Article copyright by Brian A. Williamson
(Brian A. Williamson is a hospital chaplain and former pastor in Mississippi. He shares the following reflection on a funeral and on a hospital visit he made with a dying patient, which I found thought-provoking. He follows the reflection with a poem. Feel free to share your comments below.)
I recently attended the funeral of my dear friend Jack’s beloved wife of more than 30 years—Paula. Paula, too, was a close friend of mine, but not like Jack. I’ve told people many times about Jack’s faithful service as a devoted deacon of the first church I served as pastor. Being with Jack in this setting was different… Many times before Jack and I sat with others in a funeral setting, but usually he was the one walking around and ministering to others in the room. He was clearly uncomfortable on this occasion with all the attention he was receiving by those coming to pay their respects and offer condolences—a mark of an incredibly humble man. On this day, I saw no tears fall from his eyes while I marveled at his faith—he clearly knew that his wife’s final hope was realized.
Paula’s casket was beautiful; the drape of orchids, hydrangea, and white with light blue roses was the prettiest I’d ever seen on a casket. The colors of the flowers provided the eyes with a visual symphony in perfect pitch…and all of this matched the colors of the sanctuary of that little country church beautifully; and I thought, “Paula would smile if she could see all of this…” And then it hit me—I wonder, “what if she can?” I looked to and fro amongst all us mourners and supporters, contemplating this thought with a different curiosity than ever before. I thought, she’d cry at her own funeral—there were people everywhere sitting with this family, to support them and mourn with them over the loss of “the Queen of Banana Pudding” as she is known in the church. Paula isn’t used to this much attention, and I imagine she’d be uncomfortable with all this, too. Hmmm… I wonder, “What do dead people see?”
Flashback—I visited a terminal cancer patient in the hospital months ago who told me her only prayer request since being given a terminal diagnosis was to ask God to let her live long enough to see her first grandchild being born. Tearfully, she acknowledged the looming reality that she was dying faster than her daughter’s pregnancy was progressing. Several family members sat somberly with this woman as she lamented her death and God’s flat denial of her request. “Why would God take this from me?” she asked, seeming to genuinely hope that I had a great answer… But, I didn’t. Then she asked, “Do you think God will let me see my granddaughter’s birth even though I’m dead?”
I’d never considered a question the likes of this one before. Is it answerable? I pondered what it might be like once dead; is there Scripture to support such a notion? As I pondered the question further, her family began to offer her spiritual condolences… “Everything’s gonna be ok, why you won’t even care about us…things will be so beautiful in heaven that you won’t even think about us” said one man in a wheelchair. Another chimed in, “That’s right—you’ll just be worshipping the Lord, and you’ll be so consumed by his majesty that you’ll forget about us altogether…” Still another, “When you get to heaven, your sense of time will be like a warp or something; you won’t even think of being in a different place cause when you blink, we’ll all be there with you.” (Really? I thought…you gotta be kiddin’ me!) I thought more about the woman’s question…it was simple…yes or no…no other explanation needed.
“YES” I said; and the room fell quiet instantly, as if someone had thrown open the hatch in space and the vacuum sucked all the wind and words out of the room. My eyes were locked into the dying woman’s eyes as I had come to this conclusion, communicating my sincere faith in my response. She locked her eyes on mine as seconds passed in slow motion—she was processing. She looked interested and hopeful, and I repeated, “Yes. I do think that God will allow you to see the birth of your granddaughter even though you are dead.”
The others in the room leaned back as if lightning was about to strike me as God “took me out” for such heresy. I continued with my thoughts out loud: “It seems to me that God understands the beauty of birth, for God created it; and, God knows the love you have for your daughter as well as your love for the unborn child. If God formed this life and longs for her to spring from her mother’s womb, and I believe that you believe it is so; then, I’m certain that his love for you would not deny you the joy of such an anticipated event that is overflowing with hope and love from you. Because of his love, I believe he will allow you to see what He will see on that blessed day. Even though you will be dead, you will be alive by faith. You’re death won’t make you blind—you will still see. I don’t know how it will work, but I believe it will be so. You and your family will celebrate your granddaughter’s birth together—of this, I have no doubt.”
She held her breath for in silence; then, she believed and exhaled. It was as if the weight of the world had been lifted off the woman’s shoulders. Her mourning tears became happy tears, and the anticipation of the new birth again gave her hope. No one had ever considered the possibility that God had already granted this grieving woman’s prayer request because she continued to die; but, God had.
Though “in Adam” we all die; yet, “in Christ” we all live! In Christ we live and move [and hope] and have our being! In Christ, this woman will live to see the birth of her prized and much-anticipated grandchild! “Dead, and yet I see!” will be her anthem on that day. I can’t explain how it will work or what it will be like, I only know that is the truth.
Dead and yet I see
By: Chaplain Brian Williamson
I’m dead and yet I see, having crossed over to Promised Land,
‘Tis my home now, though it’s hard for you to understand.
Am I dead? Yes…and yet I see, for by my faith I’ve moved along,
Joyfully straining to be happy in life, while longing what lies beyond.
Now more than ever, by my hope in Christ, I see
That painful things in life make sense in eternity.
Dead, but now I see. I know you don’t understand,
But my life isn’t over, and I still see you from Glory Land.
God knew my love for you; and though we now live separately,
I’m closer than you think, beloved; for though I’m dead, yet I see.
Our God gives us hope through the promises contained in Scripture, and by faith in Him, I believe that he would never remove our love for others—if he did, He doesn’t understand.
Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers
Question from Anna:
I hope I can get your opinion on this: do dogs have a soul and do they go to heaven?
Answer from Dr. Rogers:
Anna, Genesis 1:27 says that humans are made in God’s image, and Genesis 2:7 says that when God made Adam, the man became a living soul. However, nowhere does the Bible say that animals have souls.
Several passages in scripture imply that animals will be in heaven, such as Isaiah 11:6 which describes a future paradise of the wolf and lamb, leopard and goat, calf and lion living together in peace. Revelation 21:1 says there will be a new heaven and new earth in the last days, so I believe God will have animals in heaven for the enjoyment of mankind. However, animals are not made in the image of God nor do they have souls like human beings, for only human beings can have a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ.
Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers
“Should we accept only good from God and not adversity?” (Job 2:10, HCSB)
Last week, I met a man who wanted to give up on life. I asked him if he knew the story of Job, from the Bible. He said he had a Bible somewhere, but had never heard of Job. So I gave him the short version of the story: Job was a good man who worshiped God, but he lost everything. Bandits stole his property, a storm killed his children, and then his skin broke out in painful sores. His wife told him, “Curse God and die.” When I said this, my new friend raised his eyebrows, and wanted to know what happened next. I explained that Job refused to curse God. Then his three friends came to comfort him, but instead of comforting him, they tried to defend God. They said Job must have sinned, and that was why God was allowing him to suffer. Job objected, saying he didn’t deserve his suffering. In the end, God spoke to Job, and restored his fortunes.
The wrong question to ask of Job
Many people go to the book of Job looking for the answer to why people suffer. Unfortunately, the only answers they find are negative:
Job’s suffering was not because God was angry or punishing him. Bildad, one of Job’s friends, accused him of this. He implied that Job must have forgotten God, so God forgot him (Job 8:13). But Bildad was wrong! God specifically said in Job 1:8 and 2:3, “Have you considered My servant Job? No one else on earth is like him, a man of perfect integrity, who fears God and turns away from evil.”
Job’s suffering was not because Job sinned. Bildad said that Job’s children died because of their sin (8:3), and Zophar, another one of Job’s friends, accused Job himself of being so sinful that “God has chosen to overlook some of your sins” (11:6). But they were wrong! Job 2:10 says, “Throughout all of this Job did not sin in what he said.”
Job’s suffering was not answered by God, either. After the long debates between Job and his friends, the Lord Himself answered Job from the whirlwind in chapters 38-41. But if you read those chapters to find an answer to suffering, you will be disappointed. It’s not there. Instead, God turns the questions on those who have been asking questions. “Where were you when I established the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding,” God asks (38:4). Then the Lord lists the amazing traits of His creation, and asks if Job can explain all of that. The point is blunt: We do not know all there is to know. Only God does. We cannot understand God. As the Lord proclaimed through the prophet Isaiah, “For as heaven is higher than earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).
So what is the answer to suffering? The Book of Job doesn’t answer that question. In fact, it’s the wrong question to ask.
The right question to ask of Job
The question to ask is not, Why is there suffering? The question to ask is, What do suffering people need to do? The Book of Job has hope-filled answers to this question.
First, hold on to faith. Despite his losses and sorrow, Job fell to the ground and worshiped, saying, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Praise the name of Yahweh” (1:21). Later, in the middle of his debates with his friends, Job says, “Even if He kills me, I will hope in Him.” This doesn’t fit with the so-called “prosperity gospel” that says if you just have faith, all will go well. No, this is a real-world faith, that holds on to God’s hand, even when it cannot see His plan.
Second, live in integrity. Satan, the old accuser before the Lord, said that Job would curse God if Job suffered. But Satan was wrong. This is one of the major points of the book. The word “integrity” is repeatedly used to describe Job. Notice the question Job’s wife asks: “Do you still retain your integrity? Curse God and die!” (2:9) But Job rejects her suggestion as foolish, saying, “Should we accept only good from God and not adversity?” (2:10) We read in James 2:2-4 to consider it joy when we face trials, because God uses it to produce maturity in us. It has been my observation as a hospital chaplain, that suffering generally reveals the attitude that is already in a person. I’ve seen people handle horrible physical problems with grace and peace, while others with lesser physical ailments complain and are bitter. We choose how we will respond. Job set a standard, choosing to live in integrity.
Third, hope in the Savior. One of the greatest cries of faith comes in the midst of the greatest pain, when Job says, “Even now my witness is in heaven, and my advocate is in the heights!… But I know my living Redeemer, and He will stand on the dust at last. Even after my skin has been destroyed, yet I will see God in my flesh” (16:19; 19:25-26). Long before Jesus Christ came, Job caught a vision of the Redeemer, who would die on the cross for our sins, and be our advocate before God the Father (Romans 8:34; 1 Timothy 2:5).
There is an fable about a poor man who had a valuable horse. People told him that he should sell his horse, so he wouldn’t be poor, but he refused. Then the horse ran away, and the people asked, “Why didn’t you sell it when you could? The man said, “Don’t say that. All you can say is the horse ran away.” Later, the horse returned, with 20 wild horses, and the man suddenly became the owner of 21 valuable horses. This time they said, “We were wrong! Now we know why the horse ran away; it was to bring you riches later.” The man said, “Don’t say that. All you can say is the horse returned with more horses.” Then the man’s son broke his leg, trying to tame one of the wild horses. The people said, “Why did you keep the wild horses? Now your son has a broken leg.” The man said, “Don’t say that. All you can say is my son broke his leg.” Then their country went to war against a larger, more powerful nation, and the army came to their town, forcing all of the young men to join the army, except for the son of the man with the wild horses. The people said, “Now we know why his leg was broken, to spare him from dying in the war.” Once again, the man said, “Don’t say that. We don’t know why. All we can say is my son did not have to go to war.”
Thus the question we need to ask is not why? but what? Not, Why do people suffer? but What do suffering people need to do? Even if we knew the answer to why, it would not help us do anything different. But the answer to the second question gives us hope and purpose that we can put into action. Because our Redeemer lives, we even after our skin is destroyed, we shall see God!
Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers
I’m glad that I met some angry dogs on a country road.
This summer, I was going for a walk on a country road where my in-laws live. I have walked that road for years. I know that many of the homes have dogs, so sometimes I carry a stick for protection. That particular day, I brought my pepper spray. Unfortunately, a woman near the end of the road let her dogs chase me. I had to use the pepper spray to keep the dogs away from me. The woman and I exchanged a few words. I’m not really proud of the argument we had.
This fall, I was visiting my in-laws again, and I decided to go for a walk again with a stick and my pepper spray. I don’t enjoy conflict, and even though I thought the “crazy woman with the dogs” was wrong, I had no desire to have another confrontation. Right before I reached her home, there is another road that turns left, so I turned left down that road. I’m so glad that I did. The side road was so beautiful and peaceful that I put away the spray and got out my cell phone to take a picture. At the top of this page is the photograph I took that day. Click on it and you can see how beautiful the view was. It reminded me of the poem “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost, which ends with these words:
Through this experience, God showed me a spiritual truth. Sometimes we have trouble in life, and we don’t understand why it comes. It may cause us to go down a different path, a path we did not expect. But often God works through these circumstances to bring about something beautiful and new. We just need to look for it.
We need to listen to the Holy Spirit when He puts up a road block on a path, and be open to going down a new path. Isaiah 30:21 says, “Whenever you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear this command behind you; ‘This is the way. Walk in it.'” When we face trouble, we need to trust in a loving God who desires to bring good results out of the bad circumstances, if we will be faithful. As Romans 8:28 says, “God causes all things to work together for good to those that love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.”
I regret that I had the conflict that sent me down a different road. I’m even embarrassed that I let myself get into a senseless argument with a woman over her dogs. But, like Robert Frost, I’m glad that the conflict I had on that road opened up a new road I would otherwise have never seen. How about you?
(For the next three days I will be publishing a guest blog on what happens upon our death, written by my mother, Joyce Clinton Rogers. Today’s post is on near death experiences. Tomorrow’s post will be on the afterlife. The third post will give an annotated bibliography of her sources, for your further reading.
Joyce C. Rogers is a graduate of William Carey University (B.S.) and the University of Southern Mississippi (M.Ed.). She has written Sunday School literature for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, including a unit on the afterlife. She and my father, Robert H. Rogers, live in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.)
What happens the moment you die? Where will you go? How will you get there? When you arrive, will you know people? Will angels escort you? What are Heaven and Hell really like? Are near death experiences (NDEs) real? Is death the end?
I experienced deeply moving and spiritual experiences at the deaths of each of my parents, which contributes to my interest in these matters. When my Dad passed away in 1975, I mentally “saw” his body floating at the ceiling of the hospital room. He said, “Don’t cry. I’m fine.” This was said to my mind or spirit – I don’t know how to describe it. It was very real to me. I haven’t forgotten it, after 38 years. Incidents like this don’t seem to be that unusual, as I will explain later in this article.
In 1992, my mother passed away following a long illness and suffering. I began to wonder about my own death. I did not and do not doubt my salvation, but I was troubled about the physical part of dying. I prayed about this continually until I felt directed to read Isaiah. “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you, for I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 43:1-3a, NASB)
This answer was very real and satisfying. It was also very emotional. I could not share it without tears for several years, but this answer erased my fear and stopped my worrying. Of course, I am not trying to hurry that time, either.
In my quest to understand more about near death experiences (NDEs), death and the afterlife, I made an exhaustive study of the Bible, as well as 21 books and five audiovisuals. Here is a summary of what I learned. First, we will look at NDEs, and in the second part, we will look at the afterlife. Third, I will give an annotated bibliography to assist you further reading on the subject.
One of the first books I read on the subject of NDEs was the delightful little book, Heaven is for Real, a Little Boy’s Astounding Story of his Trip to Heaven and Back. This book captivated my interest and made me want to know more about these experiences.
Another book that has been an inspiration to me is 90 minutes in Heaven by Don Piper. When I saw and heard Don Piper speak at Hardy Street Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, MS, I was surprised to see that he seemed perfectly normal physically – no limps or obvious scars. He was in a horrific car accident and was pronounced dead for an hour and a half. After a minister prayed over him and sang hymns, he began to sing with the minister! Needless to say, everyone was astonished! He recovered, but it was a long and difficult recovery.
At first, Don did not want to share his NDE. He thought others would not believe him. (This is a common reaction.) He also considered the experience very intimate and holy. Later he was persuaded that others would benefit from his story of going to Heaven, of being welcomed by loved ones, and experiencing heavenly wonders. He then wrote his book and began to speak on many occasions.
One of the most touching stories told in Heaven is for Real is the experience of the little boy, Colton, when he met his sister in Heaven. Since he was not quite four years old, his parents had not told him that his mother had miscarried. But he met a little girl in Heaven who told him that she was his sister. His parents were astonished when they heard this. They had not known that the miscarried baby was a girl or that she was being cared for in Heaven. I shared this incident with a ladies’ group. One lady was in tears because she had miscarried a child. She found immense comfort to think her child was prospering in Heaven.
An extensive account of the sights and sounds of Heaven are given in My Time in Heaven by Richard Sigmund. He declared that “absolute joy and total love are the rule in Heaven.” He tells of being escorted to Heaven by angels and of seeing Jesus.
Earlier, I described the “out of body” experience I had when my father died. There are many stories of “out of body” experiences. One story about a girl hit by a car is in the book Encountering Heaven and the Afterlife by James L. Garlow and Keith Wall. She could see her body and people trying to help her. She felt perfectly at peace at the time. She said she had a conversation with God in which she asked to go back and finish her life. She told God she would witness for Him now that she knows God is real. God allowed her to come back.
There are also many, many accounts of NDEs. I think some people don’t share these accounts because they are afraid that others will not believe they are true. Testimonies of children are to me especially believable and endearing.
Stories of going to Hell are told much less often. However, they are told. In Encountering Heaven and the Afterlife, there is a story of a man whose heart stopped during heart bypass surgery. He became aware of darkness and demons. With horror, he began to pray for God to deliver him. He realized that he had not confessed sin and acknowledged God in his life. He recovered and immediately wanted to be baptized. He was not shy about sharing what happened to him. “I know God is real and that Jesus died so I don’t have to go back to Hell ever again,” he said.
There are stories written by a hospice nurse in Glimpses of Heaven: True stories of Hope and Peace at the End of Life’s Journey by Trudy Harris. Each experience related is unique. Most want their affairs settled, including relationships before they “let go.”
Catherine Marshall wrote the Foreword to Betty Malz’s book, My Glimpse of Eternity. Betty was pronounced dead and the hospital sheet pulled over her head. Twenty eight minutes later, she returned to her body after getting a glimpse of Heaven. Catherine Marshall said, “Upon occasion God breaks into human life to give a glimpse of what lies ahead. Betty Malz’s remarkable experience is a resounding ‘Yes, there is life after death.’” Betty sang with the angels and understood several different languages used in the music.
Copyright 2013 by Joyce C. Rogers
(Coming tomorrow: OUT OF THIS WORLD! Part Two: The Afterlife)
TEN THINGS THAT WILL NOT BE IN HEAVEN:
1. No sea. (Revelation 21:1)
2. No tears. (Revelation 21:4)
3. No cemeteries. (Revelation 21:4 – no death)
4. No hospitals. (Revelation 21:4 – no pain)
5. No temple. (Revelation 21:22 -not needed because God is there on His throne).
6. No sun. (Revelation 21:23- God is the light.)
7. No night. (Revelation 21:25; 22:5 – and thus no evil or fear.)
8. No locks. (Revelation 21:25)
9. No sin. (Revelation 21:8; 22:15)
10. No unbelievers. (Revelation 21:27 – no admission unless their name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, written in the grace-soaked blood of Jesus.)