Part 3, Do the Dead Communicate with the Living?
Read Part 2: The “Canaanization” of the Church
The Bergers’ book Have Heart recounts people’s dreams around the time their son Josiah died. Right after the accident, a friend reported he saw the hospital room with his friend lying there. He saw Jesus calmly enter the room and whisper something in Josiah’s ear. The friend then asked Jesus what He told Josiah. Jesus replied, “That’s just between Siah [Josiah] and Me.” “The dream ended” reports the friend, “with Josiah getting up and walking out with Jesus.” (HH, 13)
Another lady, whom the Bergers did not personally know, also saw a vision that “aligned” with the friend’s—a dream in which Josiah turned to the lady and said, “Tell Mom and Dad that I love them.” (HH, 15) Another friend of the family in Idaho, suddenly and intuitively became aware of the life and death decisions the Bergers were making in the organ donor process. (Unbeknownst to them and in the eventuality of his death, Josiah had committed to be an organ donor.)
In the midst of making those important decisions, and meanwhile admitting the idea is without biblical precedent, the Bergers state their belief that Josiah “decided” to leave earth and go to Heaven. (HH, 15) His “decision” resulted in his being “alive in Heaven” and for reason of donating his organs to others, of also being “alive on earth”. (HH, 15) As the first chapter’s title indicates, Josiah was “ready to be outta here!” This raises an obvious question.
Though persons might decide when to die (euthanasia, suicide), does it lie with human providence to decide whether or not one shall die? Though for a time life may be a choice, in the end it is not. Death is an appointment everyone will keep (Genesis 3:19; Job 14:14; Hebrews 9:27). Ultimately, God controls birth, life and death (Ecclesiastes 3:2).
Despite the best medical care, health foods, exercise regimen and lifestyle habits, the time will come for all of us when life will move beyond our limited control. Excepting the translation generation which will be living when Jesus returns, we shall all die (1 Corinthians 15:51-54). So isn’t it wonderful that by faith we can yield control of our lives to Jesus Christ? For He stated and promised:
The Bergers state that their son’s ministry and legacy did not end with his death, but lives on. In addition to having donated his organs and an orphanage having been established in his name in the Dominican Republic, “People all around us have enjoyed wonderful experiences and dreams involving Josiah,” the Bergers relate. Then the authors explain that these encouraging paranormal experiences—whether involving a dream or a sensation stimulated by a picture or a painting—are what they call “God Nods.” (HH, 20) A God Nod is a term they coin to describe God’s so-called “spontaneous sovereignty” in which He directs people to “pay attention and look deeper... It’s God saying, ‘Check this out’.” (HH, 21) These various visions of and encounters with Josiah seemed to occur at key moments when people’s grief made them emotionally vulnerable. People reported that it was as if Josiah saying to them, “I am here; you just can’t see me.” (HH, 22)
By helping people see “the blessings of God in the midst of... pain and suffering,” the Bergers claim these “God Nods” are an effectual antidote against “bitterness, unknowing, or doubt,” and counteract the development of a “victim mentality.” (HH, 22) Based upon the Holy Spirit bringing to life the power of Scripture amidst the agony of tragedy, they say “we will not listen to the doubt and negativity that Satan whispers in our ears” and our “mourning” will be turned “into dancing”. (HH, 32-33)
It should be noted that the timing of these “God Nods” can illustrate the New Age belief in and experience of synchronicity (referred to previously in Part 2)—the teaching that a confluence of coincidences can shift a person’s perspective into a new awareness and cosmic-spiritual consciousness. As hospice chaplain and psychotherapist, Diane Arcangel (whose book, Afterlife Encounters, the Bergers refer to and endorse in part, HH, 94), states:
Spoiling the Celebration
People beset by tragedy should avoid cultivating a “victim mentality,” say the Bergers. (HH, 37) In the aftermath of bad situations, people can choose not to be healed of their grief by nursing a grudge against life. In the opinion of the Bergers, the paralyzed man by the pool of Bethesda cultivated a “victim mentality” (John 5:1-9). For thirty-eight years he laid by the pool waters, popularly believed to provide healing when stirred by an angel. In words suggesting a name-it-claim-it belief, the Bergers state, “It’s our opinion that this fellow didn’t want to be made well.” (HH, 37)
Beside the fact that we don’t always get what we want out of life, this aberrant opinion begs the question, why then did the paralytic stay by the pool so long? For all that time, was he only seeking sympathy as he wallowed in his self-pity? Yet the paralytic told Jesus, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me” (John 5:7). John’s record of this miracle does not indicate a “victim mentality” on the part of the man. More to the point, the incident indicates indifference toward the man’s plight on the part of the crowd around him as well as their selfishness when they cut in line ahead of the paralytic to get healed. He was a victim all right—not of himself, but of others!
Regardless of whether people are victims in life or death, it does not mean that the grieving manifests an unspiritual “victim mentality.” Painful as it might be, grieving is a process which involves accepting the death and loss of a loved one. Yes, Christians grieve, but not “as others which have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). To suggest otherwise is unrealistic regarding people’s emotions, whether they are Christians or not.
Furthermore, a question remains: Does it lie within people’s power to reverse every grievous disadvantage of life? Remember the words of Eliphaz to Job: “Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). For example, do children or their parents choose autism or Down’s syndrome? What about soldiers who bear in their bodies and souls continuing injuries of war? While the false teaching that healing is a choice may be popular among Word of Faith teachers and their audiences (the name-it-claim-it crowd), introducing such teaching (the paralytic didn’t want to be made well) in a book about the tragedy of death and grief exacerbates agonizing questions about God’s providence, questions that will remain unresolved this side of Heaven. The just shall live by faith, even though life’s circumstances might cause the disadvantaged or wounded in life to doubt God’s providence and goodness amidst the agony they feel in their hearts.
Visions—Isaiah and Uzziah
In their chapter “Heaven Revealed,” the Bergers cite Isaiah’s vision of Heaven in the year when King Uzziah died (circa 740 BC), when the prophet saw “the Lord sitting upon a throne” (Isaiah 6:1-8). In that nobody can see God (John 1:18), the Apostle John interpreted that Isaiah saw the pre-incarnate Christ (John 12:41). But, when speaking of the significance of Uzziah’s death, the Bergers teach that, “Sometimes it takes the passing of a loved one for us to clearly see heavenly things.” (HH, 46) In the words of the authors, “The passing of King Uzziah triggered a bigger event. It gave Isaiah answers and a vision of Heaven.” (HH, 46) But is this true?
First of all, in the historical reality, it is doubtful Uzziah was a “loved one” of the prophet. After his fifty-two year reign, the king’s death signaled that, “the times were a’ changing.” But before the Lord called Isaiah to prophetic ministry, He had disqualified Uzziah from worshipping in His house by smiting him with leprosy because the king had transgressed into the priestly office (2 Chronicles 26:16-21). The prophet’s dating of his vision of the Lord to have occurred “in the year that king Uzziah died” served historical notice of when God called Isaiah to the prophetic ministry (Compare Isaiah 14:28, “In the year that king Ahaz died . . .”). The death of a so-called “loved one” did not stimulate Isaiah’s vision of the heavenly reality.
Nevertheless, the Bergers suggest that Isaiah, for reason of going public with his claim to have seen the Lord, risked being mocked by his contemporaries as being “delusional, hysterical, or worse, heretical.” (HH, 46) But, “Like Isaiah,” they say, “we’re willing to share our ongoing experience, risking the potential ridicule of some in order to bring hope to the hurting.” (HH, 46-47) This unorthodox reading of Isaiah’s heavenly vision provides the “biblical” license for the Bergers to go public with their “discoveries” about Heaven, the implication being that those who might not believe the reports of their “ongoing experience” might be deriding them.
Because those who die in the Lord go immediately to Heaven (Luke 23:43), Scripture marks the dead in Christ to be “alive, active, and aware” with the Lord. Combining the Bible and their “sanctified imagination,” the authors of Have Heart describe Heaven and explore what it means to be absent in the body and present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8).
Correctly, the Bergers claim that the dead in Christ are more alive in Heaven than they ever were on earth. (HH, 59) They suggest a new vocabulary is needed when speaking of deceased persons, words that reflect biblical truth. “We need to replace ‘dead’ and ‘was’ with ‘living’ and ‘is’.” (HH, 60)
In citing John 14:3 (“I go to prepare a place for you.”), the Bergers ask: What is Jesus “preparing? Is it an estate? Is it a house with an ocean view?” (HH, 62) Then they answer, “Maybe, but it is also most definitely a new body.... We will get amazingly new spiritual bodies that are just like the resurrected body Jesus has.” (HH, 62) From their equating place with “new spiritual bodies,” serious theological questions arise. When will those who have died in Christ receive their amazing new bodies? What will these bodies be like? Will they be essentially spiritual or essentially material?
As to when, the Bergers state that the dead in Christ are “raised in glory, living gloriously right now with God.” (Emphasis added, HH, 63, 64) As to what these bodies will be like, the authors state they will be just like Jesus’ (1 Corinthians 15:48-49; Philippians 3:2—21; 1 John 3:2). As whether these bodies are spiritual or physical, the authors opt that both are true. They note that Jesus’ appearing to the disciples on the road to Emmaus indicates “the tangible nature of the body of the resurrected Lord,” that He “has flesh and bones, and thus He is no vapor-like spirit/ghost.” (HH, 65) Their son Josiah’s embodiment in Heaven, as evidenced by dreams and apparitions, comforted Steve Berger for in the aftermath of donating his son’s vital organs to others, Josiah’s physical body was cremated.
Regarding Heaven’s activities, the authors note “that our God is the God of the Living and not the God of the dead.” (HH, 92) In Heaven, they are “forever is.” (HH, 59) The activities of the “is-in-Christ” include praying (Revelation 5:8; 6:9-10; 8:3), worshipping (Revelation 5:13; 7:9-12), rejoicing (Luke 15:10) and serving (Revelation 22:3). (HH, 73-92) But the Bergers take serving a step further claiming that saints in Heaven make mission “trips to earth for the Master.” (HH, 89)
That those in Heaven travel to earth, the Bergers base primarily upon a book My Dream of Heaven by Rebecca Ruter Springer, written at about the time of the Civil War, a book they claim Billy Graham endorsed. (HH, 89-90) To buttress the argument that people in Heaven “go on invisible missions to earth,” the Bergers also refer to dreams and experiences people have had with their dead son Josiah, as well as the biblical appearance of Moses and Elijah at Jesus’ Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13). From this eclectic mix of dreams, experiences and one biblical incident, the authors conclude that those in Heaven “know things” happening on earth, and that “They surround us.” (HH, 92) As the next chapter tells readers, “They are aware and present.” (HH, 93-104)
“Aware and Present”
To validate the claim that persons in Heaven are aware of and present with what’s happening on earth, the Bergers again draw upon an eclectic mixture of clinical, experiential and biblical data. They refer to Diane Arcangel’s book Afterlife Encounters: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Experiences, in which the former director of the Kübler-Ross Center, hospice chaplain and psychotherapist reports her clients’ “tangible experiences with their loved ones, such as dreams or symbols or sounds.” (HH, 94) To further support the idea of the awareness and presence of the dead, the Bergers then cite Samuel’s visit to Saul when the king attended a séance conducted by the witch at Endor (1 Samuel 28:15-19). (HH, 95-96) They also retell a story in the book Heaven and the Afterlife, by Christian authors James (Jim) Garlow and Keith Wall. (HH, 96-98)
All this then, forms the context in which the Bergers report their son’s visit with “Mr. Jim” that evening in the church sanctuary. This smorgasbord of evidence (eclectically derived from a spectrum of sources ranging from fundamentalist-Christian like John R. Rice to New Age like Diane Arcangel) supposedly supports the assertion that the dead can become present to the living. But how does one know whether such presences are authentic, fanatic or demonic?
Tests for Discerners
Acknowledging the sovereignty of God and that He can do whatever He wills, the Bergers propose that presences (appearances) of the deceased must pass two evidentiary tests: Scripture and spontaneity. They propose that experiences with the dead in Christ must
- “line up with Scripture,” and
- be unsolicited (spontaneous). (HH, 94, 101-103)
They propose that because these presences are spontaneous, they do not qualify to be works of the flesh (i.e., witchcraft and sorcery), activities which the apostle Paul condemned (“they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” Galatians 5:20-21). (HH, 102) Their message thus becomes: if this experience just happens to you, and you didn’t ask for it, you are absolved from the charge of necromancy. Yet, the “spontaneity” test they invent does not thereby exempt the experiencer of an apparition from God’s prohibition.
The Nature of Scripture
Notice that the Bergers’ spontaneity test resembles how many postmodern evangelical leaders approach the Scriptures as they teach exciting new doctrines. By employing a method that starts with a Scripture and then mixes in something else—be it an experience, a dream, a revelation or a new understanding—these teachers go beyond plain biblical truth and expand the meaning of the Gospel (Contra Galatians 1:6-9.). Regarding any knowledge “out there,” Diane Arcangel states her premise for knowing: “Experience is stronger than faith, and faith is the gift the following experiencers [the cases of people recorded in her book] offer you.”
Common among many new evangelicals is a belief that Scripture does not possess a propositional and objective reality outside the human heart, but that the Bible is a compilation of individual narratives that record people’s personal and subjective experiences with God, and that in a contemporary way, as people experience God, they too contribute to a grand narrative, an ongoing and developing story of the religious experiences of all people. Through your personal experiences, you become a participatory part of the Story. In accord with this conception of the Bible, the Bergers precariously advise their readers to look outside of Scripture for an experiential confirmation of the Truth! They suggest: “If Satan is attacking one of God’s promises in your own heart, ask Him to confirm the truth in your spirit by whatever means He deems best. It may be through a dream, or He may use some other method to deliver His message.” (HH, 71)
Happenings from Heaven
Because presences just “happen”—as when C.S. Lewis experienced “supernatural visitations from his wife” after she died (citing someone’s experience) or as when Jesus appeared to his disciples after His death and resurrection (citing Scripture, Luke 24:36-43)—they are legitimate, say the Bergers.
However, this disclaimer rings hollow in light of the Bergers account of Josiah’s visit to “Mr. Jim” during a mid-week service. Previous to the visit, the guest worship leader prayed that Josiah would come! (HH, 99-101) Neither does the biblical example they employ pass the spontaneity test. By visiting the witch at Endor, Saul solicited Samuel’s presence! On this point, any reader of Have Heart must struggle with the spontaneity test invented by the Bergers. In two of the authors’ examples, one experiential and the other biblical, neither Josiah nor Samuel just showed up. Those who saw them desired their presence. Indeed, many apparitions occur as a consequence of “wishful thinking.” On the downside, Have Heart might conceivably tempt readers to desire contact with a loved one who has passed on, and if that would be the case, then any apparition would flunk the spontaneity test. Because a coming of a dead person just happens does not exempt it from what God’s Law forbids (Deuteronomy 18:9-14).
Though people can court contact with the dead via séances with mediums, similar “communications” can also spontaneously happen. After his son’s suicide, Bishop James A. Pike (1913-1969) experienced unsolicited visitations. Strange phenomena, which Pike grew to believe were interactions from his dead son, began to occur in the apartment they once occupied together—objects moved (telekinesis), the bangs of a sleeping secretary were singed off in a straight line, fingernails cut, etc. When these phenomena began to happen, the Anglican Bishop did not even believe in the afterlife! As regards the phenomena for psi (the Greek letter Y which refers to all extrasensory perception (ESP) and psychokinetic movements) as well as poltergeists and hauntings, Dr. Dean Radin, Director of Consciousness Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, notes that most of those experiences are “spontaneous.”
So at this juncture the biblical Christian should realize that even though they be spontaneous, apparitional comings of dead persons can be altogether differently sourced—“earthly, sensual, devilish” (James 3:15). Because they just happen does not authenticate them as being from Heaven. In fact, quite the opposite might be the case. As the case of Bishop Pike demonstrates, they could be from Hell. In 1970, Victor Ernest, once himself a spiritualist, warned: “A familiar spirit in the service of Satan knows human beings so well that he can disguise himself as those people . . .” And herein lays a very serious and sober warning to any believer who might be flirting with divination: Satan’s method is ever one of deception through disguise (John 8:44; 2 Cor. 11:14). He will employ any method to perpetuate The Lie—surely you will not die.
Stay tuned for Part 4 . . . .
40. Noory and Guiley state that, “there is a long history of dream visitations. Dreams, it seems, are one of the communication methods most often used between the living and the dead.” Noory and Guiley, Talking to the Dead, 14.
41.In the Bible and as a means of divine communication, dreams and visions occurred. But in contrast to surrounding cultures (i.e., Egyptian, Canaanite and Babylonian), Thomson and Wright observe that “one is impressed by the Hebrews’ lack of preoccupation with this phenomenon.” See J. G. S. S. Thomson, “Dream,” The New Bible Dictionary, J. D. Douglas, Editor (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1962): 323.
The distinction between dreams and visions is slight. Generally, dreams occurred when the recipient was asleep (Jeremiah 31:26) while visions when the recipient was awake (Isaiah 1:1). In the Old Testament, dreams were associated with prophets, both true and false (Deuteronomy 13:1-5). Via dreams and visions, God communicated His word to true prophets (Jeremiah 23:28). But the dreams of false prophets originated in their own subconscious (“they speak a vision of their own imagination,” Jeremiah 23:16, NASB) or were inspired by false gods and spirits (“they prophesied by Baal,” Jeremiah 23:13, NASB). Based upon dreams and visions, the measure between a true and false prophet was this: false prophets told rebellious people, “You will have peace” (Jeremiah 23:17, NASB); but upon the rebels, the word of true prophets fell “like a hammer which shatters a rock” (Jeremiah 23:29, NASB). As a rule of thumb, false dreams comfort while true dreams convict.
Because dreams are personal, they lack confirmation by two or three other witnesses, something the apostle Paul writes is important in establishing “every word” in the church (2 Corinthians 13:1). Because dreams can either be true or false, Christians must be on the alert to discern their validity.
42. Diane Arcangel, Afterlife Encounters: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Experiences (Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc., 2005): 16.
43. It can be noted that Isaiah is the only prophet to give such historical notice.
44. In that cremation in the Old Testament era was linked to a pagan beliefs and rites (matter is evil, spirit is good), “it was odious to the Israelites.” Because God created the body (Genesis 1:26; 2:7), the Israelites cared for the body, even in death. Burial of the body seems to best respect the dust to dust description of life, creation and curse (Genesis 3:19). Though this scruple needs to be respected, Christians ought to realize that cremation has nothing to do with salvation. See René Pache, The Future Life, Helen I. Needham, Translator (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1962): 198.
45. Rebecca Ruter Springer, My Dream of Heaven: Intra Muros (United Kingdom: White Crow Books, 2010). Translating the Latin phrase, the book’s title reads: My Dream of Heaven in Heaven. During a time of life threatening illness, Springer reports what she saw and experienced while visiting Heaven in her dreams. Billy Graham’s so called endorsement reads: “The book, in its quaint early nineteenth-century style, was fanciful, but it captured biblical truths with emotional impressions.” Emphasis added, see Billy Graham, Facing Death and the Life After (Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, a Division of Thomas Nelson, 1987): 175.
46. Diane Arcangel, Afterlife Encounters: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Experiences (Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc., 2005) xv + 276 pages + Appendix.
47. James L. Garlow and Keith Wall, Encountering Heaven and the Afterlife: True Stories from People Who Have Glimpsed the World Beyond (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, a division of the Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, MI, 2010). 279 pages + Acknowledgements and Endnotes.
48. Arcangel, Afterlife Encounters, Acknowledgements.
49. Dean I. Radin, The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena (San Francisco, CA: HarperEdge, 1997): 280.
50. Merrill F. Unger, The Haunting of Bishop Pike: A Christian View of the Other Side (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1971): 7-22.
51. Radin, Conscious Universe, 280.
52. Victor H. Ernest, I Talked with Spirits (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1970): 87.