Sometimes an experience occurs that alters our thinking and some of our presuppositions. Such an event happened in the life of Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon who had a near-death experience in 2008. For those who are interested in reading about it or hearing about it, his experience was reported in the Oct. 15, 2012, issue of Newsweek. “Here & Now” interviewed him on NPR on Nov. 27, 2012. (The interview can be found in print and podcast on the “Here & Now” website for this date: http://hereandnow.wbur.org).
Dr. Alexander, not a believer, had an experience that he would call heavenly which has profoundly altered his understanding of reality (broadening it immensely) as well as his life’s focus and work. Not surprisingly, many in his medical profession are skeptical of his experience as well as his conclusions. Interestingly, there are also some skeptics in the Christian community to some of his conclusions about what he experienced. His experience of a reality beyond that which we ordinarily encounter, and the hopeful message he received from one of God’s messengers has inspired him to share this experience with as many as will listen. It has caused him to write a book which he’s titled Proof of Heaven.
He now believes in heaven and has a confident view of a loving God who desires that we all come to know and dwell with our Creator. There are many aspects of Dr. Alexander’s story that seem incredible, yet are also consistent with an understanding of a loving, forgiving, grace-filled God.
I was reminded of Paul’s words to the early Christians of his day. As you know, Paul was one who not only had an abrupt and unanticipated visitation of Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9) but also had what we might call an “out of body” experience (2 Corinthians 12) and heard “things that cannot be told.” I can’t help but think that these two experiences contributed to his conclusion that he shares with the believers in Rome in Romans 8:38-39 when he writes, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life…nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
People come to faith in a surprisingly number of diverse ways. What “proofs” authenticate those faith experiences are also many and varied. But in many ways and in many places these experiences profoundly change people’s lives, give their lives new meaning, and lead them (often with evangelical fervor) to share their experiences with others.
What is it that propels your life onward? If you had an experience which profoundly shaped your life, is it still providing you with the kind of energy that urges you to share it with others in a winsome way? Or has your ardor cooled? I know that reading about Eben Alexander’s experience has caused me to examine my own level of passion for faith-sharing. Has what caused me to be enthusiastic and eager to share with others cooled somewhat over the years? What does that say about the “ardor factor” of my faith? Perhaps in the natural process of maturing, one is somewhat less animated in their sharing with others. But is that how it should be? What kind of witnesses does God want us to be, especially if what we know is that no thing nor no one can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus?
It may be helpful to encounter the Eben Alexanders of the world periodically just to remind ourselves of the good news that God has for us and the opportunities for witness that God may place in our paths. Keep the ardor alive!