Thursday, November 28, 2013

Proof of Heaven by Dr. Eben Alexander

I’m fascinated by stories of the afterlife. So when I heard Dr. Eben Alexander being interviewed by Dennis Prager about his book Proof of Heaven, I paid close attention! The subtitle is “A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife.” That pretty much explains the premise of the book.

This short, quick read begins with the immediate cause of his near death experience (NDE). He experienced flu-like symptoms, a splitting headache, and back pain out of the blue. After being rushed to the emergency room when a slight touch caused overwhelming pain, he slipped into a coma. The cause was determined, after much testing, to be the extremely rare bacterial meningitis caused by E. coli. With the seriousness with which he presented, his odds of dying shot up to 97% by his 6th day in the coma. His odds of full recovery were so slight as to be called a miracle by his doctor.

Because of the bacteria invading his spinal system, his brain was “bathed in pus” and inoperable in all but the most basic functions. For all intents, the parts of the brain that made him human and himself were inoperable. Therefore, his experiences cannot be explained by some kind of random firings in the brain producing strange visions. (He goes into extensive medical hypothesis for what happened and then debunks them in an appendix.)

He first passed through a very earthy level and time ceased to have meaning. He called this the earthworm view level. He moved to another level, what he called a kind of brilliant darkness filled with living sound. And although he heard no words, he was immediately filled with the thought “You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever. You have nothing to fear. There is nothing you can do wrong.” In fact, he felt bathed in love. Soon he was able to move to an even higher level full of orbs of light and joy and more music. This is where he felt he experienced God. At some point in his journey, he realized he had a mysterious guide with him. A beautiful girl riding with him on the wings of a butterfly. Yet he felt no sense of himself either. He had no memory of earth or family or even his own identity. He was just part of and connected to the whole universe.

He began to understand things as he had never understood them before. He experienced answers to questions before they could be asked. He felt that truth was so much bigger than we on earth had ever even imagined. And this from a highly educated man. 

Upon his return, he states, “To say that there is a chasm between our current scientific understanding of the universe and the truth as I saw it is a considerable understatement... The physical side of the universe is as a speck of dust compared to the invisible and spiritual part. In my past view, spiritual wasn’t a word that I would have employed during a scientific conversation. Now I believe it is a word that we cannot afford to leave out.”

Although he begins as an unbeliever, he comes back with a deep knowledge of God, whom he refers to as Om. “One of the biggest mistakes people make when they think about God is to imagine God as impersonal. Yes, God is behind the numbers, the perfection of the universe that science measures and struggles to understand. But -- again, paradoxically -- Om is ‘human’ as well -- even more human than you and I are. Om understands and sympathizes with our human situation more profoundly and personally than we can even imagine because Om knows what we have forgotten, and understands the terrible burden it is to live with amnesia of the Divine for even a moment.” 

The ramifications of this statement in light of Scripture are very interesting. Hebrews says we have a High Priest who understands us. Jesus, for the brief moment He is disconnect from the Father on the cross, cries out in despair. That forsakenness is worse than the physically pain He is enduring. Yet we live disconnected from God on a daily business. Oh how much we have lost. 

After 6 days in the coma, Eben’s family began to prepare for his death. They went into his room to pray once more, begging his body to kick in and restart his brain. As they looked deeply into his face, looking for any sign of recovery, he suddenly opened his eyes! 

While it took a little while for him to regain his previous state, he is now fully recovered and determined to share the reality of what he experienced. He first wrote all he experienced and then began to research the phenomenon of NDEs. He wanted to document what he went through before being tainted or influenced by others’ experiences. 

While sharing his story with a doctor friend, most of whom had reacted the way he would have - with skepticism, he saw a strange look pass the man’s face. Finally the friend felt free to detail his own experience with a NDE. His father, dying and in pain for years, suddenly became lucid. He began speaking to the air, but it became clear he was conversing with his long-dead mother. At this point, the friend told his dad it was O.K. It was time to go. The old man closed his eye, fell asleep, and never woke up. Up until this time, the man had no one to share this bizarre story with. Now he had found a kindred spirit.

One thing, however bothered Eben. He did not see anyone he knew on the other side. No one greeted him. No long-dead relatives welcomed him home. He attributed this to the complete loss of identity he experienced and wondered if that was what allowed him to bypass that stage. 

Two years before the coma, he had contacted his biological family (he was adopted as an infant) and found he had full siblings. One had died before he had a chance to meet her. Four months after recovering from the meningitis, they finally sent him a photo of the lost sister. He realized he was looking into the face of his angelic guide! He now felt whole and that he had come full circle. 

His book is a very quick read, very interesting, and very believable. Although his experience on the other side sounds quite fantastical, could it be any other way? Does it meet up exactly with our preconceived notions of heaven? Nope. But parts of his journey ring true to Scripture and serve to illuminate phrases like “caught up into the third heaven” and “being in the spirit.” We see why Paul said it was unlawful for him to describe what he saw when he experience an NDE. How could he accurately describe something that conforms to no known laws on earth? His experience was quite literally “unlawful.” Will we all experience what Dr. Alexander did? I really don’t think so, but he discovered what he needed to discover and returned to spread what he calls, the good news!

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