The Meaning of Life, Time and Creation
To probe for answers, I must enter controversial fields without apology.
One of these, while not pivotal to the discussions, may be unfamiliar to many readers—that of Near Death Experiences (NDEs). I will start by describing briefly this extraordinary phenomenon, written about already by thousands and experienced by millions. A growing number of faithful Christian Ministers are admitting and informing us about their NDEs, as described in my previous book “Living Beyond: Making Sense of Near Death Experiences”.
Near Death Experiences
Ecclesiastes 12:7 describes death as, “The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it”. Simply put, a process is involved in this separation of the spirit from the body at death, and then its subsequent movement towards God. Scriptural truth is illuminated by the after-death accounts of those Near Death Experiencers (NDErs) who have returned to describe them.
Unusual insights about near death experiences were developed in “Living Beyond”. Since writing it, I have had the opportunity to reflect on whether the clarity that afterlife experiences reveal about God may contribute to shedding fresh light on how he creates things, including where and why we fit in. It has done so for me.
One obvious deduction from NDEs is that our fundamentally innovative God has made further Venues outside our own Universe, with novel characteristics and different physical, chemical and biological laws. I hope to share some of these exciting descriptions and what they mean to us.
NDErs, clinically dead and subsequently revived, have recorded an account of ongoing consciousness and experiences “out of this world”. It has been estimated that at least 16 million Americans2, excluding many children, have had a near death experience and are part of a large worldwide contingent of around 380 million adults2. With so many witnesses, any unbiassed court of law would be forced to determine that NDEs are valid and indeed a common experience!
Here is a brief summary of the most common aspects of such experiences:
At death, our spirit (consciousness) floats out of the body and can view its earthly surroundings. It may then return to the body (physical revival) or move on to a series of afterlife activities and Venues. Amongst these events, it is common to meet with ancestors, angelic beings, God the Father or Jesus Christ—whether one enters the afterlife with any religion or none. The founders of religions other than Jesus and Christianity appear not to be met with.
A challenging experience can be a Life Review, when the dead person’s life history is presented to them in astonishing detail—not as a Judgement, but rather as an opportunity for self-evaluation.
The centrality of “Family” to God is revealed in that thousands of reports describe having met ancestors in the afterlife. Sometimes these ancestors are not recognised by the NDEr as they had died long beforehand. Only discussions on return with older family members, or the scanning of ancient family photographs or portrait paintings, have enabled certain of these ancestors to be identified. Other “older” ancestors may remain unidentified to the experiencer.
After a while in the afterlife, the spirits of returnees come back into the body that was left behind, and their earthly life resumes. Sadly, many then experience trauma from unnecessary rejection by their families, friends, churches and professions.
At no stage do NDEs take precedence over the revelations of scripture in my life or my writing. The main innovative revelations in this book are independent of NDEs: on the other hand, NDEs add breadth to our understanding of both ourselves and of our God.
While important, NDEs are nevertheless recounted in the words of frequently confused and even traumatised witnesses who often put their own interpretations on what has happened to them. The accounts are strongest when simply describing what was seen or heard. They get their dependability from the size of the sample of millions of people who have had similar experiences.
Why consider NDEs? Because studied judiciously, they enhance our comprehension of the nature and creativity of God beyond our own Universe, which expands our perception of God’s inventive genius, and consequently provides fresh insight into the Creation of our own Cosmos and our meaningful place in it.
Significantly for you and me, as well as for those who experience them, NDEs challenge our thinking as we try to unlock our own purpose—both past and future.
NDEs also illustrate that life on Earth is only a short blip in an ongoing process, but nevertheless an important opportunity for personal development not to be missed.
My belief is that the Bible is an inspired gift from God and, correctly translated, has ultimate authority. The Bible is the main reference I have used, so I need to clarify from the start my approach to it.
I believe that the Bible is inerrant as inspired originally by the Holy Spirit in the original languages in which it was written—in the main these are biblical Hebrew (Old Testament) and biblical “Koine” Greek (Septuagint and New Testament).
Throughout history, Bible translators have done a magnificent job, often under conditions of poverty and persecution, and I have the greatest respect for them. They are true heroes of the faith, who continue today serving God and man by producing new translations of scripture for different language groups around the globe, at times under threat for their very lives. A girl I once taught in school is involved in distributing new translations of the Bible amongst language groups that have not had this wonderful resource previously—she is both brilliant and brave.
While translators continue to do valuable and frequently courageous work, we must keep aware that any translation from one language into another will lose precision and a degree of meaning. All our versions in modern languages, including the English language, are translations and are “dogged” (in the sense of being misconstrued in certain spots) by this linguistic limitation. Some of the more modern translations also produce sections of interpretation rather than accurate translation in an attempt to reflect the social mores of the day. I try not to quote these errant passages.
In whatever language, the Bible is a difficult book to interpret on some levels, but fortunately the Holy Spirit, who is our Teacher and who inspired scripture, is still available in our world for us to turn to prayerfully for help. You can trust him to reveal truth appropriate to your particular situation at the time, even if the words as translated have lost some precision by being written originally in a different language. He is, after all, the original inspirer of scripture and can make up any gap in your and my understanding.
Unfortunately, we can prefer to rely on our brainpower and consequently have invented intellectual approaches to interpret scripture, such as “hermeneutic analysis” and others, which often lead to confusion and disagreement. Why? Fundamentally—this is because the Bible is a spiritual revelation and requires a spiritual interpretation, as guided by the Holy Spirit. The brain cannot interpret the spirit, it is the other way around if meaningful interpretation is to occur at all.
Despite some linguistic perplexities, the overall messages and themes of the Bible are clear and unequivocal. God had mankind in mind, and had plans for us in place, before the first atom in our Universe was actually created!
God lays out clearly his nature and major purposes for humankind from Genesis to Revelation, such that there is no excuse for “twisting” anything important on the basis of a single word or phrase.
I have used the printed NIV (New International Version) for most quotes, unless I feel it is inaccurate or another version clarifies a passage better, in which case I indicate which alternative version has been used. That I use the NIV is not to say that it is the best or most accurate version throughout, but it is generally good and written in readily accessible modern English—and is popular.
Quoting The Bible Book Of Isaiah
The book I quote from most in the Old Testament besides Genesis is the Book of Isaiah. There is a specific and centrally important reason for this. The original was written around 700 BC, but a copy was found amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1940s, and has been carbon-dated to around 125 BC3. It is startling that there is no significant difference between this version that pre-dated Jesus’ coming and what we read in our Bibles today—which were translated from much later scrolls, ones written around a thousand years after Christ! This illustrates how meticulous the scribes were who made copies of the scrolls down through the centuries.
The book of Isaiah is rich in information regarding humankind and our purposes, the Creation, and God as the Creator—alongside prophecies concerning the coming Messiah and other events that have taken place more recently in history. It is good to quote from, because sceptics cannot propose that the astonishingly exact details foretold about the life of Jesus and other events were written about after they had occurred!!
Using logic—because the book of Isaiah is incredibly, almost unnervingly, precise regarding the details of fulfilled prophecy—we can expect a similar degree of precision whenever it speaks of God’s innovative nature and the Creation itself, and our own origins, purposes and futures, which it does in significant detail.
Besides the Psalms, Isaiah is the book most quoted from by the New Testament writers.
My Personal Emphases
Many of the ideas in this book are my own, and have not been published previously. By nature, we tend to reject new concepts when we first come across them, and so I may return to these more than once simply to clarify or apply them, but hopefully not too often for my readers.
Those of you who might like more detail, theology and referencing, please see my website ivanrudolph.com. I may be putting up relevant “free” material on it from time to time, mainly in response to emailed questions.
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