The following is excerpted from Dr. Raymond Moody’s newest book, God Is Bigger Than the Bible, available now on Amazon. The book looks how his personal understanding of the Creator has changed over the course of his life and research into near-death experiences.
In about 1968 a touring company of a Broadway musical comedy performed one night in Charlottesville, Virginia. I was a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Virginia at the time and my wife and I attended the show. We sat in front row seats.
I don’t remember which musical comedy it was, but I do vividly remember the sublime comic villain in the play. He wore a sinister black cape and a black stovepipe hat. His voice dripped with malice as he treated the other characters in the play with calculated meanness.
When the show came to an end the curtain went down and the audience burst into enthusiastic applause. After a while, the cast came out for curtain calls. First, the hero and heroine dashed onto the stage to loud cheers and a mounting wave of applause. Then the supporting actors and actresses swept in a happy throng to the front of the stage. When they did a chorus of cheers grew louder and louder.
Then, at last, the villain himself stepped forth into the spotlight and he took center stage. And when he did the audience instantly fell totally silent. From our seats right in front of the stage it felt as though the silence lasted for an eternity. In reality, it was probably at most a couple of seconds, but time seemed to stretch out or stand still.
Then, suddenly, from behind me I heard a collective gasp. A lot of people in the audience, at the same moment, audibly drew in a breath in shock and surprise. They emerged from a trance-like immersion in the play back to mundane reality. They were realizing that the man standing in the spotlight was an actor who had entertained them by performing the role of a villain in the play.
Behind me, I heard scattered pockets of people in the audience burst into applause. Then people all through the audience started clapping. The applause grew louder and louder and then people in the audience were cheering. In the end, the villain got the loudest, longest cheers and applause of all.
While immersed in the show, people perceived the actor’s words and actions as evil. When the show ended, their minds momentarily got confused in the transition back to everyday life. Then, fully out of the trance, they applauded the actor for a fine performance. What appeared as evil in one framework reappeared as something positive in a more inclusive reality.
Similar mental and spiritual shifts occur during near-death experiences. Something that severe religions condemn as an “abomination” or claim is “forbidden by God” may evaporate into insignificance on the other side.
Justice is a set of rules and principles people developed to regulate their lives in this world. People take familiar aspects of this life to construct their mental pictures of the next life. Many people picture the afterlife as a justice system for dispensing rewards and punishments in Heaven and Hell. Then, they try to pass off their mental construction as God’s idea.
God is not interested in justice. God has a much better idea. God loves and educates, rather than dispensing justice. So why would I even bring up Hell in a book about God’s love?
The idea of Hell scares many people away from God and keeps them from enjoying happy personal relationships with God. The idea of Hell is a citadel of self-righteousness. The Christian Church originally conceptualized Hell as entertainment. Watching the damned being tormented in Hell below was among the delights the Church promised would await the saved in Heaven above. Early Christian works of art illustrated the theme.
Don’t run away from a relationship with God because of associating God with Hell. God has no part in Hell. Hell has to do with the vagaries of human personality.
A certain kind of religious person becomes preoccupied by thoughts and images of Hell, Satan and demonic deception. These believers experience a curious inner delight when they imagine people they dislike burning in Hell. They get a kick out of telling other people that they are going to Hell. Usually, the supposed reason is that the people don’t believe in or accept some specific point of religious doctrine. The religious believers might mentally consign a person to Hell for not believing in the Trinity, for instance. Or they may mentally consign someone to Hell for not agreeing that the Bible says such-and-such. Here we have another manifestation of Bible abuse.
Satan, demons and Hell occupy the foreground of these religious believers’ minds. God sort of goes out of focus and recedes into the background. These believers trot God out mainly as an enforcer. God is a legalistic, somewhat vindictive character who is ready to pounce on anyone who doesn’t swear by the correct set of Bible beliefs. The religious believers I am talking about are always looking for an opening to get back to their favorite subject of Satan, demons, and Hell. God is an afterthought.
The idea of justice includes the notion of a balance between an offense and its punishment. Justice is personified as a woman wearing a blindfold and holding a balance, or scale. The concept is that the punishment must fit the crime. Accordingly, calling everlasting horrendous punishment for a brief, fleeting offense “justice” is meaningless, unintelligible nonsense.
God is not interested in justice. Justice is an aspect of life in this world. And the idea of Hell is a nonsensical distortion of the notion of justice that bears no relationship to God.
Still, there is a common phenomenon of human life that some still faintly associate with the idea of God punishing them. I am referring to the seemingly magical way in which people somehow get their just desserts in life. Or, as you often hear it said, “What goes around comes around.” This is a strange enough and common enough occurrence that it deserves serious consideration.
I once treated someone badly for quite a long time. I felt I had been disrespected and disgraced and wronged and was justified in taking revenge. Years passed and then as if by magic I found myself in the directly opposite situation, on the receiving end. I was being demeaned and berated and reviled by somebody for no good reason at all. However, my tormentor was ten times more skilled at cruel, harsh, meanness than I had been.
Some say that the unconscious somehow brings such reversals about from a guilty conscience. Some others might allude to karma. Yet others feel that God must be punishing them, dispensing retributive justice. I definitely felt God’s touch in my own situation but I don’t think God had justice in mind. God’s purpose was education, not justice. Truthfully, the only way we can understand the hurt we inflict on others is by directly experiencing that hurt ourselves. And I realized that it really helps when the hurt is amplified to bring it to our attention and reinforce the lesson.
So the entire time of my ordeal I was cheering God on. I was thinking, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, oh, thank you, dear God. That kind of experience does not have anything to do with justice. God is an expert at the best conceivable kind of education there can be.
Raymond Moody, M.D., Ph.D. is the world’s leading authority on the near-death experience. For nearly 50 years he has researched, interviewed, written and lectured on the subject of what lies beyond this life and what happens to those left behind.
He is also the bestselling author of eleven books which have sold over 20 million copies.
To read an except of another of Dr. Moody’s works, please see our previous post Past Lives and Living Again