The subject of near-death experiences is a deep rabbit hole I have come to find out. I have listened to a number of testimonies recently of people who have had near-death experiences. Trying to make some sense of them led me to look up what Gary Habermas has to say about them. Habermas has been involved in the research of near-death experiences (NDEs) for a couple of decades.
This blog piece follows a summary of what Habermas says about NDEs. (See Habermas on Near-Death Experiences) I am picking up here where I left off about the near-death experience of the famous atheist, Sir Alfred Jules (AJ) Ayer, that is self-described in the article, What I Saw When I was Dead. This piece explores beyond the suggestions Habermas makes (that NDEs may be influenced by worldview) and gets behind the public persona of Ayer after his NDE.
I’ve been listening to a lot of Tim Keller lately. Today I listened to an old interview in which he said something that got me thinking. He asserted that, for many or most people, whether they are religious or secular often depends on their social influences. I suppose this would mean parents and family as well as peers. Richard Dawkins, the famously vocal atheist has said similar things: what religion we are depends to a large extent on the society in which we grew up.
Keller supported his thesis with anecdotal evidence from his own experience. He says, for him, he was religious initially because he wanted to gain the favor of people closes to him. What does that say about the power of social interactions? What does it say about our beliefs? If Richard Dawkins and Keller are right, how authentic are anyone’s beliefs?
I read an autobiographical account by CS Lewis in college in which he recounted his journey from atheist to agnostic to Christian. The twists and turns of his journey were fascinating to me. I gained much insight into my own journey and how God works in the hearts of people who are inclined to follow the prompts.
His journey was like mine in some respects and much different in others. Just as I see how uniquely tailored and personal those prompts were for me, they were just as uniquely tailored for CS Lewis.
The God revealed in the Bible is a Person, and He is personal. He made us in His image. He made us to have relationship with Him. He relates to us as no one can. He knows our innermost being. I have found all these things to be true to my own experience.
After CS Lewis conceded the intellectual point that the universe was more likely created by a Causal Agent than not, he began to sort through the various possibilities for what that Causal Agent could be. Searching out the various world religions, he found that one stood out. One was not dependent on man’s own capacity to know or to understand. All other religions required special knowledge, understanding, and effort to achieve a connection with that Causal Agent.
He reasoned that a loving God who is just and fair would not foreclose a connection to those who are born without the intellectual capacity to understand or know what is required of them. Such a God would have to be accessible by all people, regardless of capacity. The complexities of religion did not seem appropriate to Lewis as he contemplated these things.
Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him…. John 12:37
Imagine being there when Jesus lived to hear Him speak, watch Him interact with people and maybe even perform a miracle – right in front of you! How could you not believe?!
It’s easy to think these things. But, what would it really be like? Though Jesus performed many signs in front of people, still they didn’t believe Him. People still believed what they were disposed to believe. People saw what they expected to see.
Would we be any different?
Some people heard Him speak and saw the miracles and believed. But more people heard Him speak, saw the miracles and did not believe. In the 1st Century, they accused Him of performing black magic. Today, we might accuse Him of performing ordinary magic, planting people in the audience and doing sleight of hand.
He would most certainly rock our notions of right and wrong, proper and improper, sense and insensitivity. He would challenge our sacred ideas about ourselves and our freedoms, our causes and our individual rights.
He would be too politically incorrect for the left. He would be too progressive for the right.
Who has believed our message?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. (Isaiah 53:1-3)
Paul said that he is not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes. (Romans 1:16) Belief (faith), therefore, is obviously central to spiritual life in Christ.
What is meant by faith, though? Is faith “blind”, as some describe it? Is faith is antithetical to science? Does science discount faith? Does faith require the suspension of intellect? Does faith require us to abandon obvious evidence to the contrary?
I have not found any of these things to be the case. Faith does require a “leap”, but faith is not like jumping out over a yawning chasm. The gap is much shorter, and the landing is much more sure than one might suppose.