in the Presence of Our Lord for the Holy Souls
by Susan Tassone
IN MYSTERY OF PAUL'S WRITING IS DAUNTING THOUGHT THAT NEAR-DEATH BRUSH MAY HAVE INFLUENCED PART OF THE NEW TESTAMENT
By Michael H. Brown
When folks have near-death experiences, they often return with a completely different view of the world, and their role in it.
Almost to a person, they become more spiritual. Their accent becomes love. They look at everyday worries -- in the light of eternity -- as trivial.
Although the religious views of many with such experiences can be extremely controversial, and are therefore kept at arm's length (by certain aspects of the religious community), there is one awesome question when weighing such experiences:
Might it have been a near-death experience, or vision, that informed -- inspired -- some of the New Testament?
That question (and it is only a question) arises because of the famous line in 2 Corinthians 12:4, whereby the great disciple, Paul (once Saul), wrote, "I know this man -- whether in or outside his body I do not know, God knows -- was snatched up to Paradise to hear words, which cannot be uttered, words which no man may speak."
Many believe that St. Paul himself was that man -- and if so, what occurred was strikingly similar to the near-death episodes I discuss in my new book, The Other Side.
"Snatched up" would fit a description of the way many feel they are yanked from their bodies and pulled lightning-quick through a passage or suddenly rise above their bodies in an emergency room or a surgerical unit or at the scene of an accident (rising up on the way to a place of incredible beauty).
"Words which cannot be uttered" brings to mind the many, many witnesses who say that they were not allowed to remember or repeat much of what they were told and that anyway what they saw is beyond human words -- "indescribable" (as another translation of Paul's passage reads).
In I Corinthians 2:9, Paul wrote that "eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on many what God has prepared for those who love Him." How true! And how similar to the many testimonies I have heard or read about in the literature of near-death experiences!
St. Paul's very conversion involved a Light consistent with the light described in such episodes.
Did he see the same light so many who "died" (and returned) have also witnessed?
I believe the answer is yes. Paul asserted that he received the Gospel not from man, but by "the revelation of Jesus Christ" -- as near-death experiencers also claim they received tremendous lessons from the Lord Himself, lessons that exceed our attempts at theology.
Indeed, St. Thomas Aquinas, the most famous theologian in history, also had a near-death-type vision. After that experience, in December 1273 -- after three decades of writing the most potent theological expositions the Catholic Church has known (before or since) -- Aquinas simply stopped theorizing.
"All that I have written seems to me like so much straw," he said, "compared to what I have seen and what has been revealed to me"!
I often wondered if it was near-death experiences that provoked the mystical insights of famed seer Maria Esperanza (she didn't think so, but she was very young when she was extremely sick). For those who see the other side often come back with supernatural qualities, such as the ability to see angels.
Of course, one has to be wary of the New Age, which has greatly infiltrated. We take from these death experiences only what is good -- what fits doctrine -- and leave the rest. If it conflicts with Catholic teaching, forget it.
But let's get back to the incredible notion that St. Paul was as inspired as he was due to both the encounter with Jesus on the way to Tarsus and perhaps -- very possibly -- a later or simultaneous vision of the afterlife (as the person in 2 Corinthians 12:4).
For if that's true, it is time to rethink notions of Catholic theology. Indeed, we must realize -- if Paul was the person who "was snatched up to Paradise to hear words" -- that a portion and perhaps a significant portion of the Bible was derived from a near-death brush.
Consider that although the authorship is sometimes disputed, 13 epistles in the New Testament -- 13! -- are attributed to Paul. In my New Testament, that's 83 out of that testament's 308 pages.
If you count Hebrews -- which many also attribute to Paul (as the 14th) -- the total is a whopping 96 Bible pages.
Thus, if Paul was indeed the man in 2 Corinthians (and this remains speculation), a supernatural experience or series of experiences involving what is depicted as a light and perhaps a near-death episode may have inspired more than thirty percent of the New Testament!
And if that's true, and even if not, is it not time for our Church to take a closer look at these encounters, to draw lessons from them (as did Pope Gregory the Great), and to purify such accounts of the wayward interpretations that are often allowed to contaminate the incredible glimpses?
Is it not time to take them back from the New Agers?
I believe so, and it is a chief reason I wrote The Other Side: nothing informs one on how to live as much as a glimpse of the other side (when it has not been contaminated), and few things are as valuable as accounts that prepare us for eternity.
[resources: The Other Side and After Life]
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