Life. Ballgames. Picnics. Beach parties. Movies.
“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy…” The “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer” are running down; there’s not much time left to do nothing. What are you doing with the last of your off days?
Hollywood rolls out some of their best stuff during summer; some of them catch fire and become contenders for the annual award recognitions, while others find their way into the DVD libraries without leaving many dollars in the box-offices. A Ghost Story – featuring Casey Affleck as a dead musician peeking in on the life of his still-living love interest – is on its way to obscurity (less than $1.5 million in ticket sales since its July 7th limited release).
It’s an interesting genre: Hollywood dramas performed against the backdrop of life’s end, and what comes after. USA Today ran a half-page with the Top Ten recent films attempting to portray what happens next. The notables: 1) Field of Dreams; 2) Defending your Life; 3) Ghost; 4) What Dreams May Come; 5) The Lovely Bones; 6) Heaven Can Wait; 7) Beetlejuice; 8) The Sixth Sense; 9) A Ghost Story; and, 10) Flatliners. You could host a Netflix movie marathon during Labor Day weekend featuring that line-up… and be no closer to understanding what happens after this life ends.
Movies don’t deliver; maybe the growing number of “non-fiction” books written by – or, on behalf of – people who have had a NDE (that’s the trendy acrostic for Near Death Experience) that they’ve lived to retell, and publish. Do a web search on that category, and hundreds of titles – most making claims of credibility based on the personal experience of the author/subject who “died” and, then came back – offer various accounts of the Great Unknown.
At last count (a Pew Research study, in 2015), 72% of Americans believe in heaven; their definition is “a place where people who have lived good lives are eternally rewarded.” The movie depictions are fanciful, and the books recounting personal journeys – out-and-back – run from delight to despair as they describe the experiences of people who say they now know what lies beyond. Do they?
There’s a name missing from all of the movies, and many of the books: Jesus. God is written into a few of the cinematic stories, but his screen role is never in keeping with his scriptural revelations. The books tell stories that range from scientific agnostics to avid followers of Jesus; most often, the after-heartbeats-end accounts have no differentiations based on personal faith. Who’s to say what’s right?
Paul – a solid voice of dependable input for Christians – has an interesting perspective: “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know – God knows. And I know that this man – whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows – was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4)
Most scholars connect that account to Paul’s stoning and near-death experience (see Acts 14:19-20). He was “caught up to paradise,” but was not allowed to recount what he saw and heard. Though God used him to communicate inspired scripture, he could not give his first-hand version of the hereafter. Who’s the witness we’ve been asked to believe on that subject?
“I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man.” (John 3:12-13). If you’re curious about the Great Unknown, the only reliable revelation comes from Jesus.
Movies and books may be entertaining, but Eternity is too important to misunderstand. Who can you trust to guide you into the future?