― J.R.R. Tolkien
Our ability to understand eternal life begins with our willingness to accept a reality beyond our sensory perception. That, we get. There are, after all sounds which only dogs can hear, impossible images seen easily by the eagle’s keen eye, and seismic motions imperceptible to our internal gyroscope, yet profound enough to cause an earthquake.
H.P. Lovecraft wrote
“What do we know of the world and the universe about us? Our means of receiving impressions are absurdly few, and our notions of surrounding objects infinitely narrow. We see things only as we are constructed to see them, and can gain no idea of their absolute nature. With five feeble senses we pretend to comprehend the boundless complex cosmos, yet other beings with wider, stronger, or different range of senses might not only see very differently the things we see, but might see and study whole worlds of matter, energy, and life which lie close at hand yet can never be detected with the senses we have.”
Don Piper’s 90 Minutes in Heaven is certainly an account of one man’s unique experience with death, but it is much more than that. The book is not about death, but life. Here we find the wink of a glimpse of that which invariably transcends our sensory limitations, yet in his return and painful rehabilitation, embraces them. The feeble frame our soul occupies is easily broken, but the robust spirit is acutely quickened, even agitated by undue imprisonment.
When my father suffered a stroke during an operation to clear a carotid artery , I witnessed his initial agony as he realized he had been imprisoned in a body rendered profoundly incapable of obeying his direction. He struggled at first to communicate, to walk, to overcome. In the end, he resigned himself to his newly imposed chains and withdrew to a quiet place in his still lucid mind.
He lived a decade longer, and when he finally died I was at his side, holding his hand. His last hour was filled with angst, even panic as he realized the finality of the moment. In the end however, he was at peace. I prayed with him and for him and the moment he died, I knew beyond any logical reasoning, he embraced me, and left.
The Bible says we are created imago dei – in the image of God. We are the pinnacle of His creation, imparted with the essence of eternity. The fallen world in which we live has imposed the death that is sin’s wage, and for a time our understanding is dimmed and our perception is, as Scripture says “as through a darkened glass.”
Death for us is the release of our person to eternity. Unbound we move either closer and closer to He who created us – or by our choice, farther and farther way. Our short, limited existence here is simply direction setting. Each of us has chosen our own way and we are lost. In Christ we have complete redemption if we so choose, and beginning with that choice our journey to completeness is both restored and commenced. Sadly, we can alternatively embrace an ever-deepening darkness.
C.S. Lewis said there are only two kinds of people: those who say to God, “thy will be done”, and those to whom God says “fine, have it your way.”
Eternal life isn’t something to be found somewhere, out there in the Neverland of our dreams. It’s a life which begins the moment we simply confess that we are yes, lost and hopelessly in need of the Savior.
The Savior who came to bring us home.