At Gateway Church in Austin, John Burke shared on What’s After Life?
Over the past several weeks during our What’s After Life? series, we have learned about the hope of heaven through those that have had near-death experiences. But, not all near-death experiences are blissful. Some are downright hellish. Jesus taught that hell is just as real as heaven, but he doesn’t want any human to go there. So how can a loving God allow so much suffering?
There is also an extended interview at the bottom of the post.
Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.
MESSAGE NOTES FROM JOHN BURKE:
Howard Storm was an atheist, tenured college professor, Like many other’s who clinically die, are resuscitated, he got a glimpse of the life to come. And at first, it was all good, just like other NDEs (near-death experiences). He felt alive—like Superman, he had a nice welcoming committee—dressed exactly like the hospital staff. And if Howard’s NDE had ended there—we would have said, “Everyone goes to Heaven.”
And that’s exactly what some of the first researchers of NDEs said in the early 80s when I first began to study this phenomena. Dr. Moody, who coined the term ‘near-death experience’ prematurely declared: “No one has described the cartoonist’s heaven of pearly gates, golden streets . . . nor a hell of flames and demons with pitchforks. So, in most cases, the reward punishment model of the afterlife is abandoned and disavowed.”
Initially, many Christians put all NDEs in the category of satanic deception, because of what a few researchers were saying. Unfortunately, few Christians took the time to really study and ask questions. But since these experiences helped me find faith in Jesus, I had to keep researching to understand how it all fit with what God has revealed all along. Gallup poll found 1 out of 25 people have Near Death Experiences, but most are hesitant to report the good ones, much less the bad ones.
Dr. Rawlings wrote Beyond Death’s Door in 1993, theorizing that many people who have hellish NDEs subconsciously suppress the memory because it’s so traumatic.
Positive NDEs are not often reported because people fear being labeled crazy—So imagine how under-reported hellish NDEs are. Despite this, 23% of all reported NDEs are hellish in nature. Dr. Penny Sartori, a British researcher says, “[Research] has served to highlight that negative NDEs are just as real as the pleasant ones and can occur in the absence of anesthetics.”
Dutch Cardiologist Dr. Pim van Lommel reports:
“To their horror, they sometimes find themselves pulled even deeper into the profound darkness. The NDE ends in this scary atmosphere. . . . Such a terrifying NDE usually produces long-lasting emotional trauma…The exact number of people who experience such a frightening NDE is unknown because they often keep quiet out of shame and guilt.”-Dr. Pim van Lommel
That’s disturbing—It disturbs me. Most don’t talk about hellish experiences. I don’t want to either. But to ignore them is possibly the most selfish, unloving thing I could do. And I think they help answer our biggest question about God—how can you allow all this earthly suffering if you love us?
Jesus taught that hell is just as real as heaven. When a Roman Centurion, who grew up in idol worship, showed trust in Jesus to heal his servant—yet the Jewish religious leaders who saw his miracles yet rejected him in from religious hypocrisy–he declared,
“many Gentiles will come from all over the world—from east and west—and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven. 12 But many Israelites—those for whom the Kingdom was prepared—will be thrown into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 8:11-12
Jesus taught of this outer darkness, but He also made it clear—God doesn’t want any human going there. Jesus said,
it is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish. Matthew 18:14.
Why would anyone end up in hell?
Jesus told us why:
“God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light…. John 3:19-21
Oxford scholar C. S. Lewis, an atheist turned believer, said that God does not send anybody to hell:
“I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked from the inside.” C.S. Lewis
God loves you more than a mother or father or anyone. He doesn’t want anyone in hell. Jesus said,
the Son of Man must be lifted up [crucified], 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned…. John 3:15-18
You know, all the sacred scriptures of the World’s Religions warn of hell (Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Zorastrian), and all religions basically say the same things about right and wrong—but what does this teach us? We’ve all sinned–no one perfectly keeps the 8-fold path of Buddhism, the 5 pillars of Islam, the 10 commandments, or has perfect Karma—Yet God in his love and mercy paid His own price for justice, so He would be just in taking back anyone who wants forgiveness and wants God in their lives. God has removed every barrier between us and him, except our pride. He won’t force us to love or accept his leadership, but He makes it so simple that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Acts 2:21.
So does that mean people have a second chance after death? I don’t think so.
Scripture says: People are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment …. Hebrews 9:27 First, these NDE people didn’t fully die, they came back. Remember, there is a border or boundary NDEs couldn’t cross and still return to earth. I believe that border is actual eternity—that’s why people can still cry out to God in NDEs—God gives people every possible chance to choose God. So don’t wait to get right with God—today is the day. Just tell God “I want what Jesus did to count for me—I want your forgiveness and leadership.” Not to avoid hell, to live forever in relationship with the Creator who loves you most.
So why hell at all?
Because some people don’t want God ruling, they want their will and ways—Pride is a brutal prison–Howard’s pride fought surrendering to God at the worst rock-bottom imaginable. But hell was not created for people, Jesus said Hell was created for the fallen angels. Angels are just another species (one of millions) created by God. Angels have a free will, just as people have a free will. God created both angels and humans to love God and experience his love and goodness forever. Love is God’s motive, but love requires freedom, and choice. I can’t force you to love me, even if I put a gun to your head. And God submits himself to the same rules of love.
Ezekiel 28, Isaiah 14 tell us the most powerful beautiful of angels, Lucifer/Light Bearer, wanted to be God. It’s the core temptation all humans fall to: “You rule, you know what’s best for you—don’t listen to God, God’s gonna ruin your life. Be God.” 1/3 of these free-willed, eternal Angels made an eternal Choice. When time is not linear or successive, there’s no such thing as a 2nd chance. They eternally chose NOT GOD! So God created an eternal place where fallen angels could have what they demanded—a place they could rule apart from the Light, and Love, and Life of God. That’s hell—where created creatures play God completely void of God’s loving will—as Howard said, it’s victim or victimizer—it’s the worst evils of humanity and angels unrestrained and getting worse. Jesus said, those who reject God and want to play God will one day hear him say:
‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. Matthew 25:41
Hell was made for eternal angels, who made an eternal choice. We’ve made the same choice, we’ve all sinned, turned from God and played God, but God gives humans a way out– a 2nd chance, a 3rd, 4th…lifetime of chances to turn back to God, be forgiven through Christ’s payment, and He wants all people to be saved…” 1 Timothy 2:4
If God’s all powerful, why not make it so everyone goes to Heaven?
Let me ask you: What would God do with Hitler, or anyone who does not want to submit to God’s will and ways? Force obedience? Take away his free will? But he’d be a slave, a prisoner in Heaven, not a loving child. And If left with free will, Hitler would choose eternally his will over God’s, but that is hell. God knows all this, and this earth is perfectly suited to shape us into eternally free, loving children.
See humans are not temporal creatures being punished with eternal consequences for earthly sins. That’s a horrible misunderstanding of what earth is. We are Eternal Creatures, like the Angels (we live forever)—but God in his mercy starts humans in this Temporal (temporary existence), in the knowledge of Good and Evil–where God gives us a taste of heaven (with beauty, love, kindness and creativity) and a taste of hell (where God stays hidden, and allows self-will to run riot, causing much pain and suffering)—but it’s a very diminished experience of heaven or hell (as NDErs note). God allows suffering so we realize God’s will and ways are missing, and turn back to God in love and forever choose God.
And I believe the reason God gives us guardian angels, who minister to us and record our lives, is to teach the innocent angels of Heaven the knowledge of good and evil through us.
“God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities [angels] in the heavenly places. This was his eternal plan” Ephesians 3:10-11
Through earth’s sufferings, God is birthing eternally free children, who will forever remember the knowledge of good and evil, and so forever choose God. And God is teaching eternal Angels as we follow Jesus and sacrificially love one another—even through the pains and sufferings of life.
And here I need to give warnings you may find strange for me to say: Don’t believe every NDE or spiritual experience. Deception is very real on the other side too. Jesus said,
“You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free… [Lucifer] has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies. – John 8:31-44
Don’t trust individual NDEs or angelic messages if they contradict what Jesus taught. Evil spirits are real, and really deceptive. People will say to me, DMT, or LSD, or Ahyuasca, Peyote—these drugs give you NDE like spiritual experiences. I don’t doubt that (though Howard said he did LSD and it was nothing like his NDE)—but these drugs may be a gateway to the spiritual dimensions—but you’re going there unprotected. Remember, the heavenly welcoming committees were there to protect as well as guide—protect them from evil and deception between this world and God’s world. So you are opening yourself up to a spiritual world that can deceive you, so don’t do it.
Same with seeking Out of Body Astral Travel, or contacting the dead or Spirit Guides. God warns us not to:
Should the living seek guidance from the dead? Look to God’s instructions and teachings! People who contradict his word are completely in the dark. – Isaiah 8:19-20
Test everything by God’s Word. Even if some angelic Spirit guide or deceased person seems really good and wants to help you—the best lie is 90% true remember. Scripture warns us that
Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. – 2 Corinthians 11:14
Tries to appear good, yet deceives. So how do we know this God of Light and Love isn’t Satan in disguise? First, as Christian NDErs have said, “I can’t imagine Satan could fake that kind of love,” but second—if a Being of Light contradicts what God’s revealed through Jesus, don’t believe it.
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God… This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. – 1 John 4:1-2
Some of you have told me you’ve had dead people or angels contact you—you don’t contact them, they just appear. Test them—ask “Do you acknowledge Jesus as Lord?” If not, tell them to leave in the name of Jesus.
Last June I was speaking in Brazil, and I heard an NDE story from a Pastor and his wife I think God gave to warn you. They lost their teenage son. She was despondent, fell into depression, could not let go of him. She accidentally mixed her medications and had an NDE. An angel took her to Jesus who showed her how much her son wanted to be in Heaven—told her she must go back. But when she came back, she still could not let him go. Then one day, her teenage son burst into the house, flopped down on the couch—just like when he was alive. She was so overjoyed, she even rubbed his head just like she used to—and the same Angel in the NDE appeared and said “You know this is not your son.” He said it again. When she finally said, “I know.” A demonic figure manifest where her son had been, and the angel grabbed it and was gone. Deception is real, here and there.
When we undertand all this, it helps answer the number 1 question people ask:
How can a loving God allow so much suffering on earth?
I would never make my children go through that—either God is not loving, not powerful, or isn’t good—or just doesn’t exist. OR…maybe there’s another option.
I remember when my 5 year old daughter fell on the tile, cracked her skull. The doctors shot her with dye to do a CScan and found bleeding under the skull. The next day she had to have a follow up CScan because if the bleeding continued, she could have died—we would lose her. When the doctors went to inject the dye a 2nd time, she screamed and kicked and cried “daddy don’t let them hurt me.” The doctor said, “Dad—you have to hold her down so we can do this.” I had to hold my daughter and let them hurt her while she cried “Daddy, why are you doing this, they’re hurting me.” I cried, she cried—but I did it because I loved her, and I understood something she didn’t. That this temporary pain and suffering was necessary to save her from something much worse. I did it because I wanted her with me for life.
God wants us to love Him, and trust Him, and follow His will. People don’t! And for a short time, He let’s us use and abuse and harm each other—as a loving warning–there’s something far greater, and far worse. So He enters into our sufferings with us—through Jesus’ sufferings 2000 years ago to pay for all our wrongs—but he is with us today to help us overcome all evil. And ultimately, He is going to make everything right. Like Job, like Crystal, one day it will all make sense in God’s presence, and justice will prevail.
So how can we bring more of Heaven to Earth Practically—like Jesus taught us to pray:
- If you’ve never given your life to God—this IS a taste of life without God’s will and ways fully done, so don’t let evil trick you into rejecting God—turn to Him, he’s good. Give your life to him—that’s all it takes to be with God forever.
- When you suffer, go through trials, others do you wrong—follow God through it. Don’t return evil with evil—let God lead you to fight evil with good. He promises to make something eternally good through it for you.
- Realizing the lesson of life is God’s will is good—learn and study God’s revealed will—read and obey His teachings. Don’t be deceived by evil to think your ways are better. Trust God. Get in a group and Grow with us in that.
[i] Moody, Life After Life, 91-92.