jesus Seminar as authentic to Jesus. While they rejected some of the “zingers” (e.g., John 12:32), virtually all Jesus’ classic parables that have been interpreted as Universalist since the beginning of Christian theology were judged by the Jesus Seminar to be genuine to him, including: The Parable of the Lost Sheep (Matthew 18:12-13; Luke 15:4-6), The Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-15), The Parable of the Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-9), and the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). Also, the verses relating to the fact that Hell is not permanent and used only for rehabilitation/purification were determined authentic by the Jesus Seminar. They are: Settle with Your Opponent (Matthew 5:25-26; Luke 12:58-59) and the Parable of the Wicked Servant (Matthew 18:23-34). Finally, although it was mutilated in part by the Jesus Seminar scholars, Jesus’ teaching to be like God and love our enemies as God is good to the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:44-46) was voted genuine to Jesus.

It is noteworthy that the Seminar rejected all of the verses relating to the “Jesus Saves” theology as original to Jesus. John Calvin‘s Predestination fared only slightly better with only two verses seen as original to Jesus (Matthew 6:10, Matthew 10:29). Some classic sayings of Jesus on Good Works were deemed authentic, such as Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35), Jesus on forgiveness (Matthew 6:12), and the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:3-8; Matthew 13:3-8; Luke 8:5-8).

6. Mistranslations and Misanthropes

One of the essential tenants of Universalism is that all punishment in Hell is remedial, curative, and purifying. As long as Western Christianity was mainly Greek — the language of the New Testament — it was Universalist.

Interestingly, NONE of the Greek-speaking Universalists ever felt the need to explain Greek words such as “aion” and “aionion.” In Greek, an aion (in English, usually spelled “eon“) is an indefinite period of time, usually of long duration. When it was translated into Latin Vulgate, “aion” became “aeternam” which means “eternal.” These translation errors were the basis for much of what was written about Eternal Hell.

The first person to write about Eternal Hell was the Latin North African Tertullian who is considered the Father of the Latin Church. As most people reason, Hell is a place for people you don’t like to go! Tertullian fantasized that not only the wicked would be in Hell but also every philosopher and theologian who ever argued with him! He envisioned a time when he would look down from Heaven at those people in Hell and laugh with glee!

By far, the main person responsible for making Hell eternal in the Western Church was St. Augustine (354-430 CE). Augustine’s Christian mother did not kick him out of her house for not marrying the girlfriend he got pregnant, but she did oust him when he became a Manichean Gnostic. Later, he renounced Manichaeism and returned to the Roman Church where he was made Bishop of Hippo in North Africa. He did not know Greek, had tried to study it, but stated that he hated it. Sadly, it is his misunderstanding of Greek that cemented the concept of Eternal Hell in the Western Church. Augustine not only said that Hell was eternal for the wicked but also for anyone who wasn’t a Christian. So complete was his concept of God’s exclusion of non-Christians that he considered un-baptized babies as damned; when these babies died, Augustine softened slightly to declare that they would be sent to the “upper level” of Hell. Augustine is also the inventor the concept of “Hell Lite”, a.k.a. Purgatory, which he developed to accommodate some of the Universalist verses in the Bible. Augustine acknowledged the Universalists whom he called “tender-hearted,” and curiously, included them among the “orthodox.”

At this point, it should be noted that many in the early Church who were Universalist cautioned others to be careful whom they told about Universalism, as it might cause some of the weaker ones to sin. This has always been a criticism of Universalism by those who think that people will sin with abandon if there is no threat of eternal punishment. In fact, modern psychology has affirmed that love is a much more powerful motivator than fear, and knowing that God loves each and every person on the planet as much as God loves you does not promote delinquency. Conversely, it is Christian exclusivity that leads to the marginalization of other human beings and the thinking that war and cruelty to the “other” are justified since they’re going to Hell anyway! This kind of twisted thinking led to the persecution of the pagans, the witch hunts, the Inquisition, and the Holocaust.

7. Universalism in the East and Zoroastrian Roots

A slightly different type of Universalist theology was taught in the Aramaic speaking Church of the East (Nestorian). Virtually all of the Greek-speaking Universalists built on Origen’s system that emphasizes free will. Origen saw an endless round of purification and relapse, but that in the end, God’s love would draw all back to God. According to Dr. Beecher, Theodore of Mopsuestia (350-428 CE) saw:

“… sin as an unavoidable part of the development and education of man; that some carry it to a greater extent than others, but that God will finally overrule it for their final establishment in good.”

Theodore of Mopsuestia was known in the Nestorian Church as “The Interpreter.” The 5th Century with its ongoing feuding councils saw major splits in the Christian Church. The Coptic Church of Egypt and Ethiopia split in 451CE; the Armenian Church left about the same time; the Church of the East (Nestorian) left in 486 CE. At the time of the split, the Nestorian Church was larger in numbers than the Roman Church. It included the all of the Sasanian Persian Empire (which stretched from the Euphrates to India), along the Silk Road through modern Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, through Tibet, Mongolia, and into China. Additionally, it had established Christian churches in the south of India by the end of the 2nd Century. While it suffered under Moslem invasion in the 7th Century, it continued to grow in the Far East until being virtually annihilated by Tamerlane in the 14th Century. Today, only a quarter-million remain. The Nestorian Church continued to be Universalist for most of its history, and a Universalist liturgy written by Theodore of Mopsuestia is still in use today. Also, the Book of the Bee written in the 13th Century by Bishop Solomon of Basra includes the Universalist teachings of Isaac, Diodorus, and Theodore in Chapter 60. We know from Martin Palmer in the Jesus Sutras that the Nestorians who proselytized in China in the early days had only two Christian books: the Gospel of Matthew and an early Christian prayer book known as the Didache or The Teachings of the Twelve Apostles. The appeal of Christianity in the Far East was that Jesus could save you and take you to Paradise, avoiding the risk of an undesired reincarnation.

Christopher Buck notes in his article, “The Universality of the Church of the East: How Persian Was Persian Christianity?” (PDF) that the success of Christian conversions in the East may have been the affinity of Christianity with Zoroastrianism. Unlike Manichaeism and other Gnostic Christianity, Zoroastrianism (like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) maintains that the world was created good and was corrupted by evil. In Zoroastrianism, the basic tenants are:

God-Satan, Good-Evil, Light-Darkness, Angels-Demons, Death-Judgment, Heaven-Hell, and at the end of time, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.

Zoroaster was a Universalist, as he says in his Hymns to God:

“If you understand these laws of happiness and pain which God has ordained, O Mortals, there is a long period of punishment for the wicked and reward for the pious, but thereafter eternal joy shall rein forever.” (Y 30:11 emphasis added).

In Zoroastrianism, while God is wholly good, there is no doctrine of forgiveness; your good deeds must always outnumber your bad deeds in order to avoid purification in Hell. Christianity brought Jesus’ message that God forgives sins for the asking! Also, one doesn’t need a priest as an intercessor or a sacrifice to obtain God’s grace. This affinity is best illustrated in a 13th Century Christmas liturgy of the Nestorian Church which states that:

“The Magi (Zoroastrian priests) came … they opened their treasures and offered him (Jesus) their offerings as they were commanded by their teacher Zoroaster who prophesized to them.”

What is implicit in the Gospel of Matthew is explicit in this Nestorian liturgy. Zoroaster had predicted the coming of future saviors “from the nations” (e.g., countries other than Persia). If you wanted to make converts in a Zoroastrian world, the story of the Magi at the birth of Jesus was your entree.

8. Universalism Officially Condemned in the West

Although the Roman Church had condemned some of Origen‘s other ideas, his Universalism was never questioned, nor were the writings of any other Universalist. There were even Universalists among the Gnostics; although Gnosticism had been condemned heartily by the Church, Universalism had never been listed among their errors. If Universal Salvation were heretical, how could the Church explain all those avowed Universalists who had already been made Saints (St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Macrina the Younger and her brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and others)? As mentioned earlier, it was the Emperor Justinian who initiated the deed.

Universalism had never been officially condemned prior to Justinian’s convening the Council of Constantinople in 553CE, but this momentous decision was made against a background of turmoil in the Church and Western civilization. Latin-speaking Christians in the Church began to overshadow the Greek-speakers, and the Nestorian Church of the East had recently split from the Catholic West. (In all fairness, the Latin Church was doing well to have anyone who could read Latin — much less Greek.) Less than eighty years earlier, the Western Roman Empire had fallen to pagan barbarians. The Roman Church had long before become the handmaiden of the State. What could be better for control in an age of superstition and fear than to make Hell eternal and Salvation possible only through the Church? Less than a century later, all of Christianity (Latin, Greek, Armenian, Coptic, as well as the Nestorian Church of the East) would be either partially or totally overrun by Moslem conquerors.

9. Conclusion

Compare the hopeful, positive art of the early Church in the Catacombs with the scenes of Hell and damnation on the wall of almost every Medieval Catholic Cathedral. These scenes were made even more terrifying by the Latin mistranslation of Jesus’ Parable of the Sheep and Goats (Matthew 25:31-46). In the West, Augustine trumped Origen, and what was an “eon” in the original Greek became “eternal” in Latin.

While Universalism continued in the Church of the East, in the West from the 6th Century forward, it was relegated to the realm of mystics until the Reformation when the idea of Universal Salvation was resurrected. Universalism continues today as a theological position among a fair number of Christians in a variety of denominations. It is ripe for revival.

10. References

Ballou, H. (1842). Ancient history of Universalism: From the time of the apostles to the Fifth General Council. Forgotten Books. (Original work published in 1878).

Beecher, E. (2007). History of opinions on the scriptural doctrine of retribution. Kessinger Publishing, LLC.

Borg, M. & Crossan. J.D. (2006). The last week: What the gospels really teach about Jesus’ final days in Jerusalem. HarperOne.

Buck, C. (1996). The universality of the Church of the East: How Persian was Persian Christianity? (PDF) Journal of the Assyrian Academic Society.

Crossan, J.D. (2008). The cross that spoke: The origins of the passion narrative. Wipf & Stock Pub.

Hanson, J.W. (2012). Universalism, the prevailing doctrine of the Church for its first 500 years with authorities and extracts. Forgotten Books. (Original work published in 1899).

King, K. (2005). What is Gnosticism? Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Miller, R. J. (1995). The complete gospels: Annotated scholar’s version. Polebridge Press.

Palmer, M. (2001). The Jesus sutras: Rediscovering the lost scrolls of Taoist Christianity. Wellspring/Ballantine.

Vaillancourt, J. (1980). Papal power: A study of Vatican control over lay Catholic Elites. Univ of California Pr.

Vincent, K. R. (2006). The salvation conspiracy: How hell became eternal. The Universalist Herald. Retrieved from: www.christianuniversalist.org

Categories
Christianity Religion

Lorraine Tutmarc’s Near-Death Experience

The following is one of the near-death experiences, reprinted here by permission, which Rita Bennett documents in her excellent book, To Heaven and Back. I highly recommend this book especially for those Christians who are still not sure whether the near-death experiences are Biblical. Visit Rita Bennett’s website Emotionally Free. The following experiences will show you they are, in fact, Biblical.

In 1928, Lorraine Tutmarc had blood poisoning. Because there were no antibiotics in those days, doctors sent her home and told her there was nothing more they could do for her. This resulted in the following NDE:

Lying there on the bed one morning, I realized the pain had left my body. I wasn’t thinking of anything, just looking up toward the ceiling, when I felt something strange happen. It felt like I was lifted out of my body, and I went right to the upper corner of the room, where I’d been looking.

Then I moved backward, going through the wall. Immediately I found myself up to my neck in a black river, black as black could be, and very cold. My physical pain, absent moments before, had returned. The water was whirling around me.

In my mind I asked, “Where am I?”

I heard a loud, loving voice say, “This is eternity. This is eternity. You are lost!”

It echoed, “You are lost!”

The strong voice came from behind me, so I didn’t see who it was, but I knew it was God’s voice.

“What is this?” I again asked in my mind.

He replied, “This is the river of death.”

His voice echoed, “This is the river of death.”

I didn’t know what “being lost” or what a “river of death” was all about. Jesus as savior was unknown to me at this time. When I was three or four years old, I had started going to Sunday school with my sister and brother. I liked going to the children’s activities, but we didn’t learn anything like salvation. And I hadn’t been to church since I was young.

I had terrible fear when I was enveloped by that black water; I can’t swim. When I saw all that water, I knew I was dying. And when this voice told me I was lost and this was eternity, then I knew God was revealing to me my lost condition. I started swirling around in this water, which became like a whirlpool. It kept on going around and around, faster and faster and faster, dragging me under. I was fighting to save my life. In pain, misery, and fear, I kept sinking down into this water. When I got down to the bottom, I couldn’t fight anymore. Completely exhausted, I gave up.

Then I saw light enter the water around me. The water turned warm. I looked up at the light and saw Jesus about four feet above me in an opening over my head. Everything else was black, but he was brilliant! The light coming from him was beyond description. His hair was an auburn color and wavy. He looked down at me. He had such beautiful eyes. I’ll never forget those eyes. They were so large and full of meaning – and kindness and forgiveness and compassion. Everything you would want to see in Jesus’ face was there.

I had to know I was lost before I could be saved. He had such a compassionate face. I’ll never forget that. Yet Jesus was not smiling, but sad. His eyes were so penetrating.

When looking at his pale ivory robe, I saw a big blotch of red on his chest and wondered what it meant. I couldn’t see what it was and was curious to figure it out. It was just a big blotch.

Instantly a voice spoke. Though I hadn’t asked, he knew what I wanted to know!

He said, “This is the blood that I shed on the cross for your sins.”

I understood his meaning: I knew I was in the wrong as the blood was explained to me.

Then Jesus said, “Follow me.”

I said, “I will!”

The minute I said, “I will,” the water was gone.

He had put his right hand down in the water, and when he said, “Follow me.”

All the darkness was gone out of my life, gone completely! A brilliance, but it wasn’t sunshine, came from Jesus. A transparent gold light came from him, from his body.

When I reached up with my left hand and took hold of his warm hand, I instantly felt the power of God come through my body. I had never heard of the power of God. Later I would use words from a hymn to describe the feeling of God’s power. It was like “sparks from smitten steel” coming right through my body from my head to my toes again and again. I grew stronger and stronger as the power went through me!

Finally I thought, “I’m well. I have no more pain. This is real! This is real!”

When I said, “It’s real,” I looked up to Jesus.

All he had said was, “Follow me.”

That’s all he would have to say to anybody!

Both of us seemed to float toward a wall. We stopped perhaps fifteen feet away from the wall. I was still holding his hand, and I followed his gaze. He was looking straight ahead. I looked up and saw a transparent wall, shining like pure gold, as far as I could see in either direction. I could see into it, eight inches or more, but not all the way through. Oh, I wanted to see behind that wall.

From behind the wall I heard much activity. Everything was alive behind that wall. It seemed like the dawn of a new day; day was just breaking! It was a beautiful experience. I heard little birds singing, tiny birds, and they got louder and louder. People have said there are no birds in heaven, but I heard them.

Then I heard what seemed like millions of little golden bells ringing, tinkling; they rang and rang. Many times since, I’ve heard those bells in the middle of the night. (And it’s not high blood pressure doing that!) Next I heard humming and then a choir singing. The singing got louder and louder, and it was in a minor key. It was beautiful and in perfect harmony. I also heard stringed instruments.

I knew there were flowers. I could smell them but couldn’t see them. Their fragrance was like perfume on a gentle breeze – a very gentle breeze.

Then because the light was so brilliant, it seemed to be getting around noontime. I stepped forward to search for a gate but didn’t see any. It just wasn’t time for me to go in there yet.

I turned around to look at Jesus, but he was gone. I didn’t see him go or hear him go. He was just gone! Then in an instant or so, I felt myself in my body and back in bed.

I never wanted to come back here, I thought. I was looking for the gates to heaven.

Categories
Christianity Religion

Kenneth Hagin’s Near-Death Experience

Reverend Kenneth Hagin (1917-2003) thought that by the time he was nine he had done all that was necessary to get a place in heaven. He was born and raised a Southern Baptist. As a child, he first made his commitment to Christ and was baptized with water. He was a lifelong member of the church. In Christian circles, he was “saved” and on the path for heaven. He was a believer and follower of Jesus Christ and he knew this assured him a place in heaven. He even believed that Jesus and all his disciples were Southern Baptists. But it came as a real shock to him when he found out that they weren’t. At the age of 15, Kenneth had a near-death experience resulting from a malformed heart – a condition he was born with.

Kenneth Hagin was the pastor of Rhema Bible Church and the Kenneth Hagin Ministries which publishes the Word of Faith Magazine. The following is an excerpt of his near-death experience as described in his book, I Believe in Visions, by Rev. Kenneth Hagin.

My heart stopped beating. This numbness spread to my feet, my ankles, my knees, my hips, my stomach, my heart and I leaped out of my body.

I did not lose consciousness; I leaped out of my body like a diver would leap off a diving board into a swimming pool. I knew I was outside my body. I could see my family in the room, but I couldn’t contact them.

I began to descend down, down, into a pit, like you’d go down into a well, cavern or cave. And I continued to descend. I went down feet first. I could look up and see the lights of the Earth. They finally faded away. Darkness encompassed me round about – darkness that is blacker than any night man has ever seen.

The farther down I went, the darker it became – and the hotter it became – until finally, way down beneath me, I could see fingers of light playing on the wall of darkness. And I came to the bottom of the pit.

This happened to me more than sixty years ago, yet it’s just as real to me as if it had happened the week before last.

When I came to the bottom of the pit, I saw what caused the fingers of light to play on the wall of darkness. Out in front of me, beyond the gates or the entrance into hell, I saw giant, great orange flames with a white crest.

I was pulled toward hell just like a magnet pulls metal unto itself. I knew that once I entered through those gates, I could not come back.

I was conscious of the fact that some kind of creature met me at the bottom of that pit. I didn’t look at it. My gaze was riveted on the gates, yet I knew that a creature was there by my right side.

That creature, when I endeavored to slow down my descent, took me by the arm to escort me in. When he did, way above the blackness and the darkness a voice spoke. It sounded like a male voice, but I don’t know what he said. I don’t know whether it was God, Jesus, an angel or who. He did not speak in the English language: it was a foreign language.

That place just shook at the few words he spoke! And the creature took his hand off my arm. There was a power like a suction to my back parts that pulled me back. I floated away from the entrance to hell until I stood in the shadows. Then, like a suction from above, I floated up, head first, through the darkness.

Before I got to the top, I could see the light. I’ve been down in a well: it was like you were way down in a well and could see the light up above.

I came up on the porch of my grandpa’s house. Then I went through the wall – not through the door, and not through the window – through the wall, and seemed to leap inside my body like a man would slip his foot inside his boot in the morning time.

Before I leaped inside my body, I could see my grandmother sitting on the edge of the bed holding me in her arms. When I got inside my body, I could communicate with her.

I felt myself slipping. I said, “Granny, I’m going again. You’ve been a second mother to me when Momma was ill.”

My heart stopped for a second time. I leaped out of my body and began to descend: down, down, down. Oh, I know it was just a few seconds, but it seemed like an eternity.

There farther down I went, the hotter and darker it became, until I came again to the bottom of the pit and saw the entrance to hell, or the gates as I call it. I was conscious of that creature meeting me.

I endeavored to slow down my descent – it seemed like I was floating down – yet it seemed like there was a pull that pulled me downward. And that creature took me by the arm. When he did, that voice spoke again – a man’s voice. It was a foreign language. I don’t know what he said, but when he spoke, that whole place just shook. That creature took his hand off my arm.

It was like suction to my back. I never turned around. I just came floating back into the shadows of darkness. And then I was pulled up, head first.

I could see the lights of the Earth above me before I came up out of the pit. The only difference this time was that I came up at the foot of the bed.

For a second time I stood there. I could see my body lying there on the bed. I could see Grandma as she sat there holding me in her arms.”

[Kenneth then says goodbye to his family]

I left a word for each one of them, and my heart stopped the third time.

I could feel the circulation as it cut off. Suddenly my toes went numb. Faster than you can snap your fingers, my toes, feet, ankles, knees, hips, stomach and heart went dead – and I leaped out of my body and began to descend.

Until this time, I thought, this is not happening to me. This is just a hallucination. It can’t be real!

But then I thought, “This is the third time. I won’t come back this time! I won’t come back this time!”

Darkness encompassed me round about, darker than any night man has ever seen.

And in the darkness, I cried out, “God! I belong to the church! I’ve been baptized in water”

I waited for an answer, but there was no answer; only the echo of my own voice through the darkness. And the second time I cried a little louder, “God! I belong to the church! I’ve been baptized in water!”

I waited for an answer, but there was no answer; only the echo of my own voice as it echoed through the darkness.

I came again to the bottom of that pit. Again I could feel the heat as it beat me in the face. Again I approached the entrance, the gates into hell itself. That creature took me by the arm. I intended to put up a fight, if I could, to keep from going in. I only managed to slow down my descent just a little, and he took me by the arm.

Thank God that voice spoke. I don’t know who it was – I didn’t see anybody – I just heard the voice. I don’t know what he said, but whatever he said, that place shook; it just trembled. And that creature took his hand off my arm.

It was just like there was suction to my back parts. It pulled me back, away from the entrance to hell, until I stood in the shadows. Then it pulled me up head first.

[Kenneth Hagin then enters his body again and recovers from his illness.]

Categories
Christianity Religion

Howard Storm’s Near-Death Experience

Before his near-death experience, Howard Storm (www.howardstorm.com) was a Professor of Art at Northern Kentucky University, was not a very pleasant man by his own admission. He was an avowed atheist and was hostile to every form of religion and those who practiced it. He often would use rage to control everyone around him and he didn’t find joy in anything. Anything that wasn’t seen, touched or felt, he had no faith in. He knew with certainty that the material world was the full extent of everything that was. He considered all belief systems associated with religion to be fantasies for people to deceive themselves with. Beyond what science said, there was nothing else. But then on June 1, 1985, at the age of 38, Howard Storm’s had a near-death experience due to a perforation of the stomach and his life was since forever changed. His near-death experience is one of the most profound, if not the most profound, afterlife experience I have ever documented. His life was so immensely changed after his near-death experience, he resigned as a professor and devoted his time attending the United Theological Seminary to become a United Church of Christ minister. Today, Howard Storm is retired and presently happily married to his wife Marcia and was Pastor of the Covington United Church of Christ in Covington, Ohio. During his past time he has maintained his passion for painting but now, unlike in his past, he paints with a God state of mind which raises his paintings to a whole other level. On his website Pastor Storm shares a unique look at his paintings and the effect Jesus Christ has on his daily life and on his paintings. The following is the account of Pastor Howard Storm’s near-death experience reprinted by permission. To read his full testimony, read his outstanding book My Descent Into Death (2005). Storm’s other books include Lessons Learned: A Spiritual Journey (2014), It’s All Love (2014), and Befriend God: Life with Jesus (2019).

Table of Contents

  1. An Invitation to Hell from Strange Beings
  2. A Rescue from Hell by Jesus Christ
  3. The Life Review of Howard Storm
  4. The Future of the U.S. and the World
  5. Howard Storm Learns What Happens After Death
  6. Howard Storm Learns He Must Return to Earth
  7. Howard Storm Internet Links

1. An Invitation to Hell from Strange Beings

[Howard Storm was in intense agony and dying.]

Struggling to say goodbye to my wife, I wrestled with my emotions. Telling her that I loved her very much was as much of a goodbye as I could utter because of my emotional distress. Sort of relaxing and closing my eyes, I waited for the end. This was it, I felt. This was the big nothing, the big blackout, the one you never wake up from, the end of existence. I had absolute certainty that there was nothing beyond this life – because that was how really smart people understood it.

While I was undergoing this stress, prayer or anything like that never occurred to me. I never once thought about it. If I mentioned God’s name at all it was only as a profanity. For a time there was a sense of being unconscious or asleep. I’m not sure how long it lasted, but I felt really strange, and I opened my eyes. To my surprise I was standing up next to the bed, and I was looking at my body laying in the bed. My first reaction was, “This is crazy! I can’t be standing here looking down at myself. That’s not possible.”

This wasn’t what I expected, this wasn’t right. Why was I still alive? I wanted oblivion. Yet I was looking at a thing that was my body, and it just didn’t have that much meaning to me. Now knowing what was happening, I became upset. I started yelling and screaming at my wife, and she just sat there like a stone. She didn’t look at me, she didn’t move – and I kept screaming profanities to get her to pay attention. Being confused, upset, and angry, I tried to get the attention of my room-mate, with the same result. He didn’t react. I wanted this to be a dream, and I kept saying to myself, “This has got to be a dream.”

But I knew that it wasn’t a dream. I became aware that strangely I felt more alert, more aware, more alive than I had ever felt in my entire life. All my senses were extremely acute. Everything felt tingly and alive. The floor was cool and my bare feet felt moist and clammy. This had to be real. I squeezed my fists and was amazed at how much I was feeling in my hands just by making a fist. Then I heard my name. I heard, “Howard, Howard – come here.”

Wondering, at first, where it was coming from, I discovered that it was originating in the doorway. There were different voices calling me. I asked who they were, and they said, “We are here to take care of you. We will fix you up. Come with us.”

Asking, again, who they were, I asked them if they were doctors and nurses. They responded, “Quick, come see. You’ll find out.”

As I asked them questions they gave evasive answers. They kept giving me a sense of urgency, insisting that I should step through the doorway. With some reluctance I stepped into the hallway, and in the hallway I was in a fog, or a haze. It was a light-colored haze. It wasn’t a heavy haze. I could see my hand, for example, but the people who were calling me were 15 or 20 feet ahead, and I couldn’t see them clearly. They were more like silhouettes, or shapes, and as I moved toward them they backed off into the haze. As I tried to get close to them to identify them, they quickly withdrew deeper into the fog. So I had to follow into the fog deeper and deeper. These strange beings kept urging me to come with them.

I repeatedly asked them where we were going, and they responded, “Hurry up, you’ll find out.”

They wouldn’t answer anything. The only response was insisting that I hurry up and follow them. They told me repeatedly that my pain was meaningless and unnecessary. “Pain is bullshit,” they said.

I knew that we had been traveling for miles, but I occasionally had the strange ability to look back and see the hospital room. My body was still there lying motionless on the bed. My perspective at these times was as if I were floating above the room looking down. It seemed millions and millions of miles away. Looking back into the room, I saw my wife and my room-mate, and I decided they had not been able to help me so I would go with these people. Walking for what seemed to be a considerable distance, these beings were all around me. They were leading me through the haze. I don’t know how long. There was a real sense of timelessness about the experience. In a real sense I am unaware of how long it was, but it felt like a long time – maybe even days or weeks. As we traveled, the fog got thicker and darker, and the people began to change. At first they seemed rather playful and happy, but when we had covered some distance, a few of them began to get aggressive. The more questioning and suspicious I was, the more antagonistic and rude and authoritarian they became. They began to make jokes about my bare rear end which wasn’t covered by my hospital dicky and about how pathetic I was. I knew they were talking about me, but when I tried to find out exactly what they were saying they would say, “Shhhhh, he can hear you, he can hear you.”

Then, others would seem to caution the aggressive ones. It seemed that I could hear them warn the aggressive ones to be careful or I would be frightened away. Wondering what was happening, I continued to ask questions, and they repeatedly urged me to hurry and to stop asking questions. Feeling uneasy, especially since they continued to get aggressive, I considered returning, but I didn’t know how to get back. I was lost. There were no features that I could relate to. There was just the fog and a wet, clammy ground, and I had no sense of direction. All my communication with them took place verbally just as ordinary human communication occurs. They didn’t appear to know what I was thinking, and I didn’t know what they were thinking. What was increasingly obvious was that they were liars and help was farther away the more I stayed with them. Hours ago, I had hoped to die and end the torment of life. Now things were worse as I was forced by a mob of unfriendly and cruel people toward some unknown destination in the darkness. They began shouting and hurling insults at me, demanding that I hurry along. And they refused to answer any question. Finally, I told them that I wouldn’t go any farther. At that time they changed completely. They became much more aggressive and insisted that I was going with them. A number of them began to push and shove me, and I responded by hitting back at them.

A wild orgy of frenzied taunting, screaming and hitting ensued. I fought like a wild man. All the while it was obvious that they were having great fun. It seemed to be, almost, a game for them, with me as the center-piece of their amusement. My pain became their pleasure. They seemed to want to make me hurt by clawing at me and biting me. Whenever I would get one off me, there were five more to replace the one.

By this time it was almost complete darkness, and I had the sense that instead of there being twenty or thirty, there were an innumerable host of them. Each one seemed set on coming in for the sport they got from hurting me. My attempts to fight back only provoked greater merriment. They began to physically humiliate me in the most degrading ways. As I continued to fight on and on, I was aware that they weren’t in any hurry to win. They were playing with me just as a cat plays with a mouse. Every new assault brought howls of cacophony. Then at some point, they began to tear off pieces of my flesh. To my horror I realized I was being taken apart and eaten alive, slowly, so that their entertainment would last as long a possible. At no time did I ever have any sense that the beings who seduced and attacked me were anything other than human beings. The best way I can describe them is to think of the worst imaginable person stripped of every impulse to do good. Some of them seemed to be able to tell others what to do, but I had no sense of any structure or hierarchy in an organizational sense. They didn’t appear to be controlled or directed by anyone. Basically they were a mob of beings totally driven by unbridled cruelty and passions.

During our struggle I noticed that they seemed to feel no pain. Other than that they appeared to possess no special non-human or super-human abilities. Although during my initial experience with them I assumed that they were clothed, in our intimate physical contact I never felt any clothing whatsoever.

Fighting well and hard for a long time, ultimately I was spent. Lying there exhausted amongst them, they began to calm down since I was no longer the amusement that I had been. Most of the beings gave up in disappointment because I was no longer amusing, but a few still picked and gnawed at me and ridiculed me for no longer being any fun. By this time I had been pretty much taken apart. People were still picking at me, occasionally, and I just lay there all torn up, unable to resist.

Exactly what happened was … and I’m not going to try and explain this. From inside of me I felt a voice, my voice, say, “Pray to God.” My mind responded to that, “I don’t pray. I don’t know how to pray.” This is a guy lying on the ground in the darkness surrounded by what appeared to be dozens if not hundreds and hundreds of vicious creatures who had just torn him up. The situation seemed utterly hopeless, and I seemed beyond any possible help whether I believed in God or not. The voice again told me to pray to God. It was a dilemma since I didn’t know how. The voice told me a third time to pray to God. I started saying things like, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want … God bless America” and anything else that seemed to have a religious connotation. And these people went into a frenzy, as if I had thrown boiling oil all over them. They began yelling and screaming at me, telling me to quit, that there was no God, and no one could hear me. While they screamed and yelled obscenities, they also began backing away from me as if I were poison. As they were retreating, they became more rabid, cursing and screaming that what I was saying was worthless and that I was a coward. I screamed back at them, “Our Father who art in heaven,” and similar ideas. This continued for some time until, suddenly, I was aware that they had left. It was dark, and I was alone yelling things that sounded churchy. It was pleasing to me that these churchy sayings had such an effect on those awful beings.

Lying there for a long time, I was in such a state of hopelessness, and blackness, and despair, that I had no way of measuring how long it was. I was just lying there in an unknown place all torn and ripped. And I had no strength; it was all gone. It seemed as if I were sort of fading out, that any effort on my part would expend the last energy I had. My conscious sense was that I was perishing, or just sinking into the darkness.

2. A Rescue from Hell by Jesus Christ

Now I didn’t know if I was even in the world. But I did know that I was here. I was real, all my senses worked too painfully well. I didn’t know how I had arrived here. There was no direction to follow even if I had been physically able to move. The agony that I had suffered during the day was nothing compared to what I was feeling now. I knew then that this was the absolute end of my existence, and it was more horrible than anything I could possibly have imagined.

Then a most unusual thing happened. I heard very clearly, once again in my own voice, something that I had learned in nursery Sunday School. It was the little song, “Jesus loves me, yes I know …” and it kept repeating. I don’t know why, but all of a sudden I wanted to believe that. Not having anything left, I wanted to cling to that thought. And I, inside, screamed, “Jesus, please save me.” That thought was screamed with every ounce of strength and feeling left in me. When I did that, I saw, off in the darkness somewhere, the tiniest little star. Not knowing what it was, I presumed it must be a comet or a meteor, because it was moving rapidly. Then I realized it was coming toward me. It was getting very bright, rapidly. When the light came near, its radiance spilled over me, and I just rose up – not with my effort – I just lifted up. Then I saw – and I saw this very plainly – I saw all my wounds, all my tears, all my brokenness, melt away. And I became whole in this radiance. What I did was to cry uncontrollably. I was crying, not out of sadness, but because I was feeling things that I had never felt before in my life. Another thing happened. Suddenly I knew a whole bunch of things. I knew things … I knew that this light, this radiance, knew me. I don’t know how to explain to you that I knew it knew me, I just did. As a matter of fact, I understood that it knew me better than my mother or father did. The luminous entity that embraced me knew me intimately and began to communicate a tremendous sense of knowledge. I knew that he knew everything about me and I was being unconditionally loved and accepted.

The light conveyed to me that it loved me in a way that I can’t begin to express. It loved me in a way that I had never known that love could possibly be. He was a concentrated field of energy, radiant in splendor indescribable, except to say goodness and love. This was more loving than one can imagine. I knew that this radiant being was powerful. It was making me feel so good all over. I could feel its light on me – like very gentle hands around me. And I could feel it holding me. But it was loving me with overwhelming power. After what I had been through, to be completely known, accepted, and intensely loved by this Being of Light surpassed anything I had known or could have imagined. I began to cry and the tears kept coming and coming. And we, I and this light, went up and out of there.

We started going faster and faster, out of the darkness. Embraced by the light, feeling wonderful and crying, I saw off in the distance something that looked like the picture of a galaxy, except that it was larger and there were more stars than I had seen on Earth. There was a great center of brilliance. In the center there was an enormously bright concentration. Outside the center countless millions of spheres of light were flying about entering and leaving what was a great being-ness at the center. It was off in the distance. Then I … I didn’t say it, I thought it. I said, “Put me back.”

What I meant by telling the light to put me back, was to put me back into the pit. I was so ashamed of who I was, and what I had been all of my life, that all I wanted to do was hide in the darkness. I didn’t want to go toward the light anymore – I did; yet I didn’t. How many times in my life had I denied and scoffed at the reality before me, and how many thousands of times had I used it as a curse. What incredible intellectual arrogance to use the name as an insult. I was afraid to go closer. I was also aware that the incredible intensity of the emanations might disintegrate what I still experienced as my intact physical body. The being who was supporting me, my friend, was aware of my fear and reluctance and shame. For the first time he spoke to my mind in a male voice and told me that if I was uncomfortable we didn’t have to go closer. So we stopped where we were, still countless miles away from the Great being. For the first time, my friend, and I will refer to him in that context hereafter, said to me, “You belong here.”

(Note: Howard believes his friend was Jesus.)

Facing all the splendor made me acutely aware of my lowly condition. My response was: “No, you’ve made a mistake, put me back.” And he said, “We don’t make mistakes. You belong.”

Then he called out in a musical tone to the luminous entities who surrounded the great center. Several came and circled around us. During what follows some came and went but normally there were five or six and sometimes as many as eight with us. I was still crying. One of the first things these marvelous beings did was to ask, all with thought, “Are you afraid of us?” I told them I wasn’t. They said that they could turn their brilliance down and appear as people, and I told them to stay as they were. They were the most beautiful, the most …

As an aside, I’m an artist. There are three primary, three secondary, and six tertiary colors in the visible light spectrum. Here, I was seeing a visible light spectrum with at least 80 new primary colors. I was also seeing this brilliance. It’s disappointing for me to try and describe, because I can’t – I was seeing colors that I had never seen before. What these beings were showing me was their glory. I wasn’t really seeing them. And I was perfectly content. Having come from a world of shapes and forms, I was delighted with this new, formless, world. These beings were giving me what I needed at that time. To my surprise, and also distress, they seemed to be capable of knowing everything I was thinking. I didn’t know whether I would be capable of controlling my thoughts and keeping anything secret. We began to engage in thought exchange, conversation that was very natural, very easy and casual. I heard their voices clearly and individually. They each had a distinct personality with a voice, but they spoke directly to my mind, not my ears. And they used normal, colloquial English. Everything I thought, they knew. They all seemed to know and understand me very well and to be completely familiar with my thoughts and my past. I didn’t feel any desire to ask for someone I had known because they all knew me. Nobody could know me any better. It also didn’t occur to me to try to identify them as uncle or grandfather. It was like going to a large gathering of relatives at Christmas and not being quite able to remember their names or who they are married to or how they are connected to you. But you do know that you are with your family. I don’t know if they were related to me or not. It felt like they were closer to me than anyone I had ever known.

Throughout my conversation with the luminous beings, which lasted for what seemed like a very long time, I was being physically supported by the being in whom I had been engulfed. We were in a sense completely stationary yet hanging in space. Everywhere around us were countless radiant beings, like stars in the sky, coming and going. It was like a super magnified view of a galaxy super packed with stars. And in the giant radiance of the center they were packed so densely together that individuals could not be identified. Their selves were in such harmony with the Creator that they were really just one. One of the reasons, I was told, that all the countless beings had to go back to their source was to become invigorated with this sense of harmony and oneness. Being apart for too long a time diminished them and made them feel separate. Their greatest pleasure was to go back to the sources of all life.

Our initial conversation involved them simply trying to comfort me. Something that disturbed me was that I was naked. Somewhere in the darkness I’d lost my hospital gown. I was a human being. I had a body. They told me this was okay. They were quite familiar with my anatomy. Gradually I relaxed and stopped trying to cover my privates with my hands.

3. The Life Review of Howard Storm

Next, they wanted to talk about my life. To my surprise my life played out before me, maybe six or eight feet in front of me, from beginning to end.

The life review was very much in their control, and they showed me my life, but not from my point of view. I saw me in my life and this whole thing was a lesson, even though I didn’t know it at the time. They were trying to teach me something, but I didn’t know it was a teaching experience, because I didn’t know that I would be coming back. We just watched my life from beginning to the end. Some things they slowed down on, and zoomed in on and other things they went right through.

My life was shown in a way that I had never thought of before. All of the things that I had worked to achieve, the recognition that I had worked for, in elementary school, in high school, in college, and in my career, they meant nothing in this setting.

I could feel their feelings of sorrow and suffering, or joy, as my life’s review unfolded. They didn’t say that something was bad or good, but I could feel it. And I could sense all those things they were indifferent to. They didn’t, for example, look down on my high school shot-put record. They just didn’t feel anything towards it, nor towards other things which I had taken so much pride in.

What they responded to was how I had interacted with other people. That was the long and short of it. Unfortunately, most of my interactions with other people didn’t measure up with how I should have interacted, which was in a loving way. Whenever I did react during my life in a loving way they rejoiced.

Most of the time I found that my interactions with other people had been manipulative. During my professional career, for example, I saw myself sitting in my office, playing the college professor, while a student came to me with a personal problem. I sat there looking compassionate, and patient, and loving, while inside I was bored to death. I would check my watch under my desk as I anxiously waited for the student to finish.

I got to go through all those kinds of experiences in the company of these magnificent beings.

When I was a teenager my father’s career put him into a high-stress, twelve-hour-a-day job. Out of my resentment because of his neglect of me, when he came home from work, I would be cold and indifferent toward him. This made him angry, and it gave me further excuse to feel hatred toward him. He and I fought, and my mother would get upset. Most of my life I had felt that my father was the villain and I was the victim. When we reviewed my life I got to see how I had precipitated so much of that, myself. Instead of greeting him happily at the end of a day, I was continually putting thorns in him in order to justify my hurt.

I got to see when my sister had a bad night one night, how I went into her bedroom and put my arms around her. Not saying anything, I just lay there with my arms around her. As it turned out that experience was one of the biggest triumphs of my life.

The entire life’s review would have been emotionally destructive, and would have left me a psychotic person, if it hadn’t been for the fact that my friend, and my friend’s friends, were loving me during the unfolding of my life. I could feel that love.

Every time I got a little upset they turned the life’s review off for awhile, and they just loved me. Their love was tangible. You could feel it on your body, you could feel it inside you; their love went right through you. I wish I could explain it to you, but I can’t.

The therapy was their love, because my life’s review kept tearing me down. It was pitiful to watch, just pitiful. I couldn’t believe it. And the thing is, it got worse as it went on.

My stupidity and selfishness as a teenager only magnified as I became an adult – all under the veneer of being a good husband, a good father, and a good citizen. The hypocrisy of it all was nauseating. But through it all was their love.

When the review was finished they asked, “Do you want to ask any questions?” and I had a million questions.

I asked, for example, “What about the Bible?”

They responded, “What about it?”

I asked if it was true, and they said it was. Asking them why it was that when I tried to read it, all I saw were contradictions, they took me back to my life’s review again – something that I had overlooked. They showed me, for the few times I had opened the Bible, that I had read it with the idea of finding contradictions and problems. I was trying to prove to myself that it wasn’t worth reading. I observed to them that the Bible wasn’t clear to me. It didn’t make sense. They told me that it contained spiritual truth, and that I had to read it spiritually in order to understand it. It should be read prayerfully. My friends informed me that it was not like other books. They also told me, and I later found out this was true, that when you read it prayerfully, it talks to you. It reveals itself to you. And you don’t have to work at it anymore.

My friends answered lots of questions in funny ways. They really knew the whole tone of what I asked them, even before I got the questions out. When I thought of questions in my head, they really understood them.

I asked them, for example, which was the best religion. I was looking for an answer which was like, “Presbyterians.” I figured these guys were all Christians. The answer I got was:

“The best religion is the religion that brings you closest to God.”

Asking them if there was life on other planets, their surprising answer was that the universe was full of life.

4. The Future of the U.S. and the World

Because of my fear of a nuclear holocaust I asked if there was going to be a nuclear war in the world, and they said no. That astonished me, and I gave them this extensive explanation of how I had lived under the threat of nuclear war. That was one of the reasons I was who I was. I figured, when I was in this life, that it was all sort of hopeless; the world was going to blow up anyway, and nothing made much sense. In that context I felt I could do what I wanted, since nothing mattered.

They said, “No, there isn’t going to be any nuclear war.”

I asked if they were absolutely sure there wasn’t going to be nuclear war. They reassured me again, and I asked them how they could be so sure.

Their response was: “God loves the world.” They told me that at the most, one or two nuclear weapons might go off accidentally, if they weren’t destroyed, but there wouldn’t be a nuclear war.

I then asked them how come there had been so many wars. They said that they allowed those few to happen, out of all the wars that humanity tried to start. Out of all the wars that humans tried to create, they allowed a few, to bring people to their senses and to stop them.

Science, technology, and other benefits, they told me, had been gifts bestowed on humanity by them – through inspiration. People had literally been led to those discoveries, many of which had later been perverted by humanity to use for its own destruction.

We could do too much damage to the planet. And by the planet, they meant all of God’s creation. Not just the people, but the animals, the trees, the birds, the insects, everything.

They explained to me that their concern was for all the people of the world. They weren’t interested in one group getting ahead of other groups. They want every person to consider every other person greater than their own flesh. They want everyone to love everyone else, completely; more, even, than they love themselves. If someone, someplace else in the world hurts, then we should hurt, we should feel their pain. And we should help them. Our planet has evolved to the point, for the first time in our history, that we have the power to do that. We are globally linked. And we could become one people.

The people that they gave the privilege of leading the world into a better age, blew it. That was us, in the United States.

When I spoke with them about the future, and this might sound like a cop-out on my part, they made clear to me that we have free will.

If we change the way we are, then we can change the future which they showed me. They showed me a view of the future, at the time of my experience, based upon how we in the United States were behaving at that time. It was a future in which a massive worldwide depression would occur. If we were to change our behavior, however, then the future would be different.

Asking them how it would be possible to change the course of many people, I observed that it was difficult, if not impossible, to change anything on Earth. I expressed the opinion that it was a hopeless task to try.

My friends explained, quite clearly, that all it takes to make a change was one person. One person, trying, and then because of that, another person changing for the better. They said that the only way to change the world was to begin with one person. One will become two, which will become three, and so on. That’s the only way to affect a major change.

I inquired as to where the world would be going in an optimistic future one where some of the changes they desired were to take place.

The image of the future that they gave me then, and it was their image, not one that I created, surprised me. My image had previously been sort of like Star Wars, where everything was space age, plastics, and technology.

The future that they showed me was almost no technology at all. What everybody, absolutely everybody, in this euphoric future spent most of their time doing was raising children. The chief concern of people was children, and everybody considered children to be the most precious commodity in the world.

And when a person became an adult, there was no sense of anxiety, nor hatred, nor competition.

There was this enormous sense of trust and mutual respect. If a person, in this view of the future, became disturbed, then the community of people all cared about the disturbed person falling away from the harmony of the group. Spiritually, through prayer and love, the others would elevate the afflicted person.

What people did with the rest of their time was that they gardened, with almost no physical effort. They showed me that plants, with prayer, would produce huge fruits and vegetables.

People, in unison, could control the climate of the planet through prayer. Everybody would work with mutual trust and the people would call the rain, when needed, and the sun to shine.

Animals lived with people, in harmony.

People, in this best of all worlds, weren’t interested in knowledge; they were interested in wisdom. This was because they were in a position where anything they needed to know, in the knowledge category, they could receive simply through prayer. Everything, to them, was solvable. They could do anything they wanted to do.

In this future, people had no wanderlust, because they could, spiritually, communicate with everyone else in the world. There was no need to go elsewhere. They were so engrossed with where they were and the people around them that they didn’t have to go on vacation. Vacation from what? They were completely fulfilled and happy.

Death, in this world, was a time when the individual had experienced everything that he or she needed to experience. To die meant to lie down and let go; then the spirit would rise up, and the community would gather around. There would be a great rejoicing, because they all had insight into the heavenly realm, and the spirit would join with the angels that came down to meet it. They could see the spirit leave and knew that it was time for the spirit to move on; it had outgrown the need for growth in this world. Individuals who died had achieved all they were capable of in this world in terms of love, appreciation, understanding, and working in harmony with others.

The sense I got of this beautiful view of the world’s future was as a garden, God’s garden. And in this garden of the world, full of all beauty, were people. The people were born into this world to grow in their understanding of the Creator. Then to shed this skin, this shell, in the physical world, and to graduate and move up into heaven there, to have a more intimate and growing relationship with God.

(Note: In Howard Storm’s book, “My Descent Into Death” (2000), Storm describes the future of the United States as given to him by light beings he encountered during his NDE in 1985.)

The Future of the United States

Howard Storm recorded how his light being friends told him, in 1985, that the Cold War would soon end, because, “God is changing the hearts of people to love around the world.”

Storm states, “Since the time in 1985 when I was told these things about the future the Cold War ended with little bloodshed due to the hearts of people being unwilling to tolerate oppressive regimes.”

Storm described what the light beings told him concerning the way things will be on Earth in about 2185.

He asked the light beings the question, “Will the United States be the leader of the world in this change?”

The light beings replied, “The United States has been given the opportunity to be the teacher for the world, but much is expected of those to whom much has been given. The United States has been given more of everything than any country in the history of the world and it has failed to be generous with the gifts.

“If the United States continues to exploit the rest of the world by greedily consuming the world’s resources, the United States will have God’s blessing withdrawn.

“Your country will collapse economically which will result in civil chaos. Because of the greedy nature of the people, you will have people killing people for a cup of gasoline.

“The world will watch in horror as your country is obliterated by strife. The rest of the world will not intervene because they have been victims of your exploitation. They will welcome the annihilation of such selfish people.

“The United States must change immediately and become the teachers of goodness and generosity to the rest of the world.

“Today the United States is the primary merchant of war and the culture of violence that you export to the world. This will come to an end because you have the seeds of your own destruction within you. Either you will destroy yourselves or God will bring it to an end if there isn’t a change.”

Storm states, “I don’t know if the richest country in the history of the world is doomed to lose God’s blessing or if the people of the United States will become the moral light of the world. How long will God allow the injustice to continue? The future lies in the choices we make right now. God is intervening in direct ways in human events. May God’s will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven!”

Howard Storm’s light being friends told him more about the new world to come. According to them, God wished to usher in the kingdom within the next two hundred years. In order to do so, God had rescinded some of the free will given to creatures, in favor of more divine control over human events. This new world order, according to Howard, will resemble some near-death descriptions of heaven. People will live in such peace and harmony and love that communication will be telepathic, travel instantaneous and the need for clothing and shelter eliminated. The lion will indeed lie down with the lamb.

5. Howard Storm Learns What Happens After Death

I asked my friend, and his friends, about death – what happens when we die?

They said that when a loving person dies, angels come down to meet him, and they take him up – gradually, at first, because it would be unbearable for that person to be instantly exposed to God.

Knowing what’s inside of every person, the angels don’t have to prove anything by showing off. They know what each of us needs, so they provide that. In some cases it may be a heavenly meadow, and in another, something else. If a person needs to see a relative, the angels will bring that relative. If the person really likes jewels, they will show the person jewels. We see what is necessary for our introduction into the spirit world, and those things are real, in the heavenly, the divine sense.

They gradually educate us as spirit beings, and bring us into heaven. We grow and increase, and grow and increase, and shed the concerns, desires, and base animal stuff that we have been fighting much of our life. Earthly appetites melt away. It is no longer a struggle to fight them. We become who we truly are, which is part of the divine.

This happens to loving people, people who are good and love God. They made it clear to me that we don’t have any knowledge or right to judge anybody else – in terms of that person’s heart relationship to God. Only God knows what’s in a person’s heart. Someone whom we think is despicable, God might know as a wonderful person. Similarly, someone we think is good, God may see as a hypocrite, with a black heart. Only God knows the truth about every individual.

God will ultimately judge every individual. And God will allow people to be dragged into darkness with like-minded creatures. I have told you, from my personal experience, what goes on in there. I don’t know from what I saw anymore than that, but it’s my suspicion that I only saw the tip of the iceberg.

I deserved to be where I was – I was in the right place at the right time. That was the place for me, and the people I was around were perfect company for me. God allowed me to experience that, and then removed me, because he saw something redeeming in putting me through the experience. It was a way to purge me. People who are not allowed to be pulled into darkness, because of their loving nature, are attracted upwards, toward the light.

I never saw God, and I was not in heaven. It was way out in the suburbs, and these are the things that they showed me. We talked for a long time, about many things, and then I looked at myself. When I saw me, I was glowing, I was radiant. I was becoming beautiful not nearly as beautiful as them but I had a certain sparkle that I never had before.

6. Howard Storm Learns He Must Return to Earth

Not being ready to face the Earth again, I told them that I wished to be with them forever. I said, “I’m ready, I’m ready to be like you and be here forever. This is great. I love it. I love you. You’re wonderful.”

I knew that they loved me and knew everything about me. I knew that everything was going to be okay from now on. I asked if I could get rid of my body, which was definitely a hindrance, and become a being like them with the powers they had shown me. They said, “No, you have to go back.”

They explained to me that I was very underdeveloped and that it would be of great benefit to return to my physical existence to learn. In my human life I would have an opportunity to grow so that the next time I was with them I would be more compatible. I would need to develop important characteristics to become like them and to be involved with the work that they do. Responding that I couldn’t go back, I tried to argue with them, and I observed that if I bear that thought the thought that I might wind up in the pit again I pled with them to stay.

My friends then said, “Do you think that we expect you to be perfect, after all the love we feel for you, even after you were on Earth blaspheming God, and treating everyone around you like dirt? And this, despite the fact that we were sending people to try and help you, to teach you the truth? Do you really think we would be apart from you now?”

I asked them, “But what about my own sense of failure? You’ve shown me how I can be better, and I’m sure I can’t live up to that. I’m not that good.” Some of my self-centeredness welled up and I said, “No way. I’m not going back.”

They said, “There are people who care about you; your wife, your children, your mother and father. You should go back for them. Your children need your help.”

I said, “You can help them. If you make me go back there are things that just won’t work. If I go back there and make mistakes I won’t be able to stand it because you’ve shown me I could be more loving and more compassionate and I’ll forget. I’ll be mean to someone or I’ll do something awful to someone. I just know it’s going to happen because I’m a human being. I’m going to blow it and I won’t be able to stand it. I’ll feel so bad I’ll want to kill myself and I can’t do that because life is precious. I might just go catatonic. So you can’t send me back.”

They assured me that mistakes are an acceptable part of being human. “Go,” they said, “and make all the mistakes you want. Mistakes are how you learn.” As long as I tried to do what I knew was right, they said, I would be on the right path. If I made a mistake, I should fully recognize it as a mistake, then put it behind me and simply try not to make the same mistake again. The important things is to try one’s best, keep one’s standards of goodness and truth, and not compromise those to win people’s approval.

“But,” I said, “mistakes make me feel bad.”

They said, “We love you the way you are, mistakes and all. And you can feel our forgiveness. You can feel our love any time you want to.”

I said, “I don’t understand. How do I do that?”

“Just turn inward,” they said. “Just ask for our love and we’ll give it to you if you ask from the heart.”

They advised me to recognize it when I made a mistake and to ask for forgiveness. Before I even got the words out of my mouth, I would be forgiven but, I would have to accept the forgiveness. My belief in the principal of forgiveness must be real, and I would have to know that the forgiveness was given. Confessing, either in public or in private, that I had made a mistake, I should then ask for forgiveness. After that, it would be an insult to them if I didn’t accept the forgiveness. I shouldn’t continue to go around with a sense of guilt, and I should not repeat errors I should learn from my mistakes.

“But,” I said, “how will I know what is the right choice? How will I know what you want me to do?”

They replied, “We want you to do what you want to do. That means making choices and there isn’t necessarily any right choice. There are a spectrum of possibilities, and you should make the best choice you can from those possibilities. If you do that, we will be there helping you.”

I didn’t give in easily. I argued that back there was full of problems and that here was everything I could possibly want. I questioned my ability to accomplish anything they would consider important in my world. They said the world is a beautiful expression of the Supreme being. One can find beauty or ugliness depending on what one directs one’s mind toward. They explained that the subtle and complex development of our world was beyond my comprehension, but I would be a suitable instrument for the Creator. Every part of the creation, they explained, is infinitely interesting because it is a manifestation of the Creator. A very important opportunity for me would be to explore this world with wonder and enjoyment.

They never gave me a direct mission or purpose. Could I build a shrine or cathedral for God? They said those monuments were for humanity. They wanted me to live my life to love people not things. I told them I wasn’t good enough to represent what I had just experienced with them on a worldly level. They assured me I would be given appropriate help whenever I might need it. All I had to do is ask.

The luminous beings, my teachers, were very convincing. I was also acutely aware that not far away was the Great being, what I knew to be the Creator. They never said, “He wants it this way,” but that was implied behind everything they said. I didn’t want to argue too much because the Great Entity was so wonderful and so awesome. The love that was emanated was overwhelming.

Presenting my biggest argument against coming back into the world, I told them that it would break my heart, and I would die, if I had to leave them and their love. Coming back would be so cruel, I said, that I couldn’t stand it. I mentioned that the world was filled with hate and competition, and I didn’t want to return to that maelstrom. I couldn’t bear to leave them. My friends observed that they had never been apart from me. I explained that I hadn’t been aware of their presence, and if I went back I, again, wouldn’t know they were there. Explaining how to communicate with them, they told me to get myself quiet, inside, and to ask for their love; then that love would come, and I would know they were there. They said, “You won’t be away from us. We’re with you. We’ve always been with you. We always will be right with you all the time.”

I said, “But how do I know that? You tell me that, but when I go back there it’s just going to be a nice theory.”

They said, “Any time you need us we’ll be there for you.”

I said, “You mean like you’ll just appear?”

They said, “No, no. We’re not going to intervene in your life in any big way unless you need us. We’re just going to be there and you’ll feel our presence, you’ll feel our love.”

After that explanation I ran out of arguments, and I said I thought I could go back. And, just like that, I was back. Returning to my body, the pain was there, only worse than before.”

(Howard Storm’s near-death experience ends here.)

Returning to life wasn’t easy for Storm. In addition to his physical problems, he had to face the usual array of uncomprehending and insensitive responses to his new spiritual condition. It began in the hospital, he said. Howard states, “I felt this overwhelming sense of love for everyone. I wanted to hug and kiss everyone, but I couldn’t even sit up. I would say, ‘Oh you’re so beautiful’ to anyone and everyone. I was the joke of the floor. People found it very amusing.”

Like other near-death experiencers, Storm sense of empathy expanded, as well as his compassion. He could, he said, feel the emotions of others more powerfully than his own. Howard decided to enter the Christian ministry after his near-death experience.

7. Howard Storm Internet Links

(1) The Official Home Page of Howard Storm – www.howardstorm.com
(2) About Howard Storm the Artist – www.howardstorm.com
(3) Contact Form for Howard Storm – www.howardstorm.com
(4) Twelve Gifts – www.howardstorm.com
(5) Gallery of Paintings by Howard Storm – www.howardstorm.com
(6) Books by Howard Storm – www.howardstorm.com
(7) My Descent Into Death: A Second Chance at Life by Howard Storm (Hardcover) – www.amazon.com
(8) My Descent Into Death: A Second Chance at Life by Howard Storm (Kindle edition) – www.amazon.com
(9) The NDE and Life Changes (2 audiocassettes) – Rev. Howard Storm speaks at the 1998 IANDS North American Conference. Howard discusses his experience near-death and the life-changing potential of the NDE.
(10) The Message of the Near-Death Experience (audiocassette) – Rev. Howard Storm speaks at the 1999 IANDS North American Conference. Howard discusses his experience and how the NDE is an individual’s radical transformation along the spiritual journey to God. Howard understands that each of us is at a different stage of the journey. He will speak about the spiritual journey from his own experience, his study of NDEs, and theology. He has shared his story with many audiences, including those of national and regional television programs.
(11) Excerpt from “My Descent Into Death” by Howard Storm – www.usatoday.com
(12) Howard Storm Wikipedia article – www.wikipedia.org
(13) Edward A. Riess recorded the following talk by Howard Storm which reportedly took place in the fall of 1987. It is one of the first public talks given by Howard in which he describes his now famous near-death experience. Special thanks to Ed for providing this important audio recording. Howard Storm (Part 1) (MP3) Howard Storm (Part 2) (MP3) Howard Storm (Part 3) (MP3) – www.ndestories.org
(14) Howard Storm on YouTube – www.youtube.com
(15) Howard Storm Interview on Coast to Coast AM – www.coasttocoastam.com

Categories
Christianity Religion

Don Brubaker’s Near-Death Experience

Don Brubaker led a relatively normal life; happily married with three children and a busy broadcasting career, he rarely questioned life and death. After his heart attack and near-death experience, however, everything changed.

Brubaker was clinically dead for 45 minutes. During this time he experienced the glory of heaven – and he also journeyed into hell. This is the true story of one man’s journey into the afterlife.

What follows is an excerpt from his book, Absent From The Body. You will find his near-death experience to be unique among other near-death experiences because of the fact that he actually travels through time to experience one of history’s greatest moments – the crucifixion of Christ.


There was a sudden whoosh, and I saw a large glowing red ball approaching me, almost like the light on the front of a train. In that instant, as the red ball rushed toward me, I knew terror like never before. As it approached, I realized that it was really a large, eerie red eye. It stopped when it got close to me, and then began traveling alongside me through the tunnel. I could hardly stand to look at it, its gaze was so piercing. It felt like it was looking right into my mind, into my very soul.

Still I was plunging into the depths of this horrible tunnel. I glanced at the walls of the tunnel, walls of deep black whirring past me like video footage on fast forward. Yes, I was still there, still falling millions of miles into some terrible pit. And yet, there I was, lying deathlike on a hospital bed. I could see myself there, and it panicked me all the more.

The eye – suddenly I realized that I was seeing the hospital room through the red eye. It was absurd to me that I hadn’t realized this before – and yet I could hardly process my thoughts. It was all too bizarre.

Panic started building in my mind as it began to dawn on me where I was, suspended in this dank tube. As the red eye glowered at me, the thoughts began to arrange themselves, coalescing slowly. Suddenly, the idea was undeniable.

I was in hell.

The realization swept over me like an ocean wave, unstoppable though I tried desperately to dismiss it. Hell! I didn’t even believe in hell! And here I was? This was it?

I had only the briefest moment to react to the thought when a deep, comfortable voice echoed through the tunnel.

“Have no fear, my son,” the voice said with a certain resounding nobility, “for I am with you. I have chosen you to write about the experiences you will go through.”

It was too unreal. I had never been given to believe in “missions from God” and the like anyway. And yet here was a voice that I knew was God‘s telling me I had been selected for this nightmare!

But if this is God, why is God here, in this darkness?

Again, the voice responded to my unspoken doubts.

“You’ll first experience hell,” God said evenly, with a tone of complete control, “to prove to you the reality of evil. You’ve only believed that there was goodness. You must see for yourself that hell is real. And then you can tell others about the awful reality of hell, and about the beautiful glory of heaven.”

There was a low murmuring all around me, as if I were in the midst of a huge group of grumbling people. Before me, suddenly, stood a huge black door. The air began to glow and shimmer with oppressive heat.

I watched as the door opened upon a vast, flaming oven. I felt myself drawn like a magnet into the center of the flames – although I was terrified to go in. There were hundreds of others already there, roasting to death, but not dead. Once I was inside, the door slammed shut behind me. The worst, dreadfulest feelings sloshed around inside me, like so much poison.

“Is this actually what hell is?” I asked aloud.

I passed my hands through blue-tipped flames. The fire itself was cold, and it did not hurt me. From nowhere, a thought flashed through my mind: Death, where is thy sting? God, even in the midst of this holocaust, was truly in control of everything. I began to laugh, and the others laughed with me. Our laughter bounced off the walls of the oven and echoed over the roar of the flames.

And instantly, as if someone had flipped the channel selector, I was alone again in darkness.

I sighed, wearily. I could not regulate my feelings, and now I was feeling abandoned and lonely. I longed to be with my family. I wanted to tell them how much I loved them. I needed to tell everyone how much God loved them!

“You will tell others about me, Don,” the voice of God said, out of nowhere. “That is your mission. That is why you are going through these experiences.”

I listened patiently.

“You must learn to love others, to have compassion and to forgive them. You must live that others may see me in you.”

In a flash, I could recall every person I had ever held a grudge against, every quarrel I had ever left unresolved.

Suddenly I am enveloped and floating in a deep, electric blue sky. It is the most amazing and beautiful blue I have ever seen. It feels velvety soft. The air seems to sparkle with purity. I am at peace, feeling restful, serene.

I perceived a light moving toward me. It is bluish white and gives off small yellow flashes and sparks at the edges, growing in intensity until it is almost too intense to look into.

And there is a figure in the middle of the light. My very being leaps in recognition that this is Jesus Christ. It’s Christ coming toward me. I gaze at his extraordinarily handsome face. The eyes are full of love and acceptance. I am immersed in a feeling of joy and hope and all good things.

Christ’s voice rings gently, like the sound of tiny, pleasant silver bells.

“Don, do you want to stay here, or do you wish to go back?”

I hesitated to answer. I am wrapped in a warm sense of love and peace. The color is such a pleasure to see and feel. And Jesus indicates no impatience.

I realize that I am grinning like a little boy getting his first puppy.

I am seeing God’s own Son. This is the Lord. This is Jesus!

Suddenly, a soft sense of sadness creeps into my thoughts. I think of my dear family. I can sense the sorrow they would feel if I were gone. I know I must go back to them, that I have work to do.

I wonder about that. It was God who gave me my mission. Why, then, if God wants me to minister to others, is Jesus offering me an opportunity to stay here in heaven?

The answer surfaced from my own thoughts. This is a test. Again, Christ speaks: “Don, do you want to stay or go back?”

“I want to go back,” I answered immediately, knowing I made the right choice.

Jesus smiles.

“You have chosen well. Go. I am with you,” Jesus says gently.

Everything changes again, as if someone has turned a page in a book. I see myself in the midst of a huge crowd. It’s not a modern crowd. They are dressed in the clothes of Bible times. I look down at myself. So am I!

The crowd seems to be jeering at me. Why? Then I see more: I help a man, someone who has been brutally whipped and abused. The crowd is upset because I am offering assistance. But the beaten man has eyes that burn with love and compassion.

How could anyone want to hurt this man? I lift the man off of the dusty road to his feet.

The man turns, and from somewhere he lifts a huge wooden cross to his back. The man begins moving toward a hill. The hill is called Golgotha. With each new moment, I realize more and more clearly what I am seeing.

These people are going to crucify Christ.

I follow, stunned, I watch in horror as Jesus is nailed to the cross, the spikes pounded through his wrists and the sensitive insteps of his feet. I watch helpless as the cross is propped up and dropped into position with an ugly thud. I cover my face with my hands.

If only others could see what I’ve seen. The world would get on its knees … The world would be at peace.

(Don Brubaker’s near-death experience ends here)

Categories
Research Conclusions Science

Hell and the Near-Death Experience

As with heaven, near-death experiencers have witnessed numerous variations of hell realms. These hell realms are not for judgment nor punishment, nor are they eternal. They are states of mind which acts as a “time out” condition for reflection, education and purification of negative thought patterns. We can also witness numerous manifestations of these hell realms right here on earth. You can see people rotting away in prison; alcoholics passed out on Skid Row; addicts out of their minds in crack houses; people killing each other out of hatred; unsatisfied people living in luxury; all kinds of hellish conditions involving unnecessary suffering. While hell realms can be seen on earth, they are merely a reflection of the inner hell within people. Hell realms in the spirit world are the perfect outward manifestation of the inner hellish condition within people. This is because when we die, we “step into” the inner spirit realm we have cultivated within us our entire life. And because time does not exist in the spirit realms, a person’s stay in these realms can seem like an eternity or a second. People in these hellish spirit realms remain in this condition for however long best serves their spiritual development. The way out of these hellish realms is to have a willingness to see the light and seek love. Eventually, like prodigal sons, every suffering soul in these hellish realms will see the light and heaven.

Between the earth realm and the heavenly realms, there exists two hellish realms known as (1) the earthbound realm (which this article is about) and (2) the Void. Both of these realms can be considered hell because they are the two darker levels. This web page will focus only on the earthbound realm. The earthbound realm is a hellish dimension that overlaps the physical realm. It is a dimension where souls who are bound by some strong earthly fixation, may remain indefinitely until they are able to extract themselves from this fixation. After death, most souls expand very quickly through the dark hellish realms of the earthbound realm and the Void, by means of the tunnel and on to higher realms.

The following are highlights concerning the earthbound hell which will be described. It is a state of mind where earthly, physical desires cannot be satisfied and is due to a lack of spiritual development. This hellish state of mind is the result of living a hellish life. The ways to escape from the earthbound realm will be discussed and the reasons why negativity must be removed in order to enter heaven. NDE examples of the earthbound realm, including traditional hell, fire and brimstone NDEs, will be presented. Religious descriptions of the earthbound realm and scriptures suggesting universal salvation will be provided here. Even more Biblical and NDE evidence of universal salvation can be found at the link provided here.

Table of Contents

  1. Hell is a state of mind
  2. Hell is having earthly desires that can’t be satisfied
  3. Hell is caused by a lack of spiritual development
  4. Hell is caused by living a hellish life
  5. Hell is neither condemnation nor judgment
  6. How to escape from the earthbound realm of hell
  7. Negativity must be removed to enter heaven
  8. NDE examples of the earthbound realm
  9. NDE examples of traditional hellfire and brimstone
  10. Various religious descriptions of the earthbound realm
  11. Hell is for temporary purification (like purgatory) not eternal damnation
  12. NDE support for universal salvation
  13. Biblical support for universal salvation

1. Hell is a state of mind

“Hell is a state of mind. When we die, we are bound by what we think.” (Angie Fenimore)

“Hell is a psychological condition which represents the hellish inner thoughts and desires within some souls. In hell, souls become uninhibited and their hellish condition is fully manifested. No demons are there to inflict punishment. Each soul acts out their own anger and hatred by warring and tormenting others.” (Emanuel Swedenborg)

“The hell of hells is knowing you were your own devil.” (Arthur Yensen)

“It is your mind which creates hell.” (Dr. Timothy Leary)

“Hell refers to levels of negative thought-forms that reside in close proximity to the earth realm. It is where we go to work out, or remain within, our hang-ups, addictions, fears, guilt, angers, rage, regrets, self-pity, arrogance, or whatever else blocks us from the power of our own light.” (P.M.H. Atwater)

“Hell is a level of consciousness which can be experienced in or out of the body.” (Arthur Yensen)

2. Hell is having earthly desires that can’t be satisfied

“Hell is a place where everyone retains the physical desires they were fixated on without a way to satisfy them. Hell is real hell for anyone who lives only to satisfy their selfish desires.” (Arthur Yensen)

“One level of hell exists right here on earth where an earthly desire is craved but cannot be satisfied.” (Dr. George Ritchie)

“Hell contains people who have been alcoholics or drug addicts, who find these cravings still with them after death. They stay near the earth to be near alcoholics or drug addicts who are still in the physical body, in order to participate vicariously in the sensations which alcohol and drugs give. They can be helped in the world beyond to clear their soul bodies of these cravings so that they, too, may go on and progress. However, this is a long and tedious process.” (Margaret Tweddell)

There is no geographic hell. We build our hells right here in our own lives. (Harry Hone)

“The quality of life after death for a suicide is determined by their motive for killing themselves. Those who kill themselves in order to hurt someone, get revenge, or who kill themselves out of hatred for someone else, will haunt the living by being aware of every horrible consequence their suicide had on others. Those who, because of mental illness, confusion, or a terminal illness, take their own life, are allowed many opportunities from God to grow in love just as any other person would who had not committed suicide.” (Dr. George Ritchie)

Earthbound souls linger around the living, usually to try to satisfy a physical desire. (Betty Bethards)

If an addiction isn’t conquered before death, it could keep your soul earthbound. (Ruth Montgomery)

Your personality – your likes and dislikes, your hopes, your fears-are still attached to you, although in a more nebulous form that when you are on earth in a physical body. (Margaret Tweddell)

3. Hell is caused by a lack of spiritual development

“Hell is a lack of wisdom and not moving forward to progress. Hell is not a place.” (Cecil)

“Hell is a spiritual condition we create by being away from God until we choose to return to God. Hell is a spiritual condition that is totally devoid of love.” (Sandra Rogers)

“Hell is the pain, anguish, hurt and anger that you have caused others or who suffered as a result of your actions/words to others. Hell is what you have created for yourself within your soul by turning your back on unconditional love, compassion and peace.” (Tina)

“What people call hell is really a spiritual time-out condition in which souls reflect and work out the things that blocked them from the power of their own light.” (P.M.H. Atwater)

“Concerning hell, heat is molecules in motion, while cold is their lack of motion. Likewise, love is a fast vibration of the soul, while hate is a slower vibration. Complete love would be God, while complete hate would be death, leaving the soul extinct.” (Arthur Yensen)

“Heaven and hell are spiritual states of being. They are not static states but are states in which there can be growth and progress toward ultimate wholeness of being.” (Margaret Tweddell)

“The difference between life on earth and life in the spirit is that your spirit world corresponds to your inner nature.” (Nora Spurgin)

“As there are degrees of heaven or hell on earth, so there are degrees of heaven or hell in the spiritual world.” (Margaret Tweddell)

“After death people gravitate into homogeneous groups according to the rate of their soul’s vibrations much like throwing a small pebble into a threshing machine. It goes into the box that fits its proper size and weight. After death, we are sorted by the high or low vibrations of our soul. Everyone goes where they fit in! High vibrations indicate love and spiritual development, while low vibrations indicate debasement and evil. All one has to do is to love so unselfishly that their soul-vibrations rise high enough to fit into heaven.” (Arthur Yensen)

“An extreme neglect of spiritual matters on earth can result in an earthbound condition. This is the condition people often associate with ghosts.” (Dr. Michael Newton)

“People who have an orientation of hate, for instance, find themselves unable to appreciate a realm of love and harmony. Therefore, they continue in their state of bitterness and are ‘closed’ to the glory which exists around them.” (Margaret Tweddell)

“Those who have stunted their spiritual growth through an undeveloped or misdirected lifestyle, have led a purely self-centered life or have hurt other people, their spiritual environment will reflect something of these realities. A self-centered life on earth places one in an area of the spirit world with like-minded people who have yet to learn the value of unselfishness for the advancement of the soul.” (Nora Spurgin)

“The spiritual state of being you have on earth is the spiritual state you take with you to the world beyond when you die. There is no sudden metamorphosis from an idle person into an active person, from a nonreligious person into a religious person, from a money-centered person into a God-centered person. This is not an automatic thing.” (Margaret Tweddell)

“Environments distant from God are said to be dark, cold and inhospitable. Indeed, they reflect the spirits of those dwelling there.” (Nora Spurgin)

“We create our own hell within us while we live on earth. After death, we step into that hell.” (Kevin Williams)

4. Hell is caused by living a hellish life

“In the spirit world, everyone lives in the kind of a heaven or hell that they have prepared for themselves while on earth.” (Arthur Yensen)

“People are in hell before they die. At death, we are gathered together with those who think as we do.” (Angie Fenimore)

“The general rule of thumb is this: hellish life, hellish afterlife – heavenly life, heavenly afterlife. Death will not change a hellish life into a heavenly afterlife, nor does it change a heavenly life into a hellish afterlife.” (Dr. Melvin Morse)

“Occasionally, the encounter with light is perceived as a reflection of the fires of hell.” (IANDS FAQ)

“Physical desires can be carried over into the afterlife but physical desires cannot be satisfied there. This can create a hellish condition for those who have them.” (Nora Spurgin)

5. Hell is neither condemnation nor judgment

“There is no condemnation in hell, only the outworking of our own misjudgments, mistakes, misalignments, or misappropriations.” (P.M.H. Atwater)

“Those with too many negative thought patterns might flee the light of God after death because they are too ashamed or too afraid to have their inner thoughts and negative natures revealed to everyone.” (Dr. George Ritchie)

“After his death, Jesus descended into the lower afterlife regions to ‘unlock’ the gates of hell. But souls still remaining there – for them – the gates are locked from the inside. Nevertheless, NDE evidence reveals Jesus continues to rescue souls from hell during a near-death experience.” (Kevin Williams)

“I saw the reasons for all of my actions and understood why I did what I had done. There was a place for all of my positive and negative actions. There was no action that was necessarily wrong, but there were actions I took that did not enhance positive growth.” (David Oakford)

“In hell, we have the opportunity to either revel in our folly or come to grips with the reality of consequences — that every action has a reaction, what is inflicted on another can be returned in kind. This is not a punishment for our sins but a confrontation with any distortion of our sense of values and priorities.” (P.M.H. Atwater)

“Just knowing the bad mistakes you made through your carelessness or your selfishness is a hell. You don’t need a devil prodding you with a fork.” (Margaret Tweddell)

“God does not condemn anyone to hell and there is no eternal damnation. We have the ability to condemn ourselves to the hell we create within ourselves.” (Kevin Williams)

“The God of love suffers for those in darkness, ignorance and misery.” (Nora Spurgin)

“Many people believe that those who don’t give verbal assent to Jesus are cast headlong into eternal fire to burn forever. It should be common sense to anyone that a God of love would never treat people this way. As Jesus said, even an evil father knows how to give good things to children.” (Kevin Williams)

6. How to escape from the earthbound realm of hell

While Mellen-Thomas Benedict was in hell, he called out to the light and the light opened up and formed a tunnel that insulated him from all that fear and pain. (Mellen-Thomas Benedict)

“The way out of these hellish realms is to have a willingness to see the light and seek love for others and God.” (Angie Fenimore)

To escape the darkness, you must cry out to God. Then the light will appear. (Howard Storm)

“From what may anyone be saved? Only from themselves! That is, their individual hell. They dig it with their own desires.” (Edgar Cayce)

“The gates of hell are open. Those in hell will eventually join up, link hands, and walk out of hell together.” (Mellen-Thomas Benedict)

“We stay in hell for however long best serves our development. We do not leave until we have changed our attitudes and perceptions.” (P.M.H. Atwater)

“Souls in the hellish realms do not have the same powers to progress and achieve joy that others with more light in the higher afterlife realms have. Their progress is limited – a result of divine justice. However, these souls can choose to grow if they wish.” (RaNelle Wallace)

“The living have auras of light surrounding their bodies. If the aura becomes distorted through alcohol or drugs, an earthbound soul can temporarily possess the body.” (Dr. George Ritchie)

“There are no permanent sinners. Even the saddest example of humanity can become the greatest.” (Harry Hone)

“Accept the greater power around you and let go of the earth and its desires.” (Margaret Tweddell)

“Based on a soul’s desire and willingness, those in hell are given an opportunity for an upward journey.” (Nora Spurgin)

“To appreciate heaven well it is good for a man to have some fifteen minutes of hell.” (Will Carleton)

7. Negativity must be removed to enter heaven

“At this point, I could feel this group of beings eliminate or pull from me the negative energy of my life in the physical world and fill me with love beyond what I can describe.” (Sherry Gideon)

“After death, if a soul has been too bad, they go to a realm of lower vibrations where their kind of thoughts can live. If they entered heaven, they would be annihilated by the Master-Vibration of God. This is because souls gravitate into groups according to the rate of their soul’s vibrations. If the percent of discord in a soul is small, it can be eliminated by God; then the remaining good can live on in heaven. However, if the percentage of bad were too high, this couldn’t be done, and the person would have to gravitate to a lower level and live with people of his own kind. Birds of a feather, flock together.” (Arthur Yensen)

“Since I had lived such a totally self-serving existence, I was in a hellish state of indescribable agony and sorrow. I was in shear agony. I still remember being on my knees while this blinding light broke and crushed my false-ego. This breaking process was extremely painful.” (Daniel Rosenblit)

“Negative thoughts cannot be expressed in the heavenly realms – only positive ones.” (Ned Dougherty)

“God is the Master-Vibration who neutralizes all negative thoughts so that you think only the good thoughts, such as love, freedom and happiness.” (Arthur Yensen)

“God’s love looks at all of us throughout the eyes of eternity. God’s overriding desire is to purify the darkness of our souls, irrespective of the suffering God has to put us through to achieve that end. However, it will greatly minimize our suffering if we learn to accept instead of fighting against our situation in life.” (Daniel Rosenblit)

“There are earthbound spirits of low vibrations, whom we may regard as devils because they annoy us through mental telepathy. These demons tune in on us through our low vibrations of hate, fear and greed. They can be tuned out with unselfish love, or if necessary be chased away by the stronger spirit of Jesus Christ.” (Arthur Yensen)

“The only thing that burns in hell is the part of you that won’t let go of your life: your memories, your attachments. They burn them all away, but they’re not punishing you, they’re freeing your soul.” (Meister Eckhart)

“The purpose of religion is not so much to get us into heaven, or to keep us out of hell, but to put a little bit of heaven into us, and take the hell out of us.” (E. Stanley Jones)

8. NDE examples of the earthbound realm

The following are summaries of the NDE accounts of those who experienced this earthbound region for themselves.

George Ritchie’s tour of the Earthbound Realm: Jesus took Ritchie to a large city on earth where he observed earthbound souls stalking the living for one reason or another. One earthbound soul begged in vain for a cigarette. A young man who committed suicide begged his parents in vain for forgiveness. In a house, Ritchie was shown the soul of a boy following a living teenage girl and begging for forgiveness despite the fact that the girl was completely unaware of the boy’s presence. Jesus told Ritchie that the boy committed suicide and was chained to every consequence of his act. Then Ritchie saw group of drunken sailors in a bar with earthbound alcoholics trying in vain to get a drink. Ritchie is horrified when he witnessed a sailor pass out and an earthbound alcoholic quickly possess his body. Jesus and Ritchie then viewed a realm that was jammed with hordes of angry, frustrated, and miserable earthbound souls who were locked in fights to the death. Yet, nobody could be injured. Ritchie realized that this was hell where souls are enslaved to habits of destructive thought-patterns. He also witnessed frustrated souls attempting to perform sexual acts. He saw souls arguing over religion or politics and trying to kill those who disagreed with them. Whatever anyone thought was instantly apparent to everyone there. Most of the thoughts he heard were thoughts such as, “I told you so!” and “I always knew!” and “Didn’t I warn you!” Ritchie became aware that Jesus did not condemn them and that he had only love for them. The only thing that kept each soul from leaving this realm was that they all shared the same kind of thoughts. This created a bond where soul of similar feathers can flock together. Ritchie wonders if these souls had fled the light that showed up the darkness of their souls. Jesus then takes Ritchie away from there. (Dr. George Ritchie)

Howard Pittman’s NDE: While in the earthbound realm, Howard Pittman watched living people going about their daily pursuit and completely unaware that they were being stalked by beings from the spirit world. Pittman refers to this earthbound realm as the first heaven. He was totally flabbergasted as he watched in horror demons in all shapes and forms moving at will among the humans. Pittman was shown an employee’s lounge on earth where a young man and young woman were talking and laughing. Between them was a grotesque demon who was unseen by the two. Pittman learned that this was a demon of lust. Pittman watched in astonishment as the demon entered the body of the young man. Pittman was told that the demon made himself desirable to the young man and he accepted by his own free will to violate his space. (Rev. Howard Pittman)

David Oakford saw dark souls who were earthbound and who refused to go to the light. They prey on the energies of the living in an attempt to prevent the evolution of their spirit. David learned that we are protected from these dark ones as long as we chose to focus on the love within us. David noticed that the dark ones did not even try to affect him. They just gave him nasty looks and went away. David was told that whenever he sees one, he was to tell them to go to the light. The light is a porthole to the place all souls go if they choose to go. David learned that higher beings know where to go and what to do to help an earthbound soul so they may advance themselves if they so choose to do so. (David Oakford)

Josiane Antonette saw faces rushing toward her with incredible speed. They would race toward her face, expanding and then dissolving. Face after face washed over her and she is terrified. She drifted along and was unable to keep her eyes open. She wondered who these people were. She recognized some of them as people she knew who had died. The whole room was filled with spirits and they would hover near her and look into her eyes. She tried to push them away and she fought them. This experience seemed to go on forever. She identified these people as restless spirits. Their faces were twisted with pain and they seemed lost. She was frightened to see them around her. Suddenly, spirits with glowing faces appeared to her. They reflect a gentle and powerful light which reminded her of pictures of beautiful angels. (Josiane Antonette)

Emanuel Swedenborg’s description of the first state after death is a remarkable description of the earthbound realm: After death, there are various states that souls must pass through before arriving in heaven or hell. The first state involves their more outward aspects and the second [the Void] involves their more inward aspects. The first state after death is very much like their state in the physical world, since at that point they are similarly involved in outward matters. This is why some souls are unaware that they are dead. (Emanuel Swedenborg)

Ruth Montgomery wrote: This is an example of a person who is so sure that there is no God and no hereafter that he treats others badly while on earth and he feels no moral obligation to lend a helping hand or to be a decent citizen. When he makes the transition he is angry and tempestuous as he finds himself in a situation of his own making, surrounded by other greedy souls who, because they are in like situation, welcome him gleefully to the hell that they have created for themselves. He tries to break out of the fiendish group, but they surround him. He is utterly miserable, for he now begins to see the folly of his ways but does not know how to avert his fate. He is left there until his own remorse for sinful ways begins to penetrate his being and he acknowledges to himself that he wasted a lifetime, a rare privilege, by thinking only of himself. After he reaches full repentance he is then able to free himself of the unrepentant creatures around him, and for a long time thereafter he searches his own soul to review the past mistakes. This is sometimes a long, drawn-out process because he will have to make his way alone. Only he is able to assess his wrongs and seek forgiveness, although there are many here willing to lend a hand whenever he reaches out to them for it. (Ruth Montgomery)

Ruth Montgomery continues: People who die as an alcoholic may hover around people on earth who drink too much, lusting after the pleasures of alcoholism yet unable to break the bond of habit which bound them to their physical bodies. The same with heavy smokers or drug users, there or here, or the sex maniacs who take advantage of others to appease the bodily craving for intercourse. This is a very important lesson which we learn on this side. To escape the perpetual cycle of rebirth into physical form, we must erase the ties, the shackles which bind us to satiation of the physical body. So try to lick the bad habits while on earth. It is easier by far than to come unloose from them on earth. Those who neither drink nor smoke nor use drugs nor lust after sex will be free of those shackles on the other side. It is easier while in physical form to break those shackles than it is to undo them on the other side, where no temptations are put in our way. Thus, there is no reward for behaving correctly here in spirit, because there is nothing to tempt us otherwise. The hard school is in the physical one, and there it is there that we must meet and overcome the temptations. (Ruth Montgomery)

George Anderson states: “A friend of mine who had recently taken his life came through and did not know how to go into the light. I kept telling him to go forward to the light, but he was afraid of judgment. He couldn’t forgive himself. Also, he was having a problem with the fact that after he had taken his own life, his spirit obviously lingered around the scene of the act. He could not overcome the memory of his father’s discovering him, and that was haunting him emotionally to a tremendous degree in the next dimension. What he and many of us don’t understand is that there is judgment there, but it is not done by God on a throne. Judgment rests basically with yourself. It can take eons of time as we understand it before they go into the light. It depends on the person.” (George Anderson)

9. NDE examples of traditional hellfire and brimstone

Kevin Williams wrote: “Why do some people have NDEs that resembles the fire and brimstone hell of the Bible while other people describe a different kind of hell? The quick answer is that there are many kinds of hells and many kinds of heavens. A person’s situation in life and after death is based upon many factors including: perception, perspective, cultural and religious background, spirituality or lack thereof, and education. If you examine enough hellish NDEs that resemble the traditional hellfire and brimstone, you will notice that they mostly occur to fundamentalist Christians. Life after death often means “getting what you expect”, that is, if you believe heaven is a place where you float on a cloud and play a harp, you just might get that when you die. And only when you realize that this kind of heaven is a fantasy-to-be-abandoned will you find reality different. In other words, reality is what you make it. This applies on earth as it is in heaven. If we believe that such a hell exists, it actually does exist – in our own minds. And since the afterlife is the realm of the mind and spirit, these hellish conditions actually exist merely by creating them in our own mind. This is why it is critical that we be careful what we put in our minds and what we build there. For more information about the differences between NDEs visit my NDE Differences page.” (Kevin Williams)

Rev. Kenneth Hagin descended into a pit until a darkness totally surrounded him. The farther down he went, the darker and hotter it became until he could see the fingers of flames playing on the dark walls of the pit. In front of him, beyond the entrance into hell, he saw giant, orange flames. He was pulled toward hell like a magnet pulls metal. He was aware of some kind of creature at his right side, which he didn’t dare look at, that escorted him toward the entrance to hell. When he did, a powerful voice spoke which caused everything to shake. Kenneth then floated back up through the darkness to the top of the pit. (Rev. Kenneth Hagin)

Don Brubaker traveled through a tunnel while a large, eerie red eye peers at him which he realizes to be his own. While in the tunnel, he is stricken with panic and believes he is in hell. A voice, which he identifies to be God’s, tells him not to fear. He has been chosen to write about what he is experiencing. He is told he must testify about the reality of hell. Afterward, he is drawn into a vast, flaming oven filled with other people. They laugh as they realize the flames are not painful. Suddenly, he is alone in the dark with God communicating to him. In an instant, he is aware of everyone in his life whom he was ever angry with. Afterward, he floats in a glorious deep blue sky. Christ appears shining a tremendous amount of light. Christ gives Don a choice of staying or returning to the physical world. Thoughts of his family cause him to choose to return. Before he returns, Don is taken back in time to witness the crucifixion of Christ. (Don Brubaker)

10. Various religious descriptions of the earthbound realm

Buddhism: The deceased eventually enters a realm of hungry ghosts were the deceased have huge stomachs and throats the size of pinholes. Because of this, they wander around in a constant state of unsatisfied ravenous desire. Eventually, the unliberated deceased encounters the Lord of Death for judgment. The Lord of Death holds up before him the Mirror of Karma where every good and evil act is vividly reflected. Now demons approach and begin to inflict torments and punishments upon the deceased for their evil deeds. Even here the deceased can attain liberation by recognizing this. The deceased who is still not liberated after the Judgment will now be drawn remorselessly toward reincarnation. At some point, liberation is no longer possible and the deceased are instructed on how to choose the best womb for a favorable reincarnation. (Buddhism)

“Be not fond of the dull smoke-colored light from hell.” (Tibetan Book of the Dead)

Hinduism: Each of the dimensions of the Great Mandala of the Cosmos represents a quality of energy, or light. Each dimension of this Mandala, which moves out from the central Whiteness, are infinite numbers of possible worlds and various kinds of embodiment. The dimension which we live in now is on the outskirts of this Great Mandala. Dimensions even farther away from the center may be called “hells” where there is less awareness, less possibilities, than the dimension we live in now. (Hinduism)

Islam: Muslim theologians, particularly those of the Asharite school, believed that if a believer entered hell, God could forgive his sins or nonconformities and remove him, either immediately or after a certain period during which imperfections had been burned away. The basis for this doctrine is the Hadith: “He shall make men come out of hell after they have been burned and reduced to cinders.” In addition to this purgatory of suffering, there is another Muslim limbo – al-A’raf (the “heights” or “ramparts”), described in a chapter of the Quran by that name – in which those souls reside that do not merit damnation yet are unable to enter paradise. (Islam)

Judaism: In rabbinical thought, the model for heaven was Eden. The rabbinic word for hell, Gehenna, is taken from the name of a valley of fire where children were said to be sacrificed as burnt offerings to Baal and Moloch (Semitic deities). Jewish legend paints hell with all of the vividness that medieval Christians did, even associating particular tortures with particular sins. (Judaism)

Hebrew scriptures showing God does not punish people forever:

a. Bible: “For no one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.” (Lamentations 3:31-33)

b. Bible: “I will not accuse them forever, nor will I always be angry, for then they would faint away because of me — the very people I have created. I was enraged by their sinful greed; I punished them, and hid my face in anger, yet they kept on in their willful ways. I have seen their ways, but I will heal them; I will guide them and restore comfort to Israel’s mourners.” (Isaiah 57:16-18)

c. Bible: “The Lord will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.” (Isaiah 52:10)

d. Bible: “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.” (Micah 7:18)

Gnosticism: Christian Gnostics viewed living on earth as a kind of hell. Gnosticism saw human beings as trapped in a cycle of reincarnation and believed that even suicide could not release one from bondage to the flesh. In marked contrast with orthodox Christian belief, bodily resurrection was not viewed as part of the scheme of redemption. Rather, only the destruction of the body and of all Satan‘s visible creation – which is hell – was adequate to ensure salvation of the soul and its ascent to heaven. (Gnosticism)

Christianity: Scriptures showing souls do not stay in hell forever:

a. Bible: “[Jesus] went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.” (1 Peter 3:18-20) Also, “For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.” (1 Peter 4:6) See also “The Harrowing of Hell.”

b. Bible: “That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows.” (Luke 12:47-48)

c. Bible: “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:22-26)

d. Bible: It should be difficult for any Christian to honestly conceive of a God of infinite love and mercy to permit even one soul to be tortured forever in hell. It is common sense that a few minutes in hell is enough for even the hardest of sinners to change their mind and repent. And what kind of God would create someone knowing that he will ultimately throw that person in hell to be tortured forever? It should be obvious that it would be better for God to not even create such a person. If an evil father treats his children better than this, how much more so God? Jesus stated: “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11)

11. Hell is for temporary purification (like purgatory) not eternal damnation

The early Church developed the concept of purgatory based on particular passages of scripture.

a. According to St. Isidore of Seville the Church taught that in the next life: “Some sins will be forgiven and purged away by a certain purifying fire.” (Deord. creatur., c. xiv, n. 6)

b. St. Augustine also argued: “Some sinners are not forgiven either in this world or in the next, would not be truly said unless there were other [sinners] who, though not forgiven in this world, are forgiven in the world to come” (De Civ. Dei, XXI, xxiv).

c. The same interpretation is given by Gregory the Great (Dial., IV, xxxix); St. Bede (commentary on this text); St. Bernard (Sermo lxvi in Cantic., n.11) and other eminent theological writers.

d. Origen, the first great Church father, taught that purgatory is the true description of hell. He believed if people depart this life with lighter faults, they are condemned to fire which burns away the lighter materials, preparing their souls for the kingdom of God, where nothing defiled may enter. He wrote: “For if on the foundation of Christ you have built not only gold and silver and precious stones; but also wood and hay and stubble, what do you expect when the soul shall be separated from the body? Would you enter into heaven with your wood and hay and stubble and thus defile the kingdom of God; or on account of these hindrances would you remain without and receive no reward for your gold and silver and precious stones? Neither is this just. It remains then that you be committed to the fire which will burn the light materials; for our God to those who can comprehend heavenly things is called a cleansing fire. But this fire consumes not the creature, but what the creature has himself built, wood, and hay and stubble. It is manifest that the fire destroys the wood of our transgressions and then returns to us the reward of our great works.” (P. G., XIII, col. 445, 448).

Origen based this statement on the following Bible verse: “It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” (1 Corinthians 3:11-15)

e. “In the Council of Lyons, in 1274 A.D., it was stated that after death the soul goes promptly either to heaven or to hell. On the Day of Judgment, all will stand before the tribunal of Christ with their bodies to render account of what they have done.

There is abundant evidence from NDEs and the Bible that affirm hell is a temporary place for purification.

12. NDE support for universal salvation

Mellen-Thomas Benedicts’ NDE: “What all people seek, what sustains them, is love, the light told me. What distorts people is a lack of love. The revelations coming from the light seemed to go on and on, then I asked the light, “Does this mean that humankind will be saved?” Then, like a trumpet blast with a shower of spiraling lights, the Great Light spoke, saying, “Remember this and never forget; you save, redeem and heal yourself. You always have. You always will. You were created with the power to do so from before the beginning of the world. In that instant I realized even more. I realized that WE HAVE ALREADY BEEN SAVED, and we saved ourselves because we were designed to self-correct like the rest of God’s universe.” (Mellen-Thomas Benedict)

“Life is a cycle of improvements and humans are not perfect yet. Most people have this secret revealed to them when they die.” (Dr. Frank Oski)

“All souls were created in the beginning and are finding their way back to God.” (Edgar Cayce)

“We are immortal and indestructible. We have always been alive, we always will be, and there is no way in this world that we can ever be lost. It is impossible for anyone to fall into a crack in the universe somewhere and never be heard from again. We are utterly safe and we have always been forever and ever.” (Jayne Smith)

“From the light we have come, and to the light we all shall return.” (Josiane Antonette)

“It is God’s love for us that sends us on our journey and it is our love for God that allows us to return to God’s loving arms again.” (David Goines)

“A central aspect of our eternal existence is continued spiritual growth through love and service. We can spend what seems like an eternity before incarnating in the flesh. During that period in the spirit world, soul growth can be attained there as well.” (Nora Spurgin)

“It [reincarnation] is a universal process, and prevails not only in the human kingdom but also throughout the whole of nature. Whenever we find a living form, the consciousness of that form is also evolving, using temporarily for that purpose the physical form in order that it may gain physical experience. In each incarnation we have a different physical body, a different name, and may have different souls acting as parents, but these changes do not in the slightest imperil our individuality … Reincarnation is not an endless process, and when we have learned the lessons taught in the World-School we return no more to physical incarnation unless we come back of our own accord to act as Teachers of humanity or as Helpers in the glorious plan of evolution.” (Amber Wells)

“Without physical bodies, feelings of hate and fear are intensified as souls [in hell] vainly try to hide from their enemies. Their only hope is to reincarnate. Then unfortunately when they do, they may forget all about their torment in hell and again lead lives of greed and tyranny. This miserable cycle can continue forever unless they find salvation in one of their lifetimes. Such people really need a savior, since they are not able to help themselves. I’m sure Christ incarnated to help them because he said, ‘I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.'” (Arthur Yensen)

13. Biblical Support for Universal Salvation

See the Hebrew scriptures and New Testament scriptures above about people not being punished by God forever in hell.

SUMMARY: Nobody can thwart God’s will, who wills all men to be saved, not wanting anyone to perish, to have mercy on everyone, to save the whole world by Jesus atoning for the sins of the whole world.

Scriptural Evidence:

a. Bible: “Then Job replied to the Lord: ‘I know that you can do anything and no plan of yours can be thwarted.'” (Job 42:1-2)

b. Bible: “God our Savior, who will have all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4)

c. Bible: “[God] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

d. Bible: “For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” (Romans 11:32)

e. Bible: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17)

f. Bible: “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.” (1 John 4:14)

g. Bible: “[Christ] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2)

SUMMARY: All who die will be made alive in Christ, so that God will be all in all, because he gave his life as a ransom for all men, as the Savior of all men, he died for all, to draw all men to himself, so that all people will see God’s salvation which has appeared to all men. Just as Adam’s sin brought condemnation to all, so Christ act brought justification for all, to bring everything under his control and to bring all things in heaven and earth together under him.

Scriptural Evidence:

a. Bible: “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:22)

b. Bible: “The Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.” (1 Corinthians 15:28)

c. Bible: “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and man, which is the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men, to be that testimony in due time.” (1 Timothy 2:5-6)

d. Bible: “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.” (1 Timothy 4:10-11)

e. Bible: “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Corinthians 5:15)

f. Bible: “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” (John 12:32)

g. Bible: “Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation.’” (Luke 3:5-6)

h. Bible: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” (Titus 2:11)

i. Bible: “Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.” (Romans 5:18)

j. Bible: “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:20-21)

k. Bible: “And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment — to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” (Ephesians 1:9-10)

SUMMARY: God reconciles his enemies to himself because he loves even his enemies and reconciles all things to himself. When God reconciles all his enemies, even death itself, it will be the “universal restoration” first prophesized by Elijah, then by his reincarnation John the Baptist, then by his future reincarnation as one of the “two witnesses” in the Book of Revelation. Then the end will come and the Kingdom of the Lord will be established on earth.

Scriptural Evidence:

a. Bible: “If, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:10)

b. Bible: “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” (Luke 6:35)

c. Bible: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:19-20)

d. Bible: “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.” (1 Corinthians 15:24-28)

e. Bible: [Peter addressed the Israelites;] “But God had foretold through all his prophets that his Christ must suffer and this was how his words came true. Now you must repent and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, that time after time your souls may know the refreshment that comes from the presence of God. Then he will send you Jesus, your long-heralded Christ, although for the time he must remain in Heaven until that universal restoration of which God spoke in ancient times through all his holy prophets.” (Acts 3:18-23)

SUMMARY: The “time of universal restoration” is the time heralded by Elijah when the promised Jewish Messiah comes to rule the Kingdom of God on earth to restore all things and creatures to God. But because John the Baptist (as the reincarnation of Elijah) and Jesus were killed, the time of universal restoration was postponed. After Jesus was killed, the Church age began when Gentiles were being brought to God. According to the Book of Revelation, another time will come when both Elijah and Moses will reincarnate again heralding the return of Jesus. Afterward, the universal restoration will occur and the Kingdom of God will be established on earth.

Scriptural Evidence:

Bible: “Jesus chose Peter, James and his brother John, to accompany him high up on the hillside where [Jesus transformed into a being of light]… Then Moses and Elijah were seen talking to Jesus… On their way down the hillside Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about what they had seen until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. Then the disciples demanded, ‘Why is it, then, that the scribes always say Elijah must come first?’ ‘Yes, Elijah does come first,’ replied Jesus, ‘and begins the world’s reformation. But I tell you that Elijah has come already and men did not recognize him. They did what they liked with him, and they will do the same to the Son of Man. Then they realized that he had been referring to John the Baptist.” (Matthew 17:1-13)

Read about all the scriptural evidence proving John the Baptist was the reincarnation of Elijah the prophet. Here more some examples:

(1) “Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” (Malachi 4:5)

(2) “For all the Prophets and the Law have prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he (John the Baptist) is the Elijah who was to come.” (Matthew 11:13-14)

SUMMARY: In the Book of Revelation, the prophets Elijah and Moses appear again before Jesus appears. This time the result is the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth.

Bible: “‘And I will appoint my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.’ They are ‘the two olive trees‘ and the two lampstands, and ‘they stand before the Lord of the earth.’ If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die. They have power [of Elijah] to shut up the heavens so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power [of Moses] to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want … The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth … Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, ‘Come up here.’ And they went up to heaven in a cloud … The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: ‘The kingdom of the world has become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.'” (Revelation 11:3-15)