Encounter With Jesus

At the age of twenty, George Ritchie died in an army hospital. Nine minutes later, he returned to life. What happened to him during those nine minutes was so compelling it changed his life forever. This is one of the most starling and hopeful descriptions of the realm beyond ever written:

I stared in astonishment as the brightness increased, coming from nowhere, seeming to shine everywhere at once. It was impossibly bright. "I’m glad I don’t have physical eyes at this moment," I thought. "This light would destroy my retina in a tenth of a second."

No, I corrected myself, not the light. He! He would be too bright to look at. For now I saw that it was not a light, but a Man who had entered the room, or rather, a Man made of light. The instant I perceived Him came the stupendous certainty:

"You are in the presence of the Son of God."

The concept seemed to form itself inside me, it was a kind of knowing, immediate and complete. I knew other facts about Him too. His name was Jesus. He was power itself, older than time and yet more modern than anyone I had ever met. Above all, with the same mysterious inner certainty, I knew that this Man loved me.

Far more, even more than power, what emanated from this Presence was unconditional love. An astonishing love. A love beyond my wildest imagining. This love knew every unlovable thing about me—the quarrels with my stepmother, my explosive temper, the sex thoughts I could never control, every mean, selfish thought and action since the day I was born—and accepted and loved me just the same.

When I say He knew everything about me, this was simply an observable fact. For into that room along with His radiant Presence, simultaneously, though in telling about it I have to describe them one by one, had also entered every single episode of my entire life.

Everything that had ever happened to me was simply there, in full view, all seemingly taking place at that moment. Every detail of 20 years of living was there to be looked at. The good, the bad, the high points, the run-of-the-mill. And with this all-inclusive view came a question. It was implicit in every scene and seemed to proceed from the living Light beside me.

"What did you do with your life?"

It was obviously not a question in the sense that He was seeking information, for what I had done with my life was in plain view, and this total detailed and perfect recalling came from Him, not me. I couldn’t have remembered a 10th of what was there until He showed it to me.

"What did you do with your life?"

It seemed to be a question about values, not facts—what did you accomplish? And with this question shining through them, these ordinary events of a fairly typical boyhood seemed not merely unexciting but trivial.

Hadn’t I done anything lasting, anything important? Desperately I looked around me for something that would seem worthwhile. It wasn’t that there were spectacular sins, just the sexual hang-ups and secretiveness of most teenagers, but if there were not horrendous depths, there were no heights either. Only an endless, shortsighted, clamorous concern for myself.

Hadn’t I ever gone beyond my own immediate interests, done anything that was valuable? At last I located it, the proudest moment of my life: "I became an Eagle Scout!" Again, words seemed to emanate from the Presence beside me: "That glorified you!" It was true. I could see myself standing in the center of the award circle, flushed with pride, the admiring eyes of my family and friends turned on me.

Me, Me, Me—always in the center. Wasn’t there anytime in my life when I had let someone else stand there?

I saw myself walking forward at a church service at age 11, asking Jesus to be Lord of my life. But I saw how quickly that first excitement turned into a dull routine of church-on-Sunday. Worse, I saw the smugness and self-esteem that went with it. I was better than the kids who didn't come to church. I was even better than lots who did—there was my perfect-attendance pin to prove it. I started to point out my pre-med courses, how I was going to be a doctor and help people. But visible alongside the classroom scenes was that Cadillac car and that private airplane, thoughts as observable as actions in that all-pervading Light.

And all at once rage at the question itself built up in me. It wasn’t fair! Of course I hadn’t done anything with my life! I hadn’t had time. How could you judge a person who hadn’t started? The brightness of the Presence beside me seemed to vibrate and shimmer with a kind of holy laughter, not at me and my silliness, not a mocking laughter, but a mirth that seemed to say that in spite of all error and tragedy, joy was more lasting still. And in the ecstasy of that laughter I realized that it was "I" who was judging the events around us so harshly.

It was "I" who saw them as trivial, self-centered, unimportant. No such condemnation came from the Glory shining round me. He was not blaming or reproaching.

He was simply...loving me!

Filling the world with Himself and yet somehow attending to me personally. Waiting for my answer to the question that still hung in the dazzling air.
What have you done with your life to show Me?

Already I understood that in my first frantic efforts to come up with an impressive answer, I had missed the point altogether. He wasn’t asking about accomplishments and awards. The question, like everything else proceeding from Him, had to do with love.

"How much have you loved with your life? Have you loved others as I am loving you? Totally? Unconditionally?"

Hearing the question like that, I saw how foolish it was even to try to find an answer in the scenes around us. Why, I hadn’t known love like this was possible. Someone should have told me, I thought indignantly! A fine time to discover what life was all about.

If this was the point of everything, why hadn’t someone told me?

But though these thoughts rose out of self-pity and self-excuse, the answering thought held no rebuke, only that hint of heavenly laughter behind the words.

"I did tell you."

But how? Still wanting to justify myself—how could He have told me and I not have heard?

"I told you by the life I lived. I told you by the death I died. And, if you keep your eyes on Me, you will see more!"


Keep Your Eyes On Me

With a start I noticed that we were moving—we seemed to be high above the earth, speeding together toward a distant pinprick of light. The distant pinprick resolved itself into a large city where the streets were impossibly crowded. Just below us two men bore down on the same section of sidewalk and then simply passed through each other.

It was the same inside the factories and office buildings—there were too many people at the machines and desks. In one room a man was sitting in an armchair dictating a letter onto a rotating cylinder. Standing behind him, not an inch away, another man kept snatching repeatedly at the speaking tube. "No" he was saying, "Why did you send Bill on that job?" On and on he went, correcting, giving orders, while the man in the chair appeared neither to see nor hear him.

I noticed this phenomenon repeatedly, people unaware of others right beside them. I saw a women asking another for a cigarette, begging her in fact, as though she wanted it more than anything in the world. But the other one, chatting with her friends, ignored her. Clearly these individuals were in the same predicament I myself was in—like me, they were without physical bodies.

I watched one woman following a man down the street. She seemed very much alive, agitated and tearful, except that the man to whom she was addressing her emphatic words was oblivious to her existence. "You’re not getting enough sleep. Marjorie makes too many demands on you. You should never have married a women who thinks only of herself." I gathered that she was his mother.

How long had she been following him this way?

Was this what death was like—to be permanently invisible to the living, yet permanently wrapped up in their affairs?

"Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart will be also."

Those words of Jesus sprang into my mind. Perhaps these people, although they could no longer contact the earth, still had their hearts there.

"Keep your eyes on Me," Jesus had told me.

And when I did, the terror vanished. Without Him before me, in fact, I could not have endured the things He was showing me.

As fast as thought we traveled from city to city, seemingly on the familiar earth, except for the thousands of non-physical beings. In one house a man followed another from room to room. "I’m sorry, pa!" he kept saying. "I didn’t know what it would do to Mama." Endlessly, over and over, to ears that could not hear.

Several times we paused before similar scenes. A boy trailing a teenaged girl through the corridors of a school. "I'm sorry, Nancy!" A middle-aged woman begging a Grey-haired man to forgive her.

At this point, the Light drew me inside a dingy bar and grill—a crowd of people lined the bar three deep. Though a few were drinking beer, I noticed a number of the men standing at the bar seemed unable to lift their drinks to their lips. Over and over I watched them clutch at their glasses, hands passing through the solid tumblers. Suppose they had developed a dependence on alcohol that went beyond the physical. That became mental—spiritual, even.

What if hell was remaining on earth but never being able to make contact with it. That would be hell indeed. But if this was hell, why was He here beside me? For He was overwhelmingly the chief impression of the journey. Why did my heart leap for joy each time I turned to Him?

Whichever way I looked, He remained the real focus of my attention. And that was another of the things baffling me. If I could see Him, why couldn’t everyone else?

He was too bright for physical eyes to look at—that I had realized right away. But surely the living people we passed could sense the love streaming out to them like heat from a mighty fire! And these others, the ones like me who no longer had physical eyes, how could they help but see the burning love and compassion in their midst?

How could they miss someone closer, more brilliant than the noonday sun?

Unless...Could these others see Him now too, if their attention was not all caught up in the physical world they had lost?

"Where your heart is..." Maybe whenever our center of attention was on anything else, we could block out even Him!

They Fled From The Light

We were moving again. We had left the seedy streets and bars, and were now standing on the edge of a wide flat plain. Now, I could see no physical man or woman. The plain was crowded, even jammed with hordes of ghostly discarnate beings. And they were the most frustrated, the angriest, the most completely miserable beings I had ever laid eyes on.

"Lord Jesus!" I cried. "Where are we?"

At first I thought we were looking at some great battlefield—everywhere people were locked in what looked like fights to the death, writhing, punching, gouging. And then I noticed that no one was apparently being injured!

Although they appeared to be literally on top of each other, it was as though each man was boxing the air—having no substance, they could not actually touch one another. They could not kill, though they clearly wanted to, because their intended victims were already dead, and so they hurled themselves at each other in a frenzy of impotent rage.

Up to this moment the misery I had watched consisted in being chained to the physical world of which we were no longer a part. Now I saw that there were other kinds of chains. These creatures seemed locked into habits of mind and emotion—into hatred, lust, destructive thought-patterns. Even more hideous than the bites and kicks they exchanged, were the sexual abuses many were performing in feverish pantomime. Perversions I had never dreamed of.

Whatever anyone thought, however fleetingly, was instantly apparent to all around him, more completely than words could have expressed it, faster than sound waves could have carried it. And the thoughts most frequently communicated had to do with the superior knowledge, or abilities, or background of the thinker.

"I told you so!"

"I always knew!"

"Didn’t I warn you!"

These were shrieked into the echoing air over and over. With a feeling of sick familiarity I recognized my own thinking—the righteous one, the award-winner, the churchgoer. At age 20 I hadn’t yet developed any truly chaining physical habits, but in these yelps of envy and wounded self-importance I heard myself all too well.

What was it going to be like. I thought with sudden panic, to live forever where my most private thoughts were not private at all? No disguising them, no covering them up, no way to pretend I was anything but what I actually was. How unbearable. Unless, of course, everyone around me had the same kind of thoughts.

Once again, however, no condemnation came from the Presence at my side, only a compassion for these unhappy creatures that was breaking His heart. Clearly this was not His Will that any one of them should be in this place. Then—what was keeping them here? Why didn’t each one just get up and leave? They couldn’t actually hold onto their victims. There were no fences. Nothing prevented them from simply going off. Unless, there was a kind of consolation in finding others as loathsome as one’s self, even if all we could do was hurl our venom at each other.

Perhaps this was the explanation for this hideous plain. Perhaps each creature here had sought out the company of others as pride-and-hate-filled as himself, until together they formed this society of the damned. Perhaps it was not Jesus who had abandoned them, but they who had fled from the Light that showed them their darkness.

Gradually I was becoming aware that there was something else, that entire unhappy plain was hovered over by Beings seemingly made of Light. I could see that these immense presences were bending over the little creatures on the plain. Were these bright beings angels?

Could it be that each of these substance-less others, wretched and unworthy like me was also in His presence?

In the realm where space and time no longer followed any rules I knew, could He be standing with each of them as He was with me? I clearly saw that not one of these bickering beings on the plain had been abandoned. They were being attended, watched over, ministered to, and not one of them knew it. There was no pause in the stream of rancor coming from their hearts—their eyes sought only some nearby figure to humiliate.

It would have seemed to me impossible not to be aware of the most striking features of that whole landscape—the huge beings made of light. In fact, now that I had become aware of these bright presences, I realized with bewilderment that I’d been seeing them all along.

Angels had crowded the living cities and towns we had visited—they had been present in the street, the factories, the homes, even in that raucous bar. And suddenly I realized that there was a common denominator to all these scenes so far:

It was the failure to see Jesus.

Whether it was a physical appetite, an earthly concern, or an absorption with self, whatever got in the way of His Light, created the separation.

We were moving again. First He had shown me a hellish realm, filled with beings trapped in some form of self-attention. Now behind, beyond, through all this I began to perceive a whole new realm! Enormous buildings stood in a beautiful sunny park that reminded me somewhat of a well-planned university. We seemed suddenly to have entered an altogether different dimension. Here was an all-pervading peace.

The atmosphere of the place was like some tremendous study center, humming with the excitement of great discovery. Everyone seemed caught up in some all-engrossing activity. Not many words were exchanged, rather an aloofness of total concentration. Whatever else these people might be, they appeared utterly and supremely self-forgetful, absorbed in some vast purpose beyond themselves.

"What are they doing, Jesus?" I asked.

Though I sensed that every activity on this mighty campus had its source in God, no explanation lighted my mind. What was communicated, as before, was love: compassion for my ignorance, understanding that encompassed all my non-understanding. And something more, in spite of His obvious delight in the beings around us, I sensed that even this was not the ultimate, that He had far greater things to show me if only I could see. And suddenly I wondered if it was the same thing missing in the lower realm.

Were these selfless, seeking creatures also failing in some degrees to see Jesus?

Or perhaps, to see Him for Himself?

Bits and hints of Him they surely had, obviously it was the truth they were so single-mindedly pursuing, but what if even a thirst for truth could distract from the Truth Himself, standing here in their midst while they searched for Him in books and test tubes.

They Had Been Changed Into His Very Likeness

He remained every moment the real focus of my attention. Which is why, perhaps, I was not aware of the precise moment when we left the surface of the earth. Until now, I had had the impression that we were traveling upon the earth itself. Even the "higher plane" of deep thoughts and learning, was obviously not far from the physical plane where bodiless beings were still bound toa solid world.

Now, however, we seemed to have left the earth behind. Instead, we appeared to be in an immense void—except that I had always thought of that as a firghtening word, and this was not. Some unnamable promise seemed to vibrate through that vast emptiness. And then I saw, infinitelyfar off—far too distant to see with any kind of sight I know of—a city.

A glowing, seemingly endless city, bright enough to be seen over all the unimaginable distance between. The brightness seemed to shine from the very walls and streets of this place, and from beings within it. In fact, the city and everything in it seemed to be made of light.

Could these radiant beings, I wondered, amazed, be those who had indeed kept Jesus the focus of their lives?

Was I seeing at last ones who had looked for Him in everything—looked so well and so closely that they had been changed into His very likeness?

I knew that my imperfect sight could not sustain more than an instant's glimpse of this real, this ultimate heaven. He had shown me all he could, now we were speeding far away. The Light of Jesus had entered my life and filled it completely, and the idea of being separated from Him was more than I could bear. I felt consciousness slipping from me. My mind began to blur. I could feel myself back in my body.

I opened my body's eyes.


Return From Tomorrow by Dr. George G. Ritchie describes his near-death experience in an Army hospital at the age of 20. He tells of his out-of-the-body encounter with other beings, his travel through different dimensions of time and space, and ultimately, his meeting with Jesus.





"The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." 1 Corinthians 15:26




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