We have now discussed the first two components of the human heart – mind and emotions. Before we discuss the next two – will and conscience – I want to share a powerful story with you that illustrates how a personal experience can dramatically change what you believe and think. We may pursue you intellectual and academic studies our entire lives but one experience with God can change how lives forever.
On November 10, 2008 at 4:30am, Eben Alexander woke up with tremendous back pain and shortly thereafter was admitted to hospital as he slipped into a deep coma. Eben had contracted a rare form of meningitis – that eats the glucose on the outer edges of the brain and then consumes brain cells. Dr. Eben Alexander is a well-regarded neurosurgeon and was a practicing neurosurgeon for 15 years at Harvard Medical School and associated hospitals. What Eben experienced was truly remarkable and shows that there is more to us than simply a body, a brain and learned neurological behaviors. This experience dramatically changed the neurosurgeon’s life.
He describes his own beliefs as, “Although I considered myself a faithful Christian, I was so more in name than in actual belief. I didn’t begrudge those who wanted to believe that Jesus was more than simply a good man who had suffered at the hands of the world. I sympathized deeply with those who wanted to believe that there was a God somewhere out there who loved us unconditionally. In fact, I envied such people the security that those beliefs no doubt provided. But as a scientist, I simply knew better than to believe them myself.”
Eben remained in the coma for seven days during which he was virtually brain-dead. He describes his remarkable experience during the coma as having an earthworm like experience in which he was wading through mud and darkness in a very disturbing place. It all changed when a song moved him from that dark and muddy place and he found himself flying over a beautiful valley with millions of butterflies. It was a place of extraordinary beauty he explains, and in that place he had no words and his language was gone. In fact, he had no recollection of his life and no body awareness. Then he saw himself leaving this universe. He became aware that love was a huge part of the constituency of this place. He realized that it was all driven by a deep divine love and he became aware of a warm divine presence. He experienced unconditional love of an all-powerful, all loving God and was completely overwhelmed by it. That overwhelming power brought him back to life.
At the end of the seven-day period Dr. Alexander miraculously woke up much to the surprise of the medical staff, family and friends. He was bewildered by his experience. After his recovery, he set out to understand what had happened to him. He came up with several models of neuroanatomy and neurophysiology to describe it but he could not come up with anything he felt adequately explained his experience.
Raymond Moody, M.D., Ph.D., author of Life Beyond Life commented on Eben’s experience, saying “Dr. Eben Alexander’s near-death experience is the most astounding I have heard in more than four decades of studying this phenomenon, the circumstances of [Eben’s] illness and his impeccable credentials make it very hard to formulate a mundane explanation for his case.”
Alexander wrote about his life changing experience to Newsweek stating, “According to current medical understanding of the brain and mind, there is absolutely no way that I could have experienced even a dime with limited consciousness during my time in the coma, much less the hyper-vivid and completely coherent odyssey I underwent.”
In his book, Proof of heaven – a neurosurgeon’s journey into the afterlife, Alexander wrote, ‘there is no scientific explanation for the fact that while my body lay in coma, my mind - my conscious, inner self – was alive and well.” He goes on to explain, “I’m still a doctor, and still a man of science every bit as much as I was before I had my experience. But on a deep level I’m very different from the person I was before, because I’ve caught a glimpse of this emerging picture of reality. And you can believe me when I tell you that it will be worth every bit of work it will take us, and those who come after us, to get it right.”
He further asserts that the current understanding of the mind now lies broken at our feet — for “What happened to me destroyed it, and I intend to spend the rest of my life investigating the true nature of consciousness and making the fact that we are more, much more, than our physical brains as clear as I can, both to my fellow scientists and to people at large.”
Stories like this help us to understand that our human spirit is indeed the eternal part of who we are – the part that lives forever. It helps us see that it is also the most important part of who we are.
Needless to say the good Dr. has come under a significant attack. The scientific community insist that his experience was a brain-based delusion cobbled together by his synapses after they had somehow recovered. it is unlikely that the mainstream medical community will except Eben’s explanation. The matter what he says, it can always be construed as his personal and subjective experience unsubstantiated by scientific and medical knowledge.
The purpose of telling the story was not to prove anything medically or scientifically but to show how one experience can dramatically alter the course of one’s life. Because these experiences occur in the spiritual realm they are nearly impossible to prove at the intellectual level.
Sharing spiritual experiences
When you try to “prove” your God experiences, you are almost certainly setting yourself up for failure. There is however a far more effective way to share such experiences. Remember that your audience has a human spirit too.
I found in my own professional career, not to try to “prove” spiritual things but to share them lovingly and openly as my own experiences. Critics may claim that they are nothing but subjective, delusional and self-induced hallucinations. Interestingly however, most people are very interested in hearing about such experiences. The reason I believe is that the human spirit bears witness with the truth of what is being shared.
Often the Holy Spirit uses these stories to open people’s hearts to the supernatural. It may cost professional credibility and in an extreme case your career. But God never takes anything from us without replacing it with something far greater and far more wonderful. But history is full of professional people who were believers who have had extraordinary experiences.
I have learned to trust the Lord and be vulnerable with the stories. Deep down every person – believer or not – knows that there is more to life than the physical world. This explains our cultures obsession with aliens, fantasy stories and superheroes. we love the idea that some people may have superhuman abilities. We are more than just entertained by it, we are drawn to it because something deep in it within us bears witness with the supernatural realm.
Without supernatural power Christianity is reduced to a set of laws and a list of principles. But God is not contained by human philosophies and externalized religion. He is the creator of the universe and the lover of our souls. Every human being on the planet has been designed to have a relationship with him. We therefore do not need to be embarrassed about the gospel. We can confidently and openly share God’s love and his powerful dealings with human beings with any person we meet.