Bible And Near-Death Experiences Both Indicate That Heaven Has Various Levels
By Michael H. Brown
Those who have "died" and returned -- who claim to have had glimpses of the afterlife -- buttress the idea that infinity is no simple place, with many stages and progressions, including various levels of Heaven.
This we saw most strikingly in a book by psychiatrist George G. Ritchie -- who writes that he witnessed different places in the hereafter, from a lower hellish realm through a region where souls seemed earthbound and upward to areas that ranged in appearance from a "tremendous study center" to a place in the distance that looked like a brilliant city.
"Enormous buildings stood in a beautiful sunny park and there was a relationship between the various structures, a pattern to the way they were arranged, that reminded me of a well-planned university," writes Ritchie of a middle level. "Except that to compare what I was now seeing with anything on earth was ridiculous."
This we hear constantly: that things of the afterlife are impossible to verbalize, that their colors, their shapes, and their substance do not connect to human words. "I could not tell if they were men or women, old or young, for all were covered from head to foot in loose-flowing hooded cloaks which made me think vaguely of monks," says Dr. Ritchie of spirits he allegedly saw at this intermediate level. "But the atmosphere of the place was not at all as I imagined a monastery. It was more like some tremendous study center, humming with the excitement of great discovery. Whatever else these people might be, they appeared utterly and supremely self-forgetful -- absorbed in some vast purpose beyond themselves."
This too is a constant theme of so-called near-death experiences: Those who "return" -- who are resuscitated after their vital signs fail -- say that ridding the ego and replacing it with unconditional love were the ticket to higher Heaven. "Next we walked through a library the size of the whole University of Richmond," says Dr. Ritchie in a book called Return From Tomorrow. "I gazed into rooms lined floor to ceiling with documents on parchment, clay, leather, metal, paper. 'Here,' the thought occurred to me, 'are assembled the important books of the universe.'"
Ritchie claims that after death souls continue to grow until they reach a state in which they are totally selfless like Jesus.
Is this a state that some might call "higher purgatory"? Or is it "lower Heaven"?
What we can say is that Scripture also indicates various levels -- when for example Paul says (2 Corinthians 12:2), "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."
In Luke 2:14, the angels are quoted as saying, "Glory to God in the highest Heaven, and peace to men who enjoy His favor."
After leaving earth, wrote Ritchie, he found himself in a great void. "Some unnamable promise seemed to vibrate through the vast emptiness," he asserted. "And then I saw, infinitely far off, far too distant to be visible with any kind of sight I knew of, a city. A glowing, seemingly endless city, bright enough to be seen over all the unimaginable distance between. The brightness seemed to shine from the very walls and streets of this place, and from beings which I could now discern moving about within it.
"In fact, the city and everything in it seemed to be made of light."
Ritchie was only able to gape from a distance. It was his impression that these were the people who "kept Jesus the focus of their lives," who "had looked for Him in everything." Was it the abode of God? Was that the "highest Heaven'?
We hear of similar descriptions. When we die, say many who have had brushes with the otherworld, we will find many levels of development and our souls will gravitate to where they feel most comfortable. Those with the stain of sin or over-attachment will find themselves in a purgatorial setting -- its pleasantness or unpleasantness varying greatly.
Another alleged near-death experiencer named Jan Price says that she saw three "dimensions": the first dingy, the second brighter and more colorful, resembling the physical world, the third similar to the holy city described in the Bible.
Reverend Howard Pittman -- a Baptist minister who "died" in 1979 -- also saw a netherworld, a middle area, and then a passageway to the "third Heaven" (which like Ritchie he was not allowed to enter).
There is always a feeling of reverence. There is the awe. There is the joy at the beauty -- which we'll be exploring next week. "There were flowers, but they were fluffy and made of tiny, soft colorful lights," says a woman named Roxanne Sumners. "And there were hills with castles on them in the distance. And everything, even the castles, was made of these soft, fluffy, beautifully colored clouds."
That's the best we can say in our struggle to describe the immaterial. And this we will further investigate: the details of what people claim they saw in Heaven.
"I knew that my imperfect sight could not now sustain more than an instant's glimpse of this real, this ultimate Heaven," wrote Dr. Ritchie of his trip with Jesus. "He had shown me all He could; now we were speeding far away."
[Resources: Return From Tomorrow, Her Life After Death]
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