After viewing the “Testimony of Heaven: Inside the Holy City – Interview with Rev. Oden Hetrick”, and many other testimonies to supernatural and/or near death experiences, these are some of my thoughts on the matter..
I do not think, based upon what Jesus teaches, and in spite of Catholic, fundamentalist, or evangelical theologies, that any heart that hungers for God will ever be turned away by the Father. Jesus shares a parable and concludes it with a promise: that if an earthly father will not withhold what is good from his children (a snake is not substituted for the request of a fish, nor a stone for a loaf of bread) how much more will God grant the Holy Spirit to the anyone who sincerely persists in asking? And is not the Holy Spirit simply the Presence of the Father desiring to abide with and in the Inner Being?
When Jesus made that promise, there was no “sinnersʼ prayer”, no legalistic “born again theology” and the like, no sacerdotal forms. That all evolved out of orthodoxy post Constantine, and post Reformers… These doctrines have been substituted and inserted between the seeker and the Heavenly Father, and often shut the Way revealed by Jesus. Itʼs become like the leaven of the Pharisees – and everybody argues and debates instead of seeking God Himself.
Jesus says if you have seen / perceived me, you have seen the Father! “You know what the Father is like based on what Iʼm like – unconditionally loving – not dogmatic and condemning.” That is one reason Jesus was sent: to give us a clear picture or the Father! And the Father invites His children to come to Him directly. We donʼt need to perform a ritual or take a sacrament to know our Father. All the bets on priestcraft and dogma are done away with. We donʼt need to make an appointment to visit with Him.
But the religionist would have us believe otherwise – their way or the highway: you enter Heaven by the “works” of right belief, not by knowing God. Thus Jesus Way is substituted by the religious way!
Jesus also taught that the Kingdom of Heaven is within you. It doesnʼt get anymore basic than that. Who has more right to walk in there, inside yourself, than you do?
He also says that to know God is eternal life. St. John informs us right out of the gate that Jesus Christ is the Light of EVERYONE coming into the world.
Iʼm not dissing anybodyʼs mystical experience with “angels” escorting him to heaven, but whatʼs become evident to me is that these experiences almost always characterize the belief systems, or lack of one, that the person comes from.
Just in the last few weeks alone, Iʼve seen the testimonies of:
• Rev. Hetrick, a fundamentalist preacher who regularly visits a Heaven which very
much mirrors his belief system and Bible literalism.
• Anita Moorjani, a nominal Hindu who questioned everything in her traditions, who experienced through nearly dying of cancer the “other” side, as an Infinite Loving Presence which sent her back healed fully, with a message of Absolute Unconditional Love (and St. John says, God IS love!). The experience of Love changed her forever as well as giving her a mission to accomplish to share that simple Love.
• A 4 year old kid named Colton Burpo who experienced an out of body with angels, Jesus, and meeting his sister he never knew he had. I guess Colton still gets visions of Jesus from time to time.
• Glenda Greenʼs encounters with Jesus Christ who makes it clear that God is Love, and we also are made of His substance.
• The young artist Akiane, raised by (former) atheists, who continues to meet Jesus and to paint pictures of Him and the Heaven which is shown to her in her visions, also revealing God as Love.
• And then of course there is an entire body of the works of Emmanuel Swedenborg whose entire visions revealed yet another perception of heaven, along with a wealth of his conclusions about the nature of “expanded reality”.
• Anybody who does hospice work can tell you that as people approach the crossover, that the only consistency is the sense of pure love, in most cases, and there is no fear!
What do these differences tell us?
The only conclusion we can come to is that the dimension we inhabit now, with its 5 senses and finite mind which we call “natural” or “normal” is a severely limited space of experience. There is much more. However –
Experiences of the “afterlife” or “otherworld” seem to reflect the paradigm of the person who has them. I donʼt think we can pick up on them however as reliable sources of “doctrine” per se. Iʼm reminded of Colossians 2:16-19 – “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self- abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.”
Relating to God – knowing God – is not about dogma, nor is it about someone elseʼs mystical encounter – although that can spark an interest and awaken us to the pursuit of God. No, the relationship with our Father is one that is deeply personal, and the more that knowledge of Him is sought, the sweeter it becomes. No oneʼs experience of this is “better” than anotherʼs, and must not be used as a club for converting.
I noticed after this interview, that the interviewer (identifying himself as an “actor and a minister”), made the pitch that no other “religion” except Christianity would bring anyone to Heaven. I think that such “visions” could be used exactly in the way being described in Colossians 2. “See? This is the way you must ʻbelieveʼ – like I do – because Iʼm a pastor in such and such a denomination (or even non-denomination?), so my visions ʻproveʼ our way is the only way.”
They never count on it that anyone will research it themselves, only to discover that Hindus have Hindu NDEʼs, Lutherans have Lutheran NDEʼs, Jews have Jewish NDEʼs… etc.
The fact is that no “religion” or system can bring anyone into the Kingdom of Heaven, for knowing our Heavenly Father is not about relating to Him through the middle men of religion! The kingdom is within you, and it has only one King! (If you want to use that terminology) So where do you go to get there? Within! The approach is personal and contemplative!
Seek the Lord yourself. He is our Father! Rely on Jesusʼ words about everything. Know the Father yourself! I think that for the most part, this lifetime may be after all given to stripping away the entanglements of “religious programming”!