I knew a man who had an Out of Body Experience. He died on the operating table, and was brought back to life. He described the typical things you always hear about: seeing a bright light, going through a tunnel, meeting Jesus and seeing his loved ones. When he recovered from his surgery, he had quite a tale to tell. I even invited him to tell it from my pulpit. But the problem was that he never showed any evidence that his life was changed (other than being lengthened) by the experience. I had hoped that this man, who never gave any thought to spiritual things before, might actually be transformed by such an event. I knew him for years after the incident, and stayed in close connection to him, and I never saw any repentance, spiritual growth, or fruit in his life. I'm glad I'm not the Judge, because if I were, I'm sure I'd get it wrong--but people like that make me wonder.
You see, the Christian life about spiritual transformation. It's not about saying you've had a mystical experience. It's about a relationship with the living God, not about joining an organization. Too many people think that being a Christian is about attending a church or getting baptized. What it's really about is Jesus changing you. Eternal life is about leaving behind your life that's based on the things of this world, and exchanging it for a life focused on infinite things. It's about putting your selfish self to death and taking up your cross daily to follow the Lord.
Now I know that as soon as I say this, some readers will say, "Wait a minute! Eternal life is about living eternally: your soul living forever in heaven with Jesus after you die." This is what we are so familiar with: the idea that eternal life is about living forever. That it’s about an eternal duration of life. I'm not arguing against this. In fact, the Bible has a lot to say about an afterlife, either experiencing God’s mercy or apart from knowing God's love. I am suggesting, however, that eternal life means more than that. You can live an eternal life here and now, and you don't have to die in order to have an Out of Body Experience.
Certainly, death will be the ultimate OBE. In fact, Paul tells us to so look forward to it that we eagerly desire the upcoming state of life:
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. (2 Corinthians 5:1-4 ESV)
Paul describes the earthly body as a physical tent that we wear. He says that our spirits groan to be free of this tent, and to be clothed in glory and ultimate life. We long for the day when we can be free of the encumbrance of these physical bodies and their limitations. We look forward to putting on our resurrection bodies, which will be forever free of pain, sickness, and injury. That will be a permanent Out of Body Experience.
Usually, when we use the term OBE, we’re either talking about people who intentionally leave their bodies through religious euphoria or drug-induced states. These people have an OBE without dying at all. Trance states, dreams, and visions are the water in which mystics swim. Paul describes it this way:
I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. (2 Corinthians 12:1-4 ESV)
Many believers seek these kinds of OBEs, but this is not the ordinary Christian experience. These phenomena are exceptions to the spiritual rule. Instead, the real Christian life is supposed to be an everyday Out of Body Experience, in which we no longer focus on the things of this world but transform our reality into a spiritual one. Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Jardin said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”[i] This is eternal life—to daily walk around having an OBE, where you are transformed into a spiritual being having a human experience and not the other way around. Paul continues in 2 Corinthians 5:6-9:
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.
Being at home in the body means living this physical life—something we’re all doing right now. But feeling at home in the body makes it impossible to please God. As spirit-walkers, God calls every believer to no longer feel at home in the body, but to be guided by courage as we try to please God. As everyday visionaries who don’t need a trance-induced state, believers walk by faith, not by sight. Hebrews 11:1 (ESV) describes faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” This faith-insight gives us courage to face whatever life has to offer, confident that God will see us through. I pray that for you, every day will be an Out of Body Experience, and that this experience will transform your life.