Having been a “Boy Who Came Back From Heaven” myself, I have a reference point from which to view the best selling book about a six year old child who had an out of the body experience. * I posit that Alex, the boy in the book understood that experience based on the teachings of his parents and his church, as do I. I wasn’t quite as young as Alex when I had my out of the body experience – I was fifteen at the time, and I chose to keep the experience to myself because in 1959 I thought that none would believe me including my religious parents and our Northminster Presbyterian Church family. Actually, the teachings of our church varied significantly from the contemporary Twenty-first Century return to fundamental eschatology. Instead, the concentration was on a Modernist (1950’s) understanding of Jesus’ promise to his followers. That understanding was based on love and inclusiveness, and we were taught to disregard the racial prejudices of the day. We were also taught that our relation with Jesus Christ and to God should be deeply personal, held close to the heart because it was not of this world. Instead, we should demonstrate our belief in God, Jesus Christ, and the church through our good deeds, and not so much by talking about our faith as I am doing here. Our relationship with the church included a strong admonition against involvement with matters of state as well as the understanding that the state must avoid involvement with affairs of the church. That prescription was based on Matthew 22:15 in which Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's.” But I digress in order to explain that my interpretation of the out of body experience differed greatly from Alex’s.
As a six-year-old Alex heard and saw so many things, including angels, deceased relatives and friends, even an unborn sister. As a fifteen year old I did not see or hear anything because I was not in the body. I was spirit and with the spirit. I knew so many things in ways that transcended the senses and the flesh. I did not see angels, or deceased relatives. There was nothing other than the knowledge of God. At the same time I knew that I must return to my physical existence. God told me without speaking that there were things I must do on earth, and I had the feeling of rushing back though, there was no time or place much less an actual sense of motion. I awoke perspiring and sitting up in bed. I was shaken because I had experienced something I, personally, had no esteemed right to experience. However, that night and over the many years after I have had insights based on my experience of God. The insights while they do not directly contradict Alex’s are quite different from his. I will list three here.
I. Personhood is of this earth. It is not something we bring with us. We come into this life as close to God as we will ever be. We are named by our parents, and grow in the understanding of our individual person based on their precepts and teaching. Gradually we grow in our self-awareness based on the teaching of the social group around our intimate family, and finally of the larger culture beyond. Unfortunately, the knowledge imparted here on earth (the symbolic apple of Genesis) leads us away from God. Jesus had to go into the desert and suffer the devil to shed the teachings of family and culture as much as possible in order to be ready for his ministry. His understanding was that he was not the son of man, but the Son of God. And so, when we eventually return to God, we give up the things of this earth, and leave personhood behind.
II. Jesus was not exclusive. I know fundamentalism teaches that in order to be accepted into the kingdom of heaven one must accept Jesus, and those who do not, cannot go to heaven. However, I believe that Jesus - based on the inclusiveness he demonstrated in choosing his disciples and followers - if living today would say that we are all God’s children. And, based on my out of body experience, I know that beneath my many faceted and layered personhood there is the original bit of God that I brought with me into this world. I do not experience if often, but sometimes I find God when I pray. And, God finds me unexpectedly when I see absolute goodness in the behavior of others, no matter their particular religious affiliations and/or spiritual beliefs.
III. I know that my artwork is based on a God given gift, an accident of birth if you will, and that no matter what I create it is always an expression of the love of God and Jesus Christ.
From time to time I will list others of these insights in my journal, and as always I will indicate their presence in the artwork I make.
The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven, Kevin Malarkey. Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers (2010).