God illustrates the true nature of love during his conversations with NDErs. Consider his discussion with Mary Jo Rapini 8:
He spoke through all of my senses. He called me by name and told me I could not stay.
I protested. I told him all of my services on Earth (working 24/7, not much money for my work, a good wife, a good mother). I did not want to leave this place!
Then God asked me, ‘Let me ask you one question; have you ever loved another person the way you have been loved here?’
The love I had received in that time was so overpowering, I had never felt anything like it, so I answered God honestly. I said, ‘No, it is impossible, I am just a human, you are God.’
He gave me the illusion of a sweet protective chuckle. He then said, ‘Mary, you can do better.’
What are these features of ‘the way you have been loved here’? We learn from the many NDErs who have interacted with God, especially after a rescue from the Prison or during an interview based around the Life Review:
God no doubt realises that the rubber hits the road when returnees try to practise this style of divine love in a harsh, uncomprehending world, but a world that nevertheless provides possibilities for personal growth that will not be available later. For example, loving one’s enemies is the highest form of love, but is only possible on Earth because we will not have enemies later on in Heaven.
God knew that learning to love on Earth would be tough. Therefore Jesus came into the world to demonstrate how love can be practised even in the face of fierce opposition. Jesus did so successfully, but at great personal cost, while we can love in similar vein even though less effectively. Nevertheless, because love is eternal, whatever we learn becomes part of our character for eternity, so is extraordinarily beneficial for us and for others.
In addition to having the example of Jesus to guide them, the Holy Spirit on Earth can provide reurnees with ongoing help and support. Since the day of Pentecost almost two thousand years ago, the Holy Spirit has been made available to anyone on Earth because he has been ‘poured out on all people’ (Acts 2:17; Joel 2:28). How to access his guidance, teaching, advocacy and power is beyond the scope of this book, but much has been written on that subject. One of the qualities he grows in the lives of those who cooperate with him is that of divine love (Galatians 5:22).
Love of Others
RaNelle Wallace 9 was given this insight during her NDE: ‘Love isn’t simply a word or an emotion; Love is a power that gives action to all around it. Love is the power of life.’
God’s kind of love is personal and active in the lives of others. IANDS reports that over 80% of surveyed NDErs expressed a strong increase in their concern for others. This included accepting and forgiving others rather than being critical of them.
Crystal McVea 4 zeroed in on God’s requirement to forgive others, to seek forgiveness, and to put relationships right.
After I got past being upset with everyone I felt had dragged me back from Heaven, I realised all the grudges and grievances that had cluttered my soul for so long had disappeared! It was like God wiped the slate completely clean. And the big stuff – the resentments I’d lived with for so many years, just melted away…
I don’t know, I just felt liberated from all the baggage I’d carried my whole life. I asked Virgil’s mother to forgive me for pushing her away. I asked Virgil to forgive me for making him choose between his family and me. I asked my brother to forgive me for not paying enough attention to him when we were young, and I asked my mother to forgive me for always making her the target of my anger. I even called my father in Illinois and asked him to forgive me too.
‘Oh no, you don’t need to apologise for anything,’ he said.
‘But I do,’ I told him. ‘I need you to forgive me for being so hard on you.’
In summary, NDErs find that the best way to regain balance in life is to obey the love principles they have learnt characterises God; not love of self, but an active love of others. Those who find ways to contribute love to the lives of others reorientate quickly, as I observed in the NDErs I spoke to in the early days – Denis Cooper helping dysfunctional people in his farming community, Rhoda Fryer with her teaching and setting up fellowship groups, Bob Bosworth with his outstanding missionary work helping hundreds, and so on.
Applying God’s Love
Divine love has many practical, action-packed features, some of which can be seen in 1Corinthians 13.
Whole courses may need to be designed for returnees to help them to apply divine love in a way that fulfils their strong motivation to do so.
Jesus provides our best example of how to serve others, which he did throughout his earthly ministry. This incident occurred shortly before he died, as described in John Chapter 13:
Jesus Washes His Disciples’ Feet
1It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him…
12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them. 13 ’You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.’
In practice, start serving those closest to you and be prepared to prioritise their needs above your own. How can you add value to the lives of your husband or wife, children, parents, friends? How can you serve them, asking nothing in return? You can ask God to show you other people to love and serve, in your personal capacity or through an established charity or service group. Then get involved, but without robbing of your love those whom God has already put into your life.
It is never too late to get started serving others. For example, Darlene 3 suffered an emotional and spiritual breakdown that lasted for several years after her NDE. She changed her tack, and instead of a self-indulgent preoccupation with who she was, she became involved in helping terminally ill AIDS patients. This radical change of focus, in addition to helping those patients, has helped Darlene to recover and discover who she really is.
Relationships are always the anvil on which love is shaped. Loving relationships on Earth, primarily family ones, are thereby the supreme training ground for developing love – for all of us. And loving family relationships appear to continue into Paradise! God certainly regards them highly, himself a father who relates lovingly with his son Jesus and with all his adopted children.
Encouragingly, many family relationships are enhanced by the NDE experience. For example, Terese 3 says her relationship with husband Ron has deepened as a consequence, and he nods in agreement.
Developing true love, however, never comes easily and entails dedication. Consider the experiences of Mary Beth Willi 10, who negotiated the worst threats to her family relationships through prayer and applying love. As with us all, the challenges of practising love in daily life continue for her.
I almost lost my husband. I was a completely different person after the NDE and he didn’t know what to do with me.
After 6 months apart, a retreat and counselling, we have an amazing relationship now. Despite the fact that he doesn’t believe me, he is a scientific personality and needs proof, he celebrates the person I have become.
I made huge changes and amends with my kids…
I lost most of my friends. It is difficult for me to be around negative people and they couldn’t stand me anymore anyway. On the upside, my new friendships are amazing.
Despite the fact that my relationship with my parents will never be fixed, I was able to forgive them – and it doesn’t eat at me anymore.
One Example of a Successful Return – Dr George Ritchie 11
Since Dr Ritchie’s NDE predated modern reports, he was not influenced by popular concepts regarding NDEs. His writings are very Christ-centred, as his personal guide in the afterlife was Jesus, so this is understandable.
Similar to very many NDErs, he was traumatised at having to return to Earth. ‘The contrast between the love of Jesus and the world in which I found myself having to go on living made the year following my illness the most difficult of my life.’
Why had he returned to life when he had not wanted to? He felt he needed to know. He began by researching his own death in the hospital, viewing his chart that read: ‘Pvt. George Ritchie, died December 20 1943, double lobar pneumonia.’
Then he spoke to the doctor who had signed the report. ‘My return to life, he told me, without brain damage or other lasting effect, was the most baffling circumstance of his career.’ (Guideposts Magazine in 1963 investigated and obtained affidavits from both the Army doctor, Dr Donald G. Francy, and the attending nurse that Private Ritchie was pronounced dead on the morning of December 20, 1943.)
Following his NDE, George Ritchie was discharged from army camp to go to medical school. En route he visited his stepmother again, whom he had disliked. But something had changed inside George, and he no longer resented her. He saw her not in her hated role as stepmother, but as a brave and caring woman with issues of her own. ‘I recalled my teenage withdrawal, my sulks and hostility, but now I was seeing the heartache they had caused to the loving woman sitting in front of me… Even as I talked about the absolute acceptance I had encountered in him (Jesus), a brand new ability to accept mother for herself was born in me.’
God had given Ritchie a fresh potential to incorporate that love he had experienced in Jesus into his own life when dealing with others. As he reflected on his NDE, forgiveness and a new caring for others developed and became his trademark. To love others actively at their point of need became his goal. But as with many other NDErs, he found good intentions needed to be worked at to become reality.
After a year, he assessed his progress. He was failing!
You’d expect, I told myself, that anyone who had had an experience like mine, anyone who had glimpsed even dimly the love behind the Universe would no longer get upset by external things that happened.
But I was. Terribly. I was riled by the blustering sergeant sitting three seats ahead of me now. I was bothered when the men in the 123rd, mostly Northerners from big cities, made fun of my Southern accent and small town ideas. Instead of being able, now, to shrug such things off, I found them bothering me.
During active duty, he discovered something else about himself.
About the prospect of being torpedoed and having to take lifeboats in that icy gale, I was as terrified as the next guy. The mechanics of dying, the pain and panic, were as frightening to me as they had ever been. But as for death itself, I not only felt no fear of it, I found myself wishing it would happen! Then I would be with him [Jesus].
It was while patching up wounded and sometimes dying soldiers that Ritchie learned to look for that image of God in them that each person carries. He put aside his self-pity, his self-incrimination, and focused compassionately on their problems instead.
He also learnt to cultivate friendships with spiritual Christians who could understand him, teach him, and pray for him. One of these men, a Pole who had suffered terrible deprivation in a concentration camp, taught him a profound lesson about hatred and forgiveness.
‘When the Germans reached our street, they lined everyone against a wall and opened up with machine guns. I begged to be allowed to die with my family, but because I spoke German they put me in a work group.’
He paused, perhaps seeing again his wife and five children.
‘I had to decide there and then,’ he continued, ‘whether to let myself hate the soldiers who had done this. It was an easy decision, really. I was a lawyer. In my practice I had seen too often what hate could do to people’s minds and bodies. Hate had just killed the six people who mattered most to me in the world. I decided then that I would spend the rest of my life – whether a few days or many years – loving every person I came in contact with.’
Ritchie imported these life-changing lessons from the Second World War into his civilian life. And years later, in 1963, Guidepost Magazine investigated Ritchie’s NDE and aftermath:
Probably as remarkable as the story itself is the transformation it caused in Dr Ritchie’s life – a transformation that changed him from an indifferent Christian into a man whose life is centred in Christ. For 18 years he has been active in youth work in Richmond, Virginia, and in 1957 he founded the Christian Youth Corps of America, for the purpose of helping to develop Christian character in our young people. Dr Ritchie’s vision is ‘a world run by men who are run by God.’
More recently, in 1978, Raymond Moody 12 indicated that Ritchie had achieved success in his determination to love others: ‘Unfortunately, only those of us who know him as friend can truly sense the depth of kindness, understanding, and loving concern for others which characterise this remarkable man.’
Ritchie became Head of Psychiatry at Northeast Alabama Regional Medical Centre. He died in 2007 age 84 years.
‘Death is nothing more than a doorway, something you walk through’ −
Dr George Ritchie.
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