I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. (2 Co 12:2-4)
I probably first heard of the phenomenon of Near Dead Experiences from the Reader’s Digest decades ago. A doctor ran into enough of them experienced by patients who almost died that he set out to study it. This was from a secular perspective. Then I heard the talk of a man from a Mennonite church who had “died” and seen a scene from the final judgment, then came back. This one was from a Christian perspective.
I’m not here to make a judgment call on this kind of experience. Maybe they are visions, like one person stated recently. Or maybe they are real. It seems that Paul experienced this, in the passage I quoted above. He stated that he didn’t know if he was dead or if he wasn’t.
That isn’t my point. I want to share an experience that a close friend went through. His father was on his death bed, but wasn’t a Christian. This was at least partly because of his lack of understanding, rather than because of rebellion on his part. However, one day he came very close to dying, but was resuscitated.
But later, he talked about what happened to him. He was able to see down a corridor to where some people were gathered and watching him. One of these looked very much like his daughter. Since he had a daughter who died at three years old, he thought that maybe this was her.
He couldn’t forget this. He badly wanted to meet his daughter. It seemed that God gave him this “vision” to show him the reality of the hereafter, and to give him a push in the right direction. Anyway it was what he needed. A day or so later, my friend was able to lead him to God. Shortly afterward he died, a saved man.
You may see some weaknesses in this picture. We think that people die looking forward to seeing Christ. But we can’t put God in a box. I think this is a clear picture of how much God cares for people. He knew my friend’s father had a soft heart but didn’t understand. So, in His mercy, He gave him a vision that helped to open his heart’s door, then took him home.
That is the kind of God we serve—a God who will go the second mile for us if that is what it takes.