The Life Review
God is not mocked; whatever a man soweth that shall he also reap.
– Galatians 6:7l
After many years of murdering, raping, plundering, and pillaging with malice and forethought, twin brothers Jed and Ned were finally stopped by the police. Jed was shot and killed instantly, while Ned was apprehended and sent to prison for life. During his confinement, Ned “found” God and repented.
Jed and Ned are fictional characters created here to examine divine justice as perceived by biblical orthodoxy. The predominant view is that Jed faces eternal torment in hell, while Ned has been “saved” and will experience everlasting bliss in heaven, assuming, of course, that he found the “right” God and showed proper remorse.
One “school” holds that both Jed and Ned will “sleep” until some far-off Judgment Day when their moldering bodies will be restored and raised from their graves so that they can then receive appropriate sentences imposed by God or a high tribunal. Another school has them being judged soon after death and occupying their new environments almost immediately, although with Catholics there is an intermediate state called purgatory in which sins must be purged before one is allowed entrance to heaven. Purgatory is purportedly as bad as hell but not eternal.
In between those two views, there is one in which there is something of “double judgment.” The soul is judged soon after death and sent to what might be called a staging area while awaiting a final judgment on the day or resurrection. Exactly how the second judgment differs from the first judgment no religious authority seems to know. Simon Tugwell, an Oxford theologian, suggests that this double judgment is a fundamental ambiguity and an embarrassment to the Christians who accept it, but may be so only because humans are unable to comprehend the timelessness of the afterlife.
In the case of Jed and Ned and countless others, it seems that luck is a big factor in determining one’s salvation, or destiny in the afterlife, irrespective of which of the belief systems he or she subscribes to. Clearly, Jed was the unlucky one in catching the bullet, while Ned lucked out by avoiding the bullet. When orthodox leaders are asked to explain why God allows luck to play a part in one’s ultimate destiny, the scripted answer is that we are incapable of understanding or knowing God’s ways. In the great scheme of things, justice prevails, they assert with great conviction, even if we are unable to comprehend it.
But not all believers are dogmatically fixed in their view of how judgment is meted out in the afterlife. According to Michael J. Taylor, a professor emeritus of religious studies at Seattle University in Washington, a new theology of death has emerged. Instead of God passing judgment as the person stands passively before Him, the dying person is allowed to make a final choice for or against God. In effect, the person chooses an eternity with or without God. Apparently, the person does not see the latter state as the horrific hell of orthodoxy, but rather as one of self-love. His decision is based upon what he has learned during his lifetime. If he does not opt for an eternity with God, then he must surely be in for a rude awakening.
However, modern revelation, coming to us primarily through mediumship, the near-death experience (NDE), and various forms of mysticism, suggests a life review or self-judgment, if it can be called a “judgment.” It further suggests that there are many levels in the afterlife environment and that we automatically go to a certain level based on what might be called a “moral specific gravity.”
Many NDErs have reported a “life review” in which they see definitive moments in their life flash before them during the experience. P. M. H. Atwater, whose NDE took place during 1977, reported that she saw every thought she had ever had, every word she had ever spoken, and every deed she had ever done during her life review. Moreover, she saw the effects of every thought, word, and deed on everyone who might have been affected by them. As she interpreted it, she was judging herself.
Tom Sawyer, who had an NDE in 1978 when his car fell on him while he was working under it, recalled reliving every thought and attitude connected with decisive moments in his life and seeing them through the eyes of those who were affected by his actions. He particularly recalled an incident that took place when he was driving his hot-rod pickup at age 19 and nearly hit a jaywalking pedestrian who darted in front of him from behind another vehicle. When Sawyer engaged in a verbal exchange with the pedestrian, the man yelled some four-letter words at him, reached through the window, and hit him with his open hand. Sawyer responded by jumping out of his car and beating the man relentlessly. During his life review, Sawyer came to know everything about the man, including his age, the fact that his wife had recently died, and that he was in a drunken state because of his bereavement.
Sawyer came to see the attack from his victim’s standpoint. “[I experienced] seeing Tom Sawyer’s fist come directly into my face, and I felt the indignation, the rage, the embarrassment, the frustration, the physical pain…I felt my teeth going through my lower lip – in other words, I was in that man’s eyes. I was in that man’s body. I experienced everything of that inter-relationship between Tom Sawyer and that man that day. I experienced unbelievable things about that man that are of a very personal, confidential, and private nature.”
In his recent book, Evidence of the Afterlife, Jeffrey Long, M.D. quotes a young woman who nearly died from a complication of anesthesia: “My entire consciousness seemed to be in my head. Then I started seeing pictures. I think they were in color. It was as if someone had started a movie of myself and of my entire life, but going backwards from the present moment…This panoramic review of my life was very distinct; every little detail of the incidents, relationships, was there – the relationships in some sort of distilled essence of meaning…”
Long also tells of a man named Roger who was in a head-on auto accident and immediately left his body. He told of seeing events from above: “I went into a dark place with nothing around me, but I wasn’t scared. It was really peaceful there. I then began to see my whole life unfolding before me like a film projected on a screen, from babyhood to adult life. It was so real! I was looking at myself, but better than a 3-D movie as I was also capable to sensing the feelings of the persons I had interacted with through the years. I could feel the good and bad emotions I made them go through…”
Pseudoskeptics seem to have a theory for every aspect of the NDE, including the life review which so many others have reported. The “skeptical” take on the life review is that it is a psychological defense mechanism permitting a retreat into pleasant memories. But Long points out that many memories are not pleasant and that such unpleasant memories would not be expected in a psychological escape. Certainly, it was not pleasant for Tom Sawyer to be on the receiving end of his own blows.
Long further mentions the “Oprah Factor,” which suggests that people, upon reading or hearing of these reports, are conditioned to make up such stories. However, a number of dynamic NDEs with life reviews can be found in print well before Dr. Raymond Moody gave a name to it and popularized it in his 1975 book, Life After Life. In an 1863 book, author Sophia Elizabeth De Morgan, the wife of the renowned British mathematician and logician Augustus De Morgan, relates what was obviously an NDE by British Rear Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort (1774-1857), who is most remembered today for devising the Beaufort Wind Scales. The experience took place sometime around 1795, when he was a young sailor on one of His Majesty’s ships in Portsmouth harbor. Beaufort wrote that he was sculling about in a small boat endeavoring to fasten the boat to a ship when he stepped upon the gunwale, lost his balance, and fell into the water. Not knowing how to swim, he splashed about before he began to sink below the surface and drown. After experiencing “perfect tranquility,” he had his life played back before him.
“They took, then, a wider range: our last cruise – a former voyage and shipwreck – my school, the progress I had made there, the time I had misspent, and even all my boyish pursuits and adventures,” Beaufort wrote. “Thus, traveling backwards, every incident of my past life seemed to me to glance across my recollection in retrograde procession; not, however, in mere outline as here stated, but the picture filled up with every minute and collateral feature; in short, the whole period of my existence seemed to be placed before me in a kind of panoramic view, and each act of it seemed to be accompanied by a consciousness of right or wrong, or by some reflection on its cause of consequence – indeed many trifling events, which had been long forgotten, then crowded into my imagination, and with the character of recent familiarity.”
Beaufort then speculated on the meaning of it all, wondering if it was some indication of the almost infinite power of memory with which we awaken in another world. “But however that may be, one circumstance was highly remarkable, that the innumerable ideas which floated into my mind were all retrospective; yet I had been religiously brought up; my hopes and fears of the next world had lost nothing of their early strength, and at any other period intense interest and awful anxiety would have been excited by the mere idea that I was floating on the threshold of eternity; yet at that inexplicable moment, when I had full consciousness that I had already crossed that threshold, not a single thought wandered into the future; I was wrapped entirely in the past. The length of time that was occupied by this deluge of ideas, or rather the shortness of time into which they were condensed, I cannot now state with precision; yet, certainly, two minutes could not have elapsed from the moment of suffocation to the time of my being hauled up.”
It would be difficult to find a more credible person than Carl Gustav Jung, the eminent Swiss psychiatrist, who experienced an NDE in 1944 after breaking his foot and then having a heart attack. He recalled his experience: “It was as if I now carried along with me everything I had ever experienced or done, everything that had happened around me,” he wrote. “I might also say: it was with me, and I was it. I consisted of all that, so to speak. I consisted of my own history, and I felt with great certainty: this is what I am. ‘I am this bundle of what has been, and what has been accomplished.’”
Jung went on to say that he felt certain that he was about to enter an illuminated room and then understand the historical nexus of his life and what would come after. However, his vision ceased as he returned to earthly consciousness.
But how can a person see every moment of his life flash before him in an instant? As Pim Van Lommel, a renowned Dutch cardiologist, understands it, many aspects of the NDE correspond with or are analogous to some of the basic principles from quantum theory, which is non-local, i.e., timeless and placeless interconnectedness. Or to view it another way, consciousness outside of the objective world is independent of time.
The Rev. William Stainton Moses*, an Anglican priest, developed the ability to communicate with spirits and put many questions to an apparently advanced spirit called Imperator. Moses often had a difficult time reconciling what Imperator had to say with the teachings of the Church. In response to a question about a Judgment Day, Imperator replied: “Is it nothing that we tell you that reward and punishment are not delayed till a far-off day faintly imagined, after a period of torpor, almost of death, but are instant, immediate, supervening upon sin by the action of an invariable law, and acting ceaselessly until the cause which produced it is removed?”
Moses also asked about a General Judgment, to which Imperator replied there was no such thing but that judgment is ceaseless as the soul is forever evolving. He further stated that an arraignment before an assembled universe is an allegory. “The judgment is complete when the spirit gravitates to the home which it has made for itself. There can be no error. It is placed by the eternal law of fitness. That judgment is complete until the spirit is fitted to pass to a higher sphere, when the same process is repeated, and so on and on until the purgatorial spheres of work are done with, and the soul passes within the inner heaven of contemplation.”
After his death in 1901, pioneering psychical researcher Frederic W. H. Myers* communicated extensively through several mediums, including Geraldine Cummins of Ireland. He said that following death the soul experiences a semi-suspended consciousness during which it sees fragmentary happenings of the life just lived. “He watches this changing show as a man drowsily watches a shimmering sunny landscape on a midsummer day. He is detached and apart, judging the individual who participates in these experiences, judging his own self with aid of the Light from Above.”
Myers further explained that while this is taking place, the etheric or spirit body is loosening itself from the “husk” and when the judgment is completed, generally after three to four days, the soul takes flight and resumes full consciousness. However, he added that some men and women “linger” a much longer time in the Hades condition wandering to and fro in grim ways.
Communicating to Marjorie Aarons through the direct-voice mediumship of the renowned British medium Lilian Bailey, Bill Wootton said that everyone is his or her own judge and jury. “There is nobody sitting in awful majesty weighing this on the one hand and that on the other. When you are out of the physical body with its limiting brain and five senses, you have a greater horizon of thought which is immediately stimulated by the knowledge that you are alive. But you see with an awful clarity the smallness of what you were, yet somehow you an immense feeling of being more powerful. The first thing you want to do is to try to rectify some things you definitely made into a mess…You try to inspire or help where you have left some things undone. Very often we are all apt to see these as bigger than they actually were.”
“The Life Review” is an excerpt of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die by Michael Tymn, published by White Crow Books.