Popular Christianity makes it seem like entering the Kingdom of God is easy. You float airy-fairy into it, light and happy and joyful and basking in love. The narrow road is lined with posies and helpful angels applaud your way in. Or, you raise your hand in the congregation, walk peacefully down the aisle, appear in front to sign a card, and you’re in.
That’s not how it was for me. And it’s not how it is for most, I don’t think. My entrance was full of anger, doubt, confusion, anxiety, fervency, seeking, and striving. I was dragged into it, a pawn in a spiritual battle with one side’s bony claw clutching at my clothes, doing anything and everything to keep me in darkness. The other side full of power and light and irresistible grace, which I tried to resist, but at the same time tried to understand and desired with all my being. Agony.
Here is John MacArthur on a seeker’s journey in Which Way to Heaven?
You must enter, you must enter the narrow gate, you must enter alone. Listen to this one: you must enter with great difficulty – with great difficulty. Now, I know that shocks some people, because we hear all the time that getting saved is easy. All you have to do is just believe, sign on the dotted line, walk the aisle, raise your hand, go to the prayer room, whatever. And we’ve made it easy.
In Luke 16:16, the Lord said, “Every man who comes into the Kingdom presses his way into the Kingdom.” Now, this is not what you hear, but this is what Jesus said. The Kingdom is to those who seek it with all their hearts. The Kingdom is to those who strive, who agonize to enter it, whose hearts are shattered over their sinfulness. Who mourn in meekness, who hunger and thirst, and unquenchably satisfied, long for God to change their life. It’s not for the people who come along in a cheap way and want Jesus without any alteration of their living. When Jesus emphasized that one cannot sleep his way into the kingdom, Jesus was saying, “In order to be in My Kingdom you must have earnest endeavor, untiring energy, utmost exertion.”
I knew there was a heaven. Too many cultures spoke of an afterlife to deny the internal, global human urge to accept that there’s an afterlife. So many people had reported after-death or near- death experiences with a white light, experiences that seemed likely to validate a continuation of life after death. I mean, if there wasn’t life after death, what was the point of life? Did we evolve only to live a mere 50 or 60 or 70 years then turn to dust for all eternity? It seemed incredibly inefficient.
God’s existence seemed obvious- the earth in its beauty and complexity didn’t form from a Big Bang and a void and tumble together perfectly so as to give life to forms in a delicate balance of perfect biology. It seemed like a pretty sure bet we possessed a soul. No, God existed.
But who was He? Where was His heaven? How do we get there? And my most burning question, what was the entry requirement? It’s also obvious that humanity is evil. We’re terrible. I never believed the cultural mantra that “we’re all basically good.” There is an entire human history showing that we’re not. Stalin, pogroms, Jew-hatred (which always perplexed me), tyrants, dictators, wars, genocide. And even close to home, thievery, adultery, lying, cheating, killing. No, people are bad. So if we go to heaven, what made it heaven? If we all just transfer to heaven, it’d be just like earth. That seemed inefficient, too.
Before salvation, we are all sinners, (Romans 3:23 Ecclesiastes 7:20) in bondage to our sin nature (2 Timothy 2:26, 2 Peter 2:19, Acts 8:23 (and loving the darkness because we love our sin. (John 3:19).
I had tried Wicca, other earth pagan religions, New Age, (I had my aura photographed Kirlian photography), Buddhism, and self-righteous attempts at goodness. Nothing worked. I felt trapped in what I called “my badness.” I did not grow up Christian, never had attended church, nor was I familiar with any of the Christian terms, like sin or repent. I just knew people were bad, I was bad, and I wanted to be good. Frustratingly, nothing I tried swung me to the good side, or if it did, I never seemed to be able to maintain it.
I had read a book called Journey of Souls by Dr Michael Newton. The book deals with the eternal questions, why are we here on Earth? Where we go after death? What will happen to me when I get there? The book presupposes that we have a soul and that it goes somewhere after death. It also presupposes that our soul comes back to earth in a reincarnation. But what about in between? Dr Newton seemed to have the answers.
Dr Newton realized through his research that people (under hypnosis) could recall what they were doing between lives, and decided to create a cottage industry of trained hypnotherapists to help people unearth their between states. I thought that submitting to such hypno-therapy would help me see what was what, celestial-soul wise. I made an appointment with a Newton-trained hypnotherapist in San Mateo, CA,and off I went. I’m from Maine, so this was quite a jaunt. Talk about placing all my marbles in one basket.
His office was normal, no crystals in sight or anything like that. I sat in a large recliner, and he gave me a type of intake interview. I’d wanted to find out what happened to our souls after death and before the next life. (I wasn’t sure I subscribed to the reincarnation theory, but I went with it for now). I forget exactly what he did to “put me under”, but under I went, deeply. I could sense the physical environment around me, and hear him asking questions and prodding, but my mind also enlivened itself with vivid visions and details of past lives.
Later, I realized that under hypnosis I was recalling details of past “lives” but none were “between lives” For example, in the 1800s I was a captain’s wife aboard a sailing ship, and I fell off and drowned. In another I was a farmer’s daughter in the Netherlands grinding wheat at a mill. Where was the insight into what happened BETWEEN lives? The soul journeys? As advertised?
I have no idea where the details about past lives came from, as we all know we only live one, long, eternal life. I was ever a medieval Netherlands farmer nor a whaling wife. No such thing, but my mind presented these lives (and others, I forget now) quite vividly. I was simply a sinner seeking eternal answers in all the wrong places.
I came out from under hypnosis in what felt like 5 minutes, but it had been five hours. He made a CD of all that was said and gave it to me to take home. I never listened to it.
The weekend wasn’t a washout, I visited San Francisco and enjoyed that. I saw the Golden Gate Bridge, ate at a great Asian restaurant, etc. But my seeking was not satisfied and my questions remained. I was in slavery to my sin and the only answer was casting myself upon Jesus, our Savior, who died for our sins and took my wrath unto Himself. I didn’t know that yet. I still thought I could “figure it out.” Entering the door through Him is the only way, and it’s narrow. Rattling my cage for answers only got me more questions.
No, it’s when you come to the brokenness, and the recognition that you of yourself cannot do it, then Christ pours into you grace upon grace to strengthen you for that necessary agonizing to enter it. In your brokenness, His power becomes your resource. You must enter, you must enter the narrow gate, you must enter alone, you must enter with difficulty, and next, you must enter naked. You can’t go through a turnstile with luggage. Have you ever noticed that? It’s a mess; can’t do it. It is the gate – watch it – of self-denial. It is not the gate that admits the superstars, who want to carry all their garbage in. It is a gate where you strip off all of self, and self-righteousness, and sin, and immorality, and everything. You unload it, or you don’t come through it. JMacArthur