God put wonderful and astounding defences into the human beings he created. Even before birth, and from our first moments, we are able to defend ourselves from deadly threats because of the chemical, hormonal and psychological mechanisms that are encoded into our bodies and brains.
If threatened by overwhelming distress that raises blood pressure and heartbeat, and creates damaging levels of brain activity, the conscious body is capable of shutting down to preserve the essentials of life until the distress passes or is bearable.
Until the pain or threat is proportionate and can be processed by our minds and bodies, we avoid it. Perhaps some of you have experienced the emotional numbness that follows overwhelming grief or have fainted at bad news. This is the protective mechanism at work.
But what does that have to do with our spiritual lives or destiny?
There is an unfortunate side-effect of this God-given protective “knee-jerk” effect to threat. In a fallen world we are all apt to suffer more than God intended, as babies, as toddlers, as teenagers and even later as adults. We then employ (or rather, have employed automatically on our behalf) the same forces that switch off pain and distress.
The memory and the threat – along with the terror, anguish, anger or confusion it causes – all is buried and locked behind a heavy door, so we can carry on living. This is called repression. The sensations sink so far down that we can no longer consciously recall them! (Thus making them inaccessible for later processing.)
We repress whatever we are unable to process safely, intending to sort it all out later when we are more capable. But that time never comes so we are left dragging around unwanted baggage that blights our lives.
But if you thought this is an article about psychology you are wrong. If I could give you today a quick, effective answer to unload that baggage I would. (God is the answer – take it to him)
A Fate Worse Than Death?
Meanwhile I want to point out something else that perhaps Christians have not realised, and certainly the world as a whole cannot see, something so terrible that it should spur us on to tell more and more people the truths of the gospel.
That is, the buried trauma, emotional pain, grief, neglect, abuse, rage, shame and everything else the devil loves to load upon human beings doesn’t magically disappear at death, but remains as an active, raw, fully-formed part of human existence come what may!
What happens to us stays with us and forms us, whether we can consciously “feel it” or not.
Not only are most people totally unaware of their fate after death, in terms of judgement for sin that is not washed away in the blood of Jesus Christ, but they don’t realise that death is the beginning of their self-awareness too! All the accumulated data is about to reappear, unchecked and unprocessed.
The agony of a lost eternity is to rediscover yourself, without God’s comfort and intervention.
No More Relief
Once the body is gone, all its clever self-protective devices for restraining memories are also gone. That locked door swings wide open and the oily blackness flows out – unrestrained, containing all its primal energy and unbearable horror, but now without any remedy.
This is because what survives the death of the body (for Christian or non-Christian alike) is the soul and spirit – the essential inner core of humanity. That part of us has NEVER forgotten or repressed anything. It records every event, word, deed, feeling and memory like an ever-running video camera, and is transformed by what it experiences.
After death however, the recording device is not switched off, indeed it makes itself known as if for the first time and suddenly all the memories and feelings are there, unavoidable, inescapable. How terrifying! It is utterly unbearable.
The story of your life for good or ill is now something you have to carry with you for eternity. THIS IS PURE HELL. Imagine never being able to escape the evil you have done, and the evil that has been done to you.
All the baggage catches up with the dead like an overwhelming tsunami of grief, despair and mental anguish that cannot now be avoided or forgotten!
No Escape for Sin
Not only that, but the awareness of sin can no longer be avoided. Guilt and shame spring up but there is now no escape. Those who reject God have no other redemption. Regret is a healing force in life because we can turn to God, but after death for those who turn away from God, regret is an everlasting burden that too heavy to bear.
God does not willingly condemn man to this hellish suffering, a lost eternity. He intended for us to receive his forgiveness, love and restoration. He offers a remedy for distress (because distress comes to us all).
The load of sin we bear and the baggage of our lives – even if stored away and forgotten – can still be given to the only One who is able to carry it – the Saviour Jesus Christ. He “bore our sins and carried our griefs”. The rescue comes when we allow him to carry the load! ALL of it.
How many of us are consciously aware how MUCH of a load we bear, and how impossibly heavy it is, in reality?
Living in Denial
Those who believe they are strong enough to cope are in fact the most vulnerable because they are fooling themselves. They think they can carry their own burdens, and only find out too late just how impossibly overwhelming they are.
If people could only know as God knows and see as God sees, having conscious awareness of all the minutiae of their lives in vivid detail, they would certainly cry out for rescue. But they do not. They bluff their way through life, acting as if nothing bothers them. They summon up strength, and carry on regardless. Only in death does the truth break out like a capped volcano suddenly breaching its boundaries.
We ourselves as Christians are also encumbered with griefs and traumas, but if they are committed to God they are managed by him. Some are brought to light, defused and incorporated into our lives in a benign and even transformational way. But some remain buried in silence. Perhaps God ensures that we are NOT made aware of everything that has passed. We never quite find out how much he carries on our behalf. He mercifully allows much to remain hidden and locked away. He will not allow us to suffer what would damage us beyond repair.
All Things Made New
As well as this, the Christian experience is that of new birth. The old has died away and the new life in Christ has come, with inbuilt strength to overcome and to survive life’s battles. It doesn’t eradicate our past, nor does it turn us into totally different personalities, but it redeems the past years in a way no therapy could ever do. We see God’s hand in our history and it transfigures us.
As in life, so in death for the believer. I believe the Christian experience of death is quite unlike that of the lost.
For the faithful believer, those locked-in griefs, losses, hurts and threats, those events and feelings and memories that have been so terrifying that we needed to push them down into the unconscious, they also become part of our recorded history when we awake to the new life in Christ after death.
The difference is, they are without power to overthrow us. They are incorporated into the redemption story of our lives, and woven into our history as part and parcel of our walk in Him.
They are no longer life-threatening unbearable events that need to be pushed away from our conscious thought, but merely memories of what happened to us, without the electrifying power of terror and pain, of fury and rage, of despair and hatred.
All Consumed in God’s Glory
In that day with God, as we survey the sum total of our earthly lives, we look back with understanding and forgiveness, with simple regret but overwhelming gratitude for the grace of God. We can carry the record of our lives into eternity without fear. THIS is the opposite of Hell.
This aspect of the gospel is perhaps the least touched upon, but is one of its most important facets. Being saved from sin and judgement is vital, but so is being saved from ourselves and from life’s deadly influences. Today life is tougher than it’s ever been and opportunities are being created by the devil right left and centre to bring mayhem and disaster into every life. Hardly a baby or child is untouched.
What God wants I believe, is for us to preach a full message that reaches into people’s true suffering, and deals with the hidden griefs too heavy to be borne. God saves! God heals! And at the moment of death, God rescues us from an eternity of painful regret, staggering underneath a load of horror and depravity that has hitherto gone undetected.