More Form and Still No Power

Writing in the April 15, 1977, Standard Bearer we reflected on the subject of life after death under the title “Form Without Power.” A review was given of some features of the studies of a Dr. Raymond Moody, who published accounts of strange phenomena connected with the experiences of those who apparently died but were brought back to this life by medical science. It was pointed out that many aspects of his first work, called Life After Life, contained elements of truth that could well be compatible with Scriptural truth if interpreted properly by the Christian. It was also pointed out that many aspects, especially the apparent absence of any negative experiences of punishment, were not Scriptural. The conclusion was drawn that all of this illustrates a form of godliness without power (II Timothy 3:5), and that this is a sign of the end times to those who have spiritual eyes to see. 

Now Dr. Moody has published another work,Reflections on Life After Life, excerpted in the July, 1977, issue of Reader’s Digest, in which he attempts to supply answers to some of the questions and criticisms that resulted from his first work. As in the case of his first work, many of the things that he says are fascinating, and some serve to shed light on the character of life after death if properly interpreted by the child of God. But again, there are serious weaknesses evident. There is therefore more form but still no godliness. 

Added light is shed on the qualities of the life after life which some of the people whom Dr. Moody 472 studied experienced. The aspect of a “vision of knowledge” is explained in some detail. The general reports concerned not only seeing one’s entire life pass by, but also the knowing of “all the secrets of all the ages, all the meaning of the universe, the stars, the moon—of everything.” Those who had this experience described it in terms of a school, though not in the earthly or conventional sense, since there were no people that could be seen. Rather, it was possible to sense the presence of other beings, and the information came through all forms of communication, including sights, sounds, and thoughts, and covered all areas and fields of knowledge. As one person described it, “this is a place where the place is knowledge. It’s as if you focus mentally on one place in that school and—zoom!—knowledge flows by you from that place, automatically.” 

It seems that much of this fits well with what the Scriptures have to say. While the Bible does not detail the characteristics of the life to come, it may be observed without danger of contradiction that Scripture in many places stresses the knowledge of the child of God. To know God, the way of the truth, Jesus Christ, the proper walk of sanctification, etc., are just a few examples. In fact, Peter in his entire second epistle emphasizes the spiritual knowledge of experience which the Christian by grace possesses and which he must strive to increase and use to the glory of God. The life of the. Christian, moreover, is never presented as static, but always a life of growth, particularly growth in knowledge, which will evidently continue also in glory. We shall continually be learning and increasing our knowledge of God and the glories of His wonderful works. This is undoubtedly why the Apostle John even defines eternal life in terms of knowledge in John 17:3: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” And Paul in I Corinthians 13:12 says that when we are perfected then we shall know even as also we are known. Surely, whatever else this may mean, it does mean that as God has intimate spiritual knowledge of His people, so they will experience that communion of knowledge with Him in glory in an altogether wonderful fashion. Is it not possible that the descriptions given (though they are given in very imperfect earthly terms), approach the truth of glory of which the Bible speaks? Even assuming that the experience of those who went to this wonderful place are tainted by sin and the imperfections of human and earthly character, and assuming that the reality of heaven and heavenly knowledge is much more glorious than these fragmented accounts, does this not say something to God’s people about the character of the inheritance God in Christ has prepared for His elect? Understand, however, that Dr. Moody does not say these things, for his writings reflect merely the form of godliness without the power thereof. But can we not learn from this? 

Another interesting factor is the way in which the descriptions of those who experienced life after life fit with the Scriptural picture of the final inheritance. These people described the place to which they went as “beautiful,” a place of music, “a countryside with streams, grass, trees, mountains,” a place of “bright colors, not like here on earth, but just indescribable,” a place in which there were “gleaming, bright building,” “sparkling water and fountains,” a “city of light.” The Scriptures speak of the redemption not merely of God’s people, but of the change and perfection of the entire creation as the place in which God’s people shall dwell everlastingly. Paul speaks of the longing and deliverance of the creation in Romans 8:19-23, and other places in Scripture include the creation as part of the life to come. And when the descriptions of those who went to this place are matched with the language of Scripture in a place such as Revelation 21 and Revelation 22, the similarity is striking. There John describes symbolically the new heavens and new earth which comes down from God out of heaven, a creation characterized by perfection and indescribable beauty. In describing the New Jerusalem John speaks of a vision of a city of glass and gold and precious stones with a river of pure water flowing through it, a place of light and glory. Again, though the language of those who give such descriptions is perhaps not intentionally Scriptural, the similarity cannot be denied. Even conceding that the language both of the Scriptures and of those who underwent these experiences is figurative and earthly (for how else would we be able to understand, since we are of the earth earthy), does it not reflect in a small way the glory which God has prepared for them that love Him? Though the power of godliness is sadly lacking in these descriptions, the similarity of form cannot be denied. 

Dr. Moody also acknowledges that his first work was criticized by many for omitting the “reward-punishment model” to which many traditionalists hold. That is, as was pointed out in the previous Standard. Bearerarticle on this subject, the emphasis was all positive and no mention was made in any precise way of punishment or negative experiences. This omission Dr. Moody corrects in his latest work. There are indeed those who experience some form of punishment, which had three major characteristics: first, they seemed to be unable to surrender their attachments to the physical world; second, they appeared dulled, so that their consciousness seemed more limited in contrast with others; third, these “dulled spirits” appeared to be in this state of existence only until they solved whatever problems were holding them in this inferior state. Further, these spirits seemed abnormally and inextricably attached to the physical world, which attachment was in some way punishment for them. Still more, their judgment seemed to consist of their being aware of the wrong that they had done during their lives, all of their selfish acts of which they were repentant and ashamed. There was, however, no “archetypal Hades,” and the people who suffered thus were not the sort that should be consigned to a fiery pit. Finally, the author faces the problem of those who, like the Nazis of Hitler’s Germany, committed atrocious crimes, and concludes that the punishment of seeing the tragedies they inflicted come alive in their consciousness would be the worst punishment possible. “If they would see all these things come alive, vividly portrayed before them,” says the author, then “in my wildest fantasies, I cannot imagine a hell more horrible, more ultimately unbearable, than that.” 

It must again be observed that this is another example of form without power. Scripture clearly teaches hell as the place of eternal punishment, and describes it graphically in terms of fiery torment, Dr. Moody’s studies notwithstanding. We must reject any denial of the so-called “reward-punishment model,” since this is clearly the teaching of the Bible. But it certainly is conceivable that the sort of spiritual and conscious punishment described above is part of the condemnation of hell. After all, Scripture teaches that both reward and punishment shall be in harmony with and in proportion with the deeds done in the flesh. Since God as the just God always makes the punishment fit the crime, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that such spiritual and mental remorse (not repentance!) is part of everlasting punishment. But however accurate such accounts may or may not be, they serve to give a glimpse into the terribleness of punishment compared to the wonders of glory. 

Perhaps one more matter ought to be mentioned. Perhaps the question has arisen in your mind, as it has in mine; Assuming that even a small part of what Dr. Moody reports is true, why does God in His sovereign control choose to reveal these things? Surely there is a message and significance in this for God’s people, but what is it? I would suggest that generally this is another sign of the times in the sense that knowledge is being increased, as well as in the sense that it reveals the perilous character of the last times, times in which many will have the form of godliness without the power thereof (II Timothy 3:1, 5). More specifically, is it not possible that God reveals such things to the wicked in increasing measure, not only so that they may be left without excuse in the day of judgment, but also so that their punishment may be made the greater? As Peter says (II Peter 2:21), it would be better for the wicked not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. And is it not the will of God to encourage His saints by this revelation, be it by means even of wicked man, by giving them a partial and imperfect glimpse into the. future glory of the faithful? God’s people do not need proof of what the Scriptures say; but God does, from time to time, confirm the words of His revelation in other ways, that the faith of His people may be strengthened as the end approaches. Recognize, therefore, the signs of the times, for they indicate that the Lord is coming back; and hope for the eternal reward of glory, being faithful, that no one take your crown.