Rabbi’s Reflections – Sunday, May 14, 2023
“It Is Appointed for Men to Die Once….” – Part 5
by Dr. Raymond Finney
INTRODUCTION: With this RR, I conclude the series on death and dying and the near-death experience (NDE).
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THE NDE? No one can explain with certainty (research proof) what causes the NDE. I cannot envision a research study on dying, which employs the scientific method. (Scientific method = https://www.britannica.com/science/scientific-method .) When a person dies, he/ she cannot relate to researchers what was experienced during and after dying.
Several theories about NDE have been floated. When several theories are suggested, it means that no one really knows. (I am waiting for a theory that NDE is caused by climate change or some misdeed of Donald Trump.)
Interestingly, no researcher advances the theory that the NDE is a gift from God– a gift of warning and confirmation of life after death. I am not surprised, though. To attribute the NDE to an act of God would require belief that God actually exists, and, well,…. A researcher may not be ready to go there.
The NDE is a relatively common event, made more so by advances in medicine (resuscitation techniques) that allow “the dead” to be returned to life. CPR techniques have gained popularity and refinement only in recent decades. Could it be that God is permitting NDE accounts and other supernatural events (for example, Yeshua appearing in dreams to Muslim nonbelievers) to spread the Word that the Triune God is real and there is life after death?
SOME QUESTIONS TO ASK: I am not an NDE expert. I am inadequate to write this RR series on death. However, I do want us to start thinking about the possibility– the promise– of life after death. You can probably think of several questions to ask about the NDE, and I will start with a few questions of my own:
● Why do not all resuscitated patients experience a near-death experience? Only some resuscitated patients experience (or recall) the NDE features previously noted. Why not all? I do not know, but the NDE may be a gift to some (not all) people, just as other gifts from God are not universal. Read the gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians, chapter 12). Some people have received some of these gifts, but have you received all of them? I think the Apostle Paul’s NDE in Lystra (last Sunday’s RR) prepared him to be stronger in his faith and not to fear the dangers he faced on a daily basis. However, others of the Messiah’s apostles were not given this gift.
● Why do NDEs vary from person to person? Bob’s NDE may vary from Sally’s NDE. Why? If the NDE is a prelude to (foretaste of) Heaven, does this suggest that Heaven– or, the perception of Heaven– may be individualized for each soul? Could Bob and Sally hope for different things in Heaven? For example, my wife, an avid reader, would probably like for Heaven to be a huge library filled with countless books, whereas I would not be that interested in reading books for eternity. This probably flawed thought is based on conjecture, not Scriptures.
● Why do NDEs vary by cultures and faiths? I have described NDEs most commonly experienced by Western Hemisphere residents (persons of Judeo-Christian faith). People in other lands and believing in other faiths also experience NDEs. What does this mean?
● What happens if the CPR fails? Not all CPR attempts are successful. If a subject has an NDE during CPR, but the CPR is unsuccessful, the experience changes from near-death to death. What then? We obviously cannot question a dead person to determine if there is life after death. The answer to this question is not in the realm of science/ medicine, but in the realm of theology. Theology is based on faith, not the scientific method. We can never know what happens in true death, until we actually experience death.
PERSONAL COMMENTS: I celebrated my eighty-second birthday on March 29. I have not followed the healthiest lifestyle. I know my death is just around the corner. I wrote an extensive section for today’s RR, discussing my personal thoughts about death. Then, I read my comments and deleted them. You have your own memories and thoughts. Why should you bother yourself with mine? I will add a “Cliff’s Notes’” version of my personal thoughts, following.
Death has been called “the great equalizer.” No one– king or pauper, rich or poor, saint or sinner– escapes death. A civilization is often judged by the way it treats its dead. Primitive humans (Neanderthals, for example) carefully and ritually buried their dead. No one has visited Heaven and returned, except the Apostle John who was granted a glimpse of this holy place (Revelation, chapters 21 and 22). Do not falsely question how someone can see the future. Just accept God’s assurance that He can see the past, present, and future.
In the early 1970s, under the influence of anthropologist Ernest Becker and others, it was thought animals knew nothing of death. They lived, ate, reproduced, and died. Becker’s view is now outdated and rejected by most. Scientists are coming to the belief that the more intelligent animals may understand death and grieve for the dead, more than we have thought. It is well-known that dogs may lie beside a master’s recently dug grave, as though standing guard or waiting for the master’s return.
I once watched a bird fly into a window of my home and fall to the ground, dead (broken neck?). Its mate came to be with (stand by) the dead bird, and appeared dejected that the dead bird could not be revived. Did the living bird pine for loss of companionship or did the bird understand the finality of death? Of course, I could not read the mind of the living bird. I have read of mother animals who appear to grieve that their young offspring have died. Animals probably know more about death than we have previously believed.
Most humans fear death. I find it interesting that I feared death more as a young person, than I fear it now as an old person. Such change in fear seems illogical. I may have, perhaps, felt more pressure as a young man to provide for my wife and children, establish a home, accomplish something in my profession, and so forth. In my old age, I have provided for my wife and may have a little inheritance for my children/ grandchildren, my home is mortgage-free, and I am retired. My life is like the title of a British television comedy, “Waiting on God.”
Why does a Believer not long for death? To the contrary, a Believer wants to live a long life. We pray for sainted people in our churches/ synagogues, who suffer a severe illness/ injury– “Please, God, restore Brother Jim to full recovery. Amen.” The proper act of faith might be to pray: “Lord, Brother Jim has had a severe heart attack. I pray that he not suffer, and I pray that You take him as quickly as possible to be with Yeshua in Paradise. Amen.” I have never heard a Believer pray that a fellow Believer would die, but it might be more appropriate. (If you do not like to pray in public, such a prayer might strike your name from the future public prayer duty list.)
Will I celebrate an eighty-third birthday next March? I have no way of knowing. Every day I live is one day closer I have to meet Yeshua in Paradise, and I know that meeting is not far off.
Should I fear this meeting? I do not fear pain. NDE reports suggest many people may not experience pain, as they die. I enjoy life. I do regret leaving my family. I have been overwhelmingly blessed beyond my greatest hopes. I have been blessed with a beautiful, sweet, faithful wife and good, solid children and grandchildren. A family was the most important thing I really wanted as a young man, and God has abundantly, exceedingly blessed me with a family. (In marriage, He let me hit a home run with bases loaded. Thank you, God!)
I can die content tonight that I have received God’s true blessings in life. I believe my name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. I have been married to Linda for more than sixty-one years. I cannot think of one thing I would change in her. We were almost children when we married, and we grew up together. She is the perfect mate for me, fulfilling even more than the praises in Proverbs 31:10-31. The “fruit of her womb” have given me great comfort (Psalm 127:3-4): Behold, children are a heritage of Adonai– the fruit of the womb is a reward. As arrows in the hand of a mighty man, so are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man whose quiver is full of them.
Concerning my marriage, I selfishly ask God two things: (1) I would like to die before Linda. The thought of burying my wife is unbearable to contemplate. (2) I do not know how New Jerusalem is organized, but if it is anything like life on Earth, I would like for Linda and me to occupy adjoining “mansions” (John 14:2-3). I want to be as close to her, as I possibly can be, so that my companion in earthly life will be my companion in eternal life.
The main fear that I have– and a fear you may share– is contained in the following Scripture (Matthew 7:21-23): [Yeshua said] “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, and drive out demons in Your name, and perform many miracles in Your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Get away from Me, you workers of lawlessness!’”
This passage should strike fear in every Believer’s heart. Am I doing the will of my Father in Heaven? Will I hear Yeshua say to me the most damning of all words: “I never knew you. Get away from Me, you worker of lawlessness!”?
Every Believer should be able to look back on his/ her life and assess it, as did the Apostle Paul when he prepared to die (2 Timothy 4:7-8): I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith. In the future there is reserved for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day– and not to me only, but also to everyone who has longed for His appearing.
WHAT MAY WE LEARN ABOUT DEATH? This section’s title is presumptuous. Many books, essays, scientific articles, and Bible verses have been written about death and dying. I am foolish to even attempt to make sense of this final event of life in a few RRs. Excuse me for even trying, but I suggest a few ideas:
● We all will die (Hebrews 9:27): And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after this judgment,….
● We must die in order that our soul, housed in a sinful (corruptible) body unfit to be in the presence of God, may be housed in an incorruptible body fit to be in the presence of God (1 Corinthians 15:53): For this corruptible must put on incorruptibility, and this mortal must put on immortality.
● It is Father God who should determine when we die, as taught in Ecclesiastes, chapter 12 and written poetically as a snapping of the silver cord of life which connects us to the Father (Ecclesiastes 12:6a-7): … before the silver cord is snapped,…. Then the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. God should determine the length of life, and humans should not meddle in His decision.
● Every day of life is a gift from God (Psalm 118:24): This is the day that Adonai has made! Let us rejoice and be glad in it!
● When we are ready to die, may we say about our passing, as did Paul (2 Timothy 4:6-8): For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith. In the future there is reserved for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day– and not to me only, but also to everyone who has longed for His appearing.
● We can deduce from reports of the near-death experience that the process of dying may not be as frightening as we have feared. The process may be serene. And, we will pass Immediately from Earth to Paradise to be present with Yeshua (2 Corinthians 5:8): We are confident, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and at home with the Lord. – AND – (Luke 23:43): Yeshua said to [the criminal being crucified with Him], “Amen, I tell you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
CONCLUSION: Until next Sunday, keep fighting the good fight, keep finishing the course the Lord has set before you, keep the faith, and, as always, Shalom and Maranatha.
AFTERWORD NUMBER 1: Belief in life after death is one of the few things that offers solace for a grieving family. You probably share my despair and sorrow at the senseless, murderous slaughter recently (March 27, 2023) of three nine year-old children and three adult workers at Covenant Presbyterian Church and School, Nashville. As a father and grandfather, it is most painful to even try to imagine what the loss of a little child in this manner would be like.
Make no mistake: This rampage had nothing to do with trans-rights or fight for DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusiveness). The massacre was an act of anti-Christian terrorism by an evil person who hated Yeshua and those who follow Him. Such hatred has been forewarned (Matthew 10:22): [Yeshua said] “And you will be hated by all because of My name, but the one who endures to the end shall be saved.”
Satan scored a temporary victory in Nashville against the Body of the Messiah, but he will soon be cast for eternity into the Lake of Fire and Brimstone. A very early prophecy foretold the war between God and Satan, which will continue until the end of the Age (Genesis 3:15): [Adonai Elohim said to the serpent] “I will put animosity between you and the woman– between your seed and her seed. He will crush your head, and you will crush his heel.”
Yeshua, as Son of Man, was the Seed of a woman (Miriam, Mary). His “heel was crushed” at Golgotha, every time a Believer is persecuted or martyred, and more recently at a Christian school in Nashville. The serpent’s (Satan’s) head will not finally be crushed until he is cast alive for eternity into the Lake of Fire and Brimstone (Revelation 2:10): And the devil [Satan] who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast [Antichrist] and the false prophet are too, and they shall be tortured day and night forever and ever.
One of the children massacred by this transgender terrorist was Hallie Scruggs, the only daughter of Covenant Church’s Senior Pastor Chad Scruggs. Through his grief, Pastor Scruggs issued a simple message of faith on behalf of his family: “We are heartbroken. She was such a gift. Through tears we trust that she is in the arms of Jesus who will raise her to life once again.”
If possible to be transported to our time, strong men and women of our faith– men and women who also knew heartbreak and grief– would stand next to Pastor Scruggs and try to comfort him and his wife. I can envision these giants of our faith now:
● The Apostle Paul would stand beside this grieving father, put his arm around his shoulder, and assure him of three things: little Hallie is indeed in the arms of Yeshua in Paradise, death has no sting, and the grave has no victory.
● King David would also stand beside the father and reassure him that he and his wife will some day be reunited with little Hallie. When David lost his precious newborn son, he is quoted as believing death only separated the two of them for a time (2 Samuel 12:21-23): [David’s] servants asked [David], “What is this thing you have done? You fasted and wept while the child was still alive, but as soon as the child died, you got up and ate food.” [David] replied, “While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept, for I thought, ‘Who knows? Adonai might be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he has died, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? It is I who will be going to him, but he will never return to me.”
Pastor, be mindful of David’s faith (which I here paraphrase, as though you, Pastor, are asking the same questions asked by David): “Can I bring Hallie back again? No, it is I who will be going to her, but she will never return to me.”
● Yeshua’s apostles and friends, who witnessed His crucifixion on a Spring day in Jerusalem nearly two millennia ago, would also stand beside the Scruggs family and tell how they, too, were heartbroken to see their Friend, Teacher, and Messiah brutally crucified. Then, they would smile and tell the family of their overwhelming joy, when they saw their Yeshua raised to life.
They would assure the grieving pastor and his wife: It’s all real– resurrection from death to life does occur, the soul is eternal, and death is only temporary! Rejoice! You will see little Hallie again! You will live forever with her in New Jerusalem! The tears you are shedding now will be wiped away, never to return throughout eternity! These promises come from the eternal Creator of the Universe! Yeshua is risen from death, and so will Hallie and all Believers in her family! Both Yeshua and little Hallie are alive!
Extrapolating from near-death experience accounts and Scriptures, I believe little Hallie was free of pain, as she died. She was likely transported peacefully through a dark tunnel toward a pure, bright light– the Light of the world, Yeshua HaMashiach. She is living now in Paradise with Yeshua, angels, relatives, and others who love her with a pure love, a love so pure it has never been known on Earth. She is waiting there for you, Pastor and your wife, to join her.
Keep watching the eastern sky and listening for the trumpet of God. Some glorious day you will see Yeshua part the clouds and you will be commanded, “Come up here!” The very first person you see in Paradise may be little Hallie, with a beaming smile on her beautiful face. She will welcome you to Paradise with an enthusiastic: “Hi, mom and dad. I’ve been waiting for you. My home here is so wonderful and beautiful. Let me show you some of my favorite places. And, oh, you must meet Yeshua– He’s so wonderful and kind– and you must meet….”
Be reassured and strengthened by this verse (Matthew 28:6): [The angel said to the women at Yeshua’s empty tomb] “He [Yeshua] is not here; for He is risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying.”
Even though crucified, Yeshua is alive for eternity. Even though shot by an assault rifle, little Hallie is alive for eternity. Reader, have you received assurance of your eternal life? END afterword number 1.
AFTERWORD NUMBER 2: I started writing this RR series, as I approached my eighty-second birthday on March 29. I know I will die in the fairly near future. Bible passages comment on the brevity of life:
● I have already surpassed Moses’ prayer (Psalm 90:10): The span of our years is seventy– or with strength, eighty– yet at best they are trouble and sorrow. For they are soon gone, and we fly away.
● Job lamented the brevity of life (Job 7:6, 7a, 8a, 9a, 10): [Job said] “My days fly faster than a weaver’s shuttle and come to an end without hope. Remember, my life is but a breath;…. The eye that sees me now will see me no more;…. As a cloud vanishes and is gone,… he will never return to his house, his place does not know him.”
● Bildad the Shuhite viewed life as but a fleeting shadow (Job 8:9b): [Bildad said] “… and our days on earth are but a shadow.”
● Job compared brief human life to a withering flower (Job 14:1-2): [Job said] “A mortal born of woman, is of few days and full of turmoil. Like a flower he comes up and withers; like a shadow he flees and does not stay.”
● Jacob (James) viewed life as little more than a transient vapor (Jacob [James] 4:14): Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
● The psalmist compared life span to withering grass (Psalm 102:12): My days are like a lengthening shadow, and I wither away like grass.
● David asked the Lord to let him know when his fleeting life would end (Psalm 39:5-6): “Let me know, Adonai, my end and what the number of my days is. Let me know how short-lived I am. Behold, You made my days mere hand-breadths, and my lifetime as nothing before You. Surely all humanity is but vapor.”
The foregoing passages are rather sorrowful and spirit-deflating. The Bible’s message is more about hope, beauty, and life. Read the last two chapters of The Revelation. A New Heaven, New Earth, and New Jerusalem await the Believer (Overcomer). We truly are blessed by God, and Heaven will be greater than anything we can imagine.
If you want to get in the mood to understand your life better, please– PLEASE– watch Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.” Edward Albee called this play, “the finest American play ever written.” it is the best play I have ever seen. Wilder creates a small town of “nobodies,” and, from them, a microcosm of society. He sweeps us into Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. We care about these fictional people. We see ourselves living, loving, winning, failing, and ultimately dying as they did. Brilliant playwriting! You should see this play! By the way, have Kleenex ready, when you get to Act III. See one production of this magnificent play at:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LEoXuXRoOdY . END afterword number 2.
See you in Paradise some glorious day!
Daily Bread, reading plan by Lars Enarsson (https://www.thewatchman.org/)
Day 36 of the Omer
Sun 14 May-2023 23rd of Iyar, 5783 Day 36 of the Omer
Nu 1:1-19 Jer 6 Job 27 Ro 7 (Mt 25)