Lift Up Your Eyes for Perspective and Purpose

Though God’s ways are not our ways, and his thoughts are not our thoughts, God invites us into his perspective and purpose.

We live “under the sun”, as the writer of Ecclesiastes describes our existence, filled with existential angst.  We live year by year, month by month, week by week, day by day, and moment by moment. The inertia of our lives is focused on the here and now, with our dying always looming in the near distance like a great mountain range rising up to the clouds we cannot conquer.

Our perspective is limited. It is finite. We stand at any given time on a small planet in a small solar system in one of billions of galaxies that exist in a universe. We stand “under the sun”, and our perspective, therefore, limited.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

(Isaiah 55:9)

That verse from Isaiah is a way of saying that God has a different perspective than we do. God has a purpose, and he invites us to consider the difference between His perspective and ours. He desires for us to seek to understand His perspective and to align with His purpose.

When Jesus says my yoke is easy and my burden is light, I believe he was encouraging us, at least in part, to understand and to adopt his perspective and his purpose. Our momentary lives include existential angst, dread, suffering and pain, but God has a purpose and a plan for us that is greater than what we see and experience under the sun, and it is liberating!

I see three concrete examples in scripture of the difference between God’s perspective and purpose and ours. (I am sure there are many more.) As God invites us to consider that His thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways, I think it is appropriate to consider and meditate on these three examples.

Continue reading “Lift Up Your Eyes for Perspective and Purpose”

An Interview with Dr. Bruce Greyson on Near Death Experiences, Part 2

If you lose your fear of dying, you also lose your fear of living.

A woman dies and her spirit arises.

I have done two articles on Dr. Michael Guillen’s treatment of near-death experiences (NDEs) based on his podcast, Science + God with Dr. G. Dr. Guillen is an astrophysicist who taught physics at Harvard and earned his degrees from Cornell University under the tutelage of men like Carl Sagan and Fred Hoyle.

He is no slouch when it comes to science, and his beloved science led him to question the materialistic worldview he assumed to be true. As his worldview expanded with the quantum entanglement of scientific discoveries that pushed those once fixed boundaries, he continued on a journey that eventually led him to faith in a Creator, God.

Dr. Guillen’s current interest in NDEs is understandable. It didn’t take much convincing for Dr. Guillen to determine that NDEs are real, but his interviewee in episode #48 of the podcast, Dr. Bruce Greyson, the Chester Carlson Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia, was not as eager, initially, to explore them. He didn’t have room in his own materialistic worldview for NDEs, but the curiosity of his scientific mind propelled forward.

Dr. Greyson has studied NDEs, now, for about 50 years, and the data he has accumulated is significant. In this second article on the interview of Dr. Greyson, I want to begin with the question posed by Dr. Guillen to Greyson: whether the near-death stories people tell are “all over the map”? Greyson did not hesitate with his response:

“They are not all over the map. There are similarities in what people tell us, not only between different individuals but between different cultures and religions. A lot of people tell the same stories. We find near-death experiences from people in Ancient Greece and Rome that sound like they could have happened yesterday.”

The consistencies have been categorized over many years by researchers. They have examined the different types of NDEs and tried to correlate them with environmental factors, such as lack of oxygen and over-stimulation by drugs. Greyson says, however, “We don’t find any correlations at all.” His conclusion from these analyses is that categorizations according to environmental factors “don’t mean anything”.

For these reasons, Greyson treats all NDEs as the same phenomenon. He says the same types of phenomena seem to occur regardless of who has experienced them. Gender, ethnicity, cultural background and religiosity (or the lack thereof) don’t seem to factor into it. “Atheists describe the same things as Catholics do,” says Greyson.

It isn’t the differences, but the common outcomes, that intrigue him as a psychiatrist. He says, the most interesting thing to him is the effect NDEs have on the experiencers.

Dr. Greyson says, “I make my living trying to help people change their lives, and it’s very difficult to do.” The NDE experiences that take a few seconds or a few minutes at most “totally transform someone’s attitudes, beliefs, values, and behavior. That’s a powerful experience.”

Dr. Greyson says that the data shows that NDEs are a universal phenomenon. He won’t speculate whether NDEs indicate some universal reality, something universally going on with physical bodies, or something that is a universal psychological trait. He says, “We don’t know the answer to that.”

As Greyson continues with the interview, it is evident that his scientific training and the skepticism familiar to his materialistic worldview guide him forward with caution. He is not quick to speculate, but he is candid about the things that appear to be evident from the volume of data.

Continue reading “An Interview with Dr. Bruce Greyson on Near Death Experiences, Part 2”

An Interview with Dr. Bruce Greyson on Near Death Experiences: Part 1

The first part of an interview with a secular, materialist scientist who studies near-death experiences.

In the second episode of a two-part series near-death experiences (NDEs), Dr. Michael Guillen interviewed Dr. Bruce Greyson, the Chester Carlson Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia, on the subject. I wrote about the first episode in which Michael Guillen reviewed evidence that NDEs are “real”.

They really happen, and they happen all over the world, in all cultures of the world, and going back in time. We have enough data to indicate that they are a real phenomenon with certain characteristics that can be studied in the data.

In his second episode focusing on NDEs, Dr. Guillen, an astrophysicist, interviewed Dr. Greyson, who has studied NDEs for decades with scientific rigor and published many articles in peer-reviewed journals. I have linked the 40-minute conversation here:

Guillen began by asking for a definition of near-death experience. Greyson defined them by saying they are “profound, subjective experiences” that people have when they are on the threshold of death.

Characteristics include a sense of leaving the physical body and an overwhelming sense of peace and wellbeing. They sometimes include an experience of leaving this physical realm and an experience of some other dimension or realm. People often describe encounters with other entities they interpret to be deities or divine beings. They often involve a review of their own lives in detail, and many of them conclude with a decision to return to life or being “sent back” against their will. 

Dr. Greyson speculates that the experiences suggest some sort of intermediate state between life and death. All of this may seem particularly unscientific, though.

These conclusions seem like the stuff of pseudoscience or metaphysics, but Dr. Greyson grew up in a scientific household with a materialistic worldview. He had no spiritual or religious familiarity. His background is science, and he still admits that he is more comfortable with a materialist mindset in which the physical world is all there is and everything else is simply fantasy.

Dr. Greyson’s has been trained and works within a scientific framework, but he no longer dismisses NDEs as fantasy. Something happened in his life that caused him to spend the last 50 years studying the phenomenon to try to make sense of it.

Continue reading “An Interview with Dr. Bruce Greyson on Near Death Experiences: Part 1”

Why Did God Subject the World to Futility?

Photo by Ken Gortowski

I want to focus on the following statements Paul made in his letter to the Romans:

“[T]he mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject[i] itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so…. 

Romans 8:7

“[C]reation was subjected[ii] to futility[iii], not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free ….”

Romans 8: 20-21

Life and death, the universe and all the “stuff” that is, ever was and ever will be are “in God’s hands”. That is another way of saying that God created everything. God is timeless and immaterial and has created all that is material out of nothing, including us.

But the material world, the world as we know it, is passing away (1 John 2:17), even from the moment it was created! That’s what science (the second law of thermodynamics) tells us also. The world has been has been “winding down” since the “Big Bang”.

Paul’s statement about the “futility” to which the world has been subjected suggests that futility is part of God’s ultimate plan, because it was done “in hope”.

If that doesn’t add up for you, I don’t think you are alone. I have been puzzling on it for awhile. What possibly could be the plan?

The trite response that “God’s ways are not our ways” falls short. We want to know, though perhaps it’s true that we may never completely understand. Still, I have some ideas that are informed by Scripture that I will try to lay out in this article.

Continue reading “Why Did God Subject the World to Futility?”

Exchanging Death for the Gift of Life

From dust to dust is our natural end, but God offers us life.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23 ESV

We have earned death. The “wages” we receive is what we have earned, God desires to give us the gift of life. He desires to exchange what we have earned for the gift of life.

We are from the dust, and to the dust we return. That is our natural lot in life. Death is our natural end, but God desires to give us life.

This is not unfair. Death is all we can expect as finite creatures. We cannot expect more, but God offers life. He offers us His life. 

We did not create the world. We are not the captains of our own destiny. We are aliens in this place. From dust to dust we is our natural condition.

Yet, God inexplicably and unbelievingly offers us His life.

How do we know this? We know it because of Jesus. Jesus sad no greater love has anyone for another than to lay down his life for that person. (John 15:13) Then Jesus laid down his life. He laid down his life for us.

We know we can trust God because He became one of us. He emptied Himself of His power, glory, and privilege to experience the life we have.  (Phil. 2:7-8 ESV) He didn’t have to do it. He did it willingly for us.

Then, he rose from the dead. He showed us that death has no hold on him. His life, the life that triumphs over death, is what He offers us.

It is not an automatic thing, though. We have to want it. We have to receive it. We have to accept it.

Some of us would rather accept only what we have earned. He came to the people with whom He long established a relationship, through whom He would reveal Himself to the world, but many did not receive Him. (1 John 1:11)

He chose to give us a choice. That choice He came to offer in person to the first century Hebrews with whom He cultivated a relationship over the centuries. Now He offers that choice to everyone, even us.

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (john 1:12-13)