Following on from Ian McCormack’s remarkable conversion to Christianity and his out of body experience – that is travelling to heaven and having an opportunity to turn his life around.

Now strangely, I came across a similar experience in which a man – Scott Drummond – receiving simple surgery for a ski injury,  resulted in him dying after the toniquet that was being applied to him cut off his blood supply and he died. Transported into another world,  Scott’s account of what happens next is quite mind blowing so if you have time watch ups can do so using the highlighted link below.

I will highlight some of his closing comments in next week’s post.

You can listen to  Scott’s story of being transported from this world into the next, the things he saw and what he learnt from the experience that resulted in him not fearing death today.

Find it by clicking This link here

Til then, boldly go!

Continuing the story of atheist Ian McCormack’s encounter with God, we pick up the story from last week – if you haven’t read it, click here so you have the context of what comes next (below)

‘In the pitch black,  Ian found himself drawn up through a beam that increased in light density as  he was lifted through the darkness towards the light. He says,

I felt like a speck of dust being drawn up into a beam of sunlight. I found myself standing in the presence of awesome light and power. I felt pure unadulterated Love flow over me. Love, I thought, how could God love me? I’ve taken his name in vain, I’ve slept around, I’m not a good man, but no matter what I said, waves of His unconditional Love continued to flow over me. I found myself weeping uncontrollably in His Presence. I could see a man standing in front of me, but he was not like anyone I’d ever seen before in my life. His garments were shimmering white in colour. I knew I was looking upon God. As I looked toward His face the intensity of the light seemed to increase  – you couldn’t make out the form of his face as the light was so bright. Moving closer, waves of more Love began to flow towards me, and I felt very safe…  I knew I belonged here, that God had created me to live here – I knew I was home.” (Ian McCormack)

But God had other plans for Ian. It wasn’t yet time for him to go to heaven.

I was just about to enter in and explore, when God stepped back in front of me, and asked me this question. ‘Now that you have seen – do you wish to step in or do you wish to return?’ God then spoke to me and said If I wished to return – I must see things in a new light. I understood that to mean that I must begin to see through his eyes of love, peace, joy, forgiveness, from His Heavenly perspective, not my temporary earthly perspective. Looking back towards the tunnel again I could see a vision of all my family, and thousands and thousands of other people. I asked God who all these people were, and He told me that if I didn’t return then many of these people would not get a chance to hear about Him.

Ian told God that he did wish to go back for the sake of his mother, and for those who had not yet heard about God’s love. Suddenly, Ian found himself…

lying back on a hospital bed with my right leg elevated, cupped in the hands of the young Indian doctor who had been trying to save my life. He had a scalpel or some sharp instrument in his hand and he was prodding the base of my foot like a dead piece of meat. Something seemed to spook the doctor and he quickly turned his head just as my right eye opened and looked at him… Terrified,  the doctor stepped back as if  he had just seen a dead man looking at him…

Shocked and amazed to see Ian alive, the medical staff were amazed to see him, back from the dead! The fact that he awoke at all was an extraordinary miracle.

It is worth noting that when I heard Ian McCormack tell his story to the church I was attending in Hanwell, West London  27 years ago, I remember it differently. My recollection was that he had been dead for 15 minutes and that a tag with his names and details had been tied to his toe and he had been placed in a body bag. It’s possible that I may have read that part (a year later in a Gospel pamphlet about Ian McCormack’s experience) but the fact remains that this was a unique experience  – a miracle (if you like) but more importantly an insight into the Afterlife and the Grace of God.  Check in next week for part 3….

Continuing our series into eternal life and what it looks like, I was reminded of a booklet I read as a christian back in the mid-90s. The seemingly fantastical story of 26- year-old pleasure seeker Ian McCormack who dies and goes to heaven. His account is below and we will look at it over the next few weeks as

Diving for lobster on the island of Mauritius one evening, adventurous Ian MacCormack was stung by a group of box jellyfish. Given that the venom of one can kill a person in four minutes, by the time the ambulance came for Ian, his body was completely paralyzed, and necrosis had started to set into his bone marrow.

Travelling to hospital in the ambulance, McCormack saw his life flash before him. Realising he was near death and remembering how he had rejected God and the afterlife, he suddenly saw a vision of his mother –  the only Christian in the family –  praying for him. Encouraged to cry out to God to her and that God would hear and forgive him, Ian attempted to pray but didn’t know what to say. Crying out he asked God to prove he was real and God reminded McCormack of the Lord’s Prayer.

At the  hospital, they rushed Ian inside where doctors tried to save his life by injecting anti-toxins into his body, but nothing worked and within a few minutes, he was dead.

As his body lay lifeless on the bed, McCormack found himself in a very dark place. Unaware of where he was, he reached out and found himself unable to touch anything. If he tried to touch his face, his hand would go through it. MacCormack began to sense that he wasn’t just in a physically dark place but surrounded by a spiritual darkness. Moreover, he had an eerie feeling there was something else there that was watching him.

The same moment,  a bright beam of light radiated through the darkness and started to lift him upward into it. MacCormack  entered through an opening and found himself inside a long narrow tunnel. At the far end of the tunnel he could see the source of the light. Then he watched as a wave of the light broke away from the source and moved up the tunnel towards him. This light passed through McCormack, and he could feel a wave of warmth and comfort flood his soul.

https://www.aglimpseofeternity.org/ians-testimony/

We’ll continue the story in next week’s post? In the meantime, what do we make of the way hell is described as a dark place without form? (It is certainly different to the one that Dante imagined).

What of the grace afforded to McCormack who as an atheist yet is in the last minutes of his life afforded this opportunity to be forgiven and lifted out of darkness into light

– Is it in keeping with scripture?

– Is it fair on the many who are devout Christians their whole lives and not making a death bed confession?

I look forward to your answers posted on the Tough Questions FB page …til next week

The concept of eternal life (whether qualitative or quantitative) is one based on a simple maxim – that what we see, hear, feel and touch here is not all that there is.  The very idea defies proof or disproof because it is an allegation that there is more, that the dimension that we think we know such a lot about is only a tantalizing prelude to something else.  The idea of “feasibility” therefore, belongs to this life – it is an inappropriate question here, precisely because eternity is, well, its something else.

So eternal life is feasible because it is not unfeasible.  It is arguable because it simply does not belong to the concepts, laws and ideas that we feel we can prove or disprove. We are beginning to know what causes “finite-ness” and though we cannot fix it or stop the process of decay and death, it is becoming possible to at least imagine a universe or a dimension where those laws did not apply.

Feasibility is based on the application of known laws.  Bridges are feasible, landing on Mars is feasible, and vaccines are feasible, because they obey laws that we can harness.  Eternity simply does not bow down to any laws.  God as the creator of all realities (plural) has created another reality that doesn’t bend to the rules we see. This is God, the one who always was, even before and beyond measurable time.  Even modern physics is starting to grasp that idea.

The Christian belief is of “a new heaven and new earth”, of creation reborn (Revelation 21:1-4). This is a reality that is reborn according to new “rules” as Jesus’ resurrected body was remade. But we can never explain it, not here, not now.    When God says, “my thoughts are not your thoughts” He means something very profound.   This is saying that there is nothing whatsoever in all our exocrine or reason that can fully prepare us for Him.  While we must use our brains and our reason, nothing is “unfeasible” for him (Matthew 19:26) because if it were, He would not be God at all.

The great central hope of Christianity (and other faiths) is the promise of eternal life. This is the assurance that existence does not end at human death, that we progress into another realm or dimension, this time without the encumbrance of mortality (Revelation 21 is the classic vision). The gateway to this new realm is the central event of the Christian faith, the resurrection.  Christ is the firstborn from amongst the dead and where goes, we follow.

We work with a fundamental logical limitation – eternal life though is impossible to understand. It is and must be, by definition, beyond our understanding.  We have never been there, and no one has ever come back with any cast iron experience to share. We can do nothing but interpret the texts, apply reason and philosophy, and react internally in our spirit. From that point “you pays your money and you takes your choice”. It lies in the domain of faith, not knowledge. Eternal life or “six feet under” are both unprovable.

Two facets of eternal life come to mind, both of which might be ascribed to the classic gospel statement in Matthew 25:46 where Jesus speaks of “eternal punishment” and “eternal life” :-

Quantity : the idea that eternal life goes on and on, for ever and ever.  It’s a life outside of time and in that sense “timeless”.  I do not know if it  is characterised by the conscious passage of time (or the commensurate risk of becoming bored!), simply that eternal life is outside the realm that we currently see which has the arrow of time moving in one direction and with decay and entropy being its final destination.

Quality:  many of the references to the bible to eternal life carry another connotation, that is, not so much how long it is, bit what it is like.  Eternal life is life characterised as being subject to the kingdom of God and its principles, and eternal judgment is also that which is subject to God’s perfect justice.

Tribal views, theological strictness, and dogma about this frankly make little sense. All we have is the sacred text and what tradition has made of that text, deeply constrained by human experience and our knowledge of this life. The limitations of that lens must make us wary of describing this as “truth” ; it cannot be anything more than speculation based on our personal experience of God and a deep sense of inner assurance. As I say, “you pays your money and you takes your choice” (apparently from Punch magazine in 1848, there you are).

 

Hi all,

Having considered issues with the Tower of Babel narrative (part 1) and how God is portrayed as human rather than divine (in part 2)  we arrive at the last post that offers a more plausible alternative to understanding what actually happened to the people groups involved in the building of the tower at Babel. However, before we go there, a quick reminder of the tower of Babel narrative as it reads in the Bible:

‘Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar.Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.’ (Genesis 11v1-8, NIV)

Somewhere within my investigations into the Tower of Babel, I remember reading  about the different people groups involved in its construction.  A plethora of communities who in making their journeys from places such as Persia, Sudan, Ethiopia and the like, found themselves on a route that took them through Babel as they headed out or on their return journey. Among these people groups were a mix of nomads, intellectuals (such as the Magi), farmers, craftsman and visionaries who individually and collectively found themselves enticed by the idea of being part of a collective with the goal to build a very high tower in Babel that would be so high it would seem to be reaching to the heavens* (* If such a thing were possible!).

Initially, there was common consensus among these people groups who believed they were on the brink of achieving something significant. They were engaged in a construction that had never been envisaged or achieved before. However, as the tower grew in height and the years rolled past, dissension grew among the ranks of those involved in its building, For some, their discontent surfaced in their realisation that great as it was to be building this monumental tower, they had set aside their initial objective which was to find an area to live, work and develop or return to their families or whatever. For others, their discord  related to the timescale and constant need for resources  to complete the building project. Unable to reach agreement, the groups quarrelled with one another as the consensus they once had for the project was replaced with division and discord – which in turn, resulted in a reluctance to persevere with it.

Of course, to those outside of the Babel project community, the groups’ failure to continue with the building of the tower was interpreted as an act of God in which the Divine had come down to disrupt their work. The peoples’ failure to build the tower being attributed to God who confuses them in a way that renders them unable to communicate with one another.

HOWEVER

…might it be that the reason why the project failed is not that the people were afflicted with foreign languages that made it hard to communicate BUT RATHER the communities were no longer of one accord in their thinking and (to outsiders) it seemed as if they were now speaking a different language to one another!

Personally, I believe the latter explanation makes more sense and keeps God good. Rather than a Deity who feels threatened and undone by human achievements, God is hands off, allowing humans to do their thing rather than blighting them to speak in unknown foreign languages for fear they might actually achieve something. Moreover, a God who does not fear human endeavours to be creative and do something remarkable with their lives, intellect and cooperation. This is the God that Christ reveals….

Til next time

Anyone want a half completed tower? Going once, going twice…

 

Okay,  continuing our mini-series on the Tower of Babel, we delve today into the inconsistencies within the narrative as they relate to God’s omnipotence and His love for His Creation. (If you missed last week’s post, you can catch up by clicking here).

In the Bible, the account reads:

‘Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar.Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.’ (Genesis 11v1-8, NIV)

Alright, let me condense down the key ‘God’ moments in this passage:

  1. God comes down to the city, discovers the people’s endeavours to build a tall tower and is threatened by it.
  2. Observing their ability to co-operate, God reasons that nothing is beyond their aptitude and capability.
  3. Fearful of their achievements, God confuses them so they can no longer understand one another’s language which results in…
  4. The people being unable to complete the tower and as a result they move away to fulfil God’s intention that they be scattered across the world.

Fairly straightforward so far..BUT…

Several questions arise about the character of God in this passage. Firstly,  The Divine is portrayed as insecure and easily threatened. Secondly, God is not omniscient (all seeing)  at all as not only does He have to physically come down to the city to view the tower but He also brings others with Him – presumably for protection (though some might suggest the Trinity?)  Lastly, the fact that God* did not know in advance that humans as ‘secondary creators’ – designed in God’s image and working with the available resources of the world – would attempt such a thing, defies understanding.  In being creative, humans were imitating their Creator whose image and raison d’être they bear.

All of which brings us to the nub of why this account of God is problematic – in short, God is portrayed in a way that makes him more like a human than a Deity! He is driven by fear of others and what they might achieve. The Divine is taken to mood swings in which He punishes all by confusing the languages (if indeed, he actually was responsible for doing this?). And why? Because people came together, cooperated and built something extraordinary for that time. (A parent would congratulate their child for such an endeavour not scold them out of hand for doing that which came naturally to them!)

And lastly – where is the Loving God in all of this? Moreover, where is the consistency? God stops people from building a tower made of brick and tar then does not intervene when others develop poison gas and use it to kill hundreds of thousands of people during World War 1. Or develop an atomic bomb to be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War 2?  For many of us, these would be things we might hope  God would intervene in…..but he doesn’t: WHY?  Because God in giving humanity freewill – that is the ability to make their own decisions –  does so at the risk that some may abuse it in ways that affect, hurt and even kill others. Of course, God could withdraw all freewill from humanity but that would result in us being little more than automatons who have no ability to make choices that affect ours and the future of others .

In summary, the Tower of Babel owes much to a text retold and understood from a human perspective. Next week we will consider how this biblical account might be better understood in regard to God, humans and a historical record of events that seeks to keep God good. Untill then…

The Force be with you!

*as Primary Creator

 

 

 

 

With the mini-series on Noah and the Flood behind us, for these last three posts in the Genesis Narrative series, we turn our attention to The Tower of Babel and the rather bizarre account of how God responds to its construction. By that I mean, getting down to what actually happens over that which is presumed to be the mindset and actions of a Deity who is threatened by human cooperation and ingenuity. Interested? Good. Then let us begin with the account of the tower of Babel. In the Bible, the account reads:

‘Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar.Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.’ (Genesis 11v1-8, NIV)

Alright, let me condense this story down to its key moments:

‘Different people groups come together to build a tall tower. Threatened by the height of the building and what the people might achieve, God removes their universal language from them so that they all speak in different languages. Confused, the community is unable to cooperate to get the tower made and as a result, each group returns to the land they came from.’

Okay,  today’s post will consider the Babel account from a narrative point of view.

Next week’s post will consider the inconsistencies within the narrative that do not accord with what we know today about a God who loves His Creation… (and)

The last post will offer a plausible alternative to understanding what actually happened in the tower of Babel story for the people groups involved.

The Babel account from a narrative point of view

First thing to observe here is that the narrative reads more like a ‘lesson’ 0r ‘moral story‘ then a chronological event. We see this in the SET UP and PAY OFFS that occur at different points of the story. The opening of ‘the whole world having one language and a common speech’ is an obvious SET UP to facilitate the PAY OFF later on as to why people now speak different languages in the world.

Similarly, the next part of the narrative that details how bricks are baked thoroughly and fastened together with tar, provides the second SET UP which explains  why (1) the tower is able to reach so high into the sky but more importantly (2)  how it comes to the attention of God (PAY OFF).

As a subplot, we are privy to the raison d’etre of the people’s motivation (SET UP) which is to build something significant that will stop them being scattered across the land (INTENDED PAY OFF). However,  we are told that God – fearful of what the people have achieved and what they are capable of  – causes confusion to arise in their ranks (GOD’S SET UP) so that the work will stop (GOD’S PAY OFF).

And finally, the architect and people’s greatest fear that they would be insignificant and scattered across the world (SET UP)  is realised as their inability to communicate results in them being spread across the whole known world (GOD’S PAY OFF).

In summary, it seems like the story serves as a device to teach a moral lesson or warning about venturing beyond the boundaries prescribed while offering a fanciful idea and explanation as to why people do not speak a universal language today.

If you do not like the way this story casts God as an insecure Deity, tune in for the next two posts as I promise there is a far better explanation that keeps God good while addressing the issue of confused language in a way that doesn’t require us setting aside our ability to reason in the process. Til then…

…pass the bricks Harry!

 

 

Having completed our five-part Genesis mini-series, I realised that there is still one more post to write on this section of the Flood Narrative. Namely, the explanation of what happened after Noah’s family found dry land- and here I am thinking in particular about the feasibility of whether Noah’s three sons could repopulate the earth by themselves? In the Jerusalem Bible it states:

‘These are the descendants of Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham and Japtheth, to whom sons were born after the Flood. ‘Japheth’s sons: Gomer, Magog the Medes, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras….(then)  Ham’s sons: Cush,  Misraim, Put, and Canaan… (and finally) Shem’s sons Elam, Ashur, Arpachshad, Lud, and Aram.’ (Genesis 10, v1, 2, 6, 11)

My, what a lot of males born to Noah’s sons and seemingly not a daughter in sight – what are the odds on that? Not just this but it seems from the records that Noah’s grandsons also had numerous sons and grandsons. Which is all very curious given that we know an adult male and female is necessary in the process of making a baby. So what are we to make of it?

Well, we know that without women, there would have been no children born to Shem, Ham and Japtheth so obviously women were there.Yet there is no mention of them entering or exiting the Ark. There is also no mention of them disembarking when the Ark finds lands as is the incomplete story of how grandchildren and great grandchildren come into being.

Of course,  to understand this passage we need to be culturally assimilated into the patriarchy of the religion in this period. To understand how it resulted in male children having their history recorded while the story of young girls was largely ignored, one only has to look to the absence of women in the story which was more often taken as a cultural choice to view what God is doing from a patriarchal view point.

In short, women were on the ark. They disembarked, worked the land and gave birth to offspring – it’s just their pioneer spirit was not recorded. That said, it does explain how Noah’s sons could grow a family and advance.

 

 

 

 

 

As we reach the end of this mini-series on Noah, I am reminded of the quote by LP Hartley in his book ‘The Go-Between’ in which he observes that “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

So too, the world of Noah and others of that time. Indeed, for ourselves, like most people born since the Enlightenment (1800s+) with its emphasis on rational ideas and thinking, there is a dichotomy between the way people of that time understood their world and the way we understand it today. A world in which rational thinking was yet to be developed, understood and applied. Now, compare that with the world of Noah which was one of simplistic belief – not because God made it that way but because human development was at the start of its journey in which people would later move towards exploring, learning and understanding the world in which they lived.

On November 1st, 1755, Lisbon was rocked by a huge earthquake and subsequent tsunamis that claimed 90,000+ lives in a day. Prior to this, the Church who had  encouraged the faithful to discover God through Nature found themselves between a rock and a hard place. The problem being the Divine seemed to be against His own as the majority of those killed in Portugal were Christian and devout worshippers at that. For the believing communities within Europe who learnt about the fate of Lisbon, they also were undone because their understanding of God as a kindly, concerned and loving Creator was no longer viable. If anything,  the Divine appeared to be the opposite, wreaking havoc on people through wanton acts of Nature that were both lethal and red in tooth and claw.

No longer able to point to Nature as the source of God’s goodness to his Creation, the Church had to rethink whether the wanton acts visited on Lisbon were in fact directed by the hand of a Loving God (if at all?) In the end, what emerged was an understanding of a world in which earthquakes and tsunami’s come about – and this, independently of God and definitely not the whim of a dualistic mindset in which the Divine  fluctuates between good and evil actions.

Okay, back to Noah and the Ark floating around on the water with no land in sight – and this is a man who neither understands geology nor how tectonic movement causing plates  to shift and dry land to become flooded – be that by one sea tipping into another or territory being flooded by a giant meteor strike or whatever. Now, into this simplistic understanding of a world in which Noah believes that God is bringing about a flood, it is quite easy to see how he might conclude  (in his mindset) that the only reason God would do this is to bring about the end of those people who are against God. The fact that God instructs him to bring animals is presumed that this is to repopulate the planet rather than the necessity of food for the saga that lies ahead. In short, Noah’s thinking is simplistic (as was the thinking of the fertility cults, sun-worshippers, etc) because their understanding of the world was limited during this period of time – and with that I think its right to cut Noah a little slack. Had we been born during this period it’s very likely we would have thought and acted in much the same way as Noah 🙂