(Continued from last week…)
George Ritchie died in an army hospital ward at the young age of twenty. Nine minutes later, he came back to life. What he experienced during those nine minutes forever changed him. These are his words…
I wasn’t sure when the light in the room began to change; suddenly I was aware that it was brighter, a lot brighter, than it had been. I whirled to look at the night-light on the bedside table. Surely a single 15-watt bulb couldn’t turn out that much light?
I stared in astonishment as the brightness increased, coming from nowhere, seeming to shine everywhere at once. All the light bulbs in the ward couldn’t give off that much light. All the bulbs in the world couldn’t! It was impossibly bright: it was like a million welders’ lamps all blazing at once….‘I’m glad I don’t have physical eyes at this moment,’ I thought. ‘This light would destroy the retina in a tenth of a second.’
No, I corrected myself, not the light.
He would be too bright to look at. For now I saw that it was not light but a Man who had entered the room, or rather, a Man made out of light, though this seemed no more possible to my mind than the incredible intensity of the brightness that made up His form.
The instant I perceived Him, a command formed itself in my mind. ‘Stand up!’ The words came from inside me, yet they had an authority my mere thoughts had never had. I got to my feet, and as I did came the stupendous certainty: ‘You are in the presence of the Son of God.’
Again, the concept seemed to form itself inside me, but not as thought or speculation. It was a kind of knowing, immediate and complete. I knew other facts about Him too. One, that this was the most totally male Being I had ever met. If this was the Son of God, then His name was Jesus. But…this was not the Jesus of my Sunday School books. That Jesus was…probably a little bit of a weakling. This Person was power itself, older than time and yet more modern than anyone I had ever met.
Above all, with that same mysterious inner certainty, I knew that this Man loved me. Far more even 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…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…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 twenty 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….
“What have you done with your life?….
“It seemed to be a question about values, not facts: what did you accomplish with the precious time you were allotted?….Hadn’t I done anything lasting, anything important? Desperately I looked…for something that would seem worthwhile in the light of this blazing Reality.
It wasn’t that there were spectacular sins….Only an endless, shortsighted, clamorous concern for myself. Hadn’t I ever gone beyond my own immediate interests, done anything other people would recognize as 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….Me, me, me—always in the center. Wasn’t there any time in my life when I had let someone else stand there?….
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 answering thought, however, held no trace of judgment. Death, the word was infinitely loving, [death] can come at any age.
Well, sure. I knew that babies and little kids died. Somehow I had just always assumed that a full life span was in some way owed me….
[Finally]…I realized that it was I who was judging the events around us so harshly….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….
What have you done with your life to show Me?
…in my…frantic efforts to come up with an impressive answer, I had missed the point….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?
….Why, I hadn’t known love like this was possible. Someone should have told me….A fine time to discover what life was all about—like coming to a final exam and discovering you were going to be tested on a subject you had never studied. If this was the point of everything, why hadn’t someone told me?….
I did tell you.
But how? Still wanting to justify myself: how could He have told me and I not 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” (George G. Ritchie with Elizabeth Sherrill, Return from Tomorrow, Fleming H. Revell Co.: Old Tappan, New Jersey, pp. 48-50, 52-55).
(to be continued…)