Archive for the ‘Holy Spirit’ Category

The Shack movie: improvements?

January 4, 2018

Maybe some people have recently had the DVD of the ‘The Shack’ for Christmas? I saw the film last year, wrote up these thoughts and shelved them because they are long. Maybe they will help someone?

Seeing The Shack on screen is more vivid than reading the book.  All that is great about the portrayal of the Trinity is clearer. Not so good elements are clearer too. Some of the resolution comes too easily. Jesus and the ‘hero’ Mac, whose daughter Missy has been abducted, abused and murdered, run across a lake. They skim the surface unbelievably. More plunging the depths is needed: the depths of Mac’s anger, the depths of the pain taken on by Jesus, the depths of the many-formed self-giving of the Holy Spirit.

What different scenes could there have been..? Here are some…


Jesus entices Mac into his workshop with the lure of a tool that Mack has always wanted to use. Inside Mac finds the beginnings of a child-size coffin. Mac’s fury is unleashed. Accusing Jesus of planning his daughter’s death as some sick sacrifice, of standing by while little children suffer unimaginably, of punishing people by taking away their most precious treasure, Mac smashes and rips and pounds all that he can. Tools and nails and splintered wood fly around the workshop, glass shatters into blood-letting shards.

Jesus comes close to Mac, so that some of Mac’s blows fall on him. Jesus stands between Mac and a shattering window so that the shards shed Jesus’ blood. Angels appear and disappear, wings protecting Mac from his own violence, giving Jesus no protection. Jesus winces and cries out in pain as he is wounded.

Mac’s huge wave of anger subsides; his energy drained. He looks at the devastation around him. He reaches for a sharply splintered section of wood and tries to cut himself. Sometimes he succeeds. Sometimes Jesus manages to place his hand under Mac’s cutting hand. Again Jesus bleeds, clearly in pain. The wounds in Jesus mirror the wounds in Mac.

‘What are you doing?’ sneers Mac.

‘What are you doing?’ says Jesus calmly.

‘You think pretending to be the victim, not the judge, will win me over?’ spits back Mac. ‘You’re the punisher, you’re the one who sees all and holds it all against us. You wanted Missy dead to punish me for my killing. If you think that’s the way to get me to beg for forgiveness, think again!’

Jesus looks calmly at Mac. ‘I don’t make that connection. Trust me. The enemy is the stealer, the killer, the destroyer. I am with you for your good. Do you want me to stay?’

Mac is quiet. Eventually he nods. ‘I don’t understand but there’s something good about having you around.’

‘Thanks.’ Replies Jesus warmly, sounding relieved. ‘And you can be forgiven, when you’re ready. Healing can come, when you want it. I’m not sure you want it yet.’

‘Just when I thought I was comfortable with you…’ says Mac a little exasperated. He shakes his head. ‘Give me some time.’

‘There’s a bed for you in Papa’s house. Come on, I’ll take you.’


The following morning Mac meets Papa at breakfast.

‘It’s tough when you child dies,’ says Papa warmly.

Mac looks back with some anger still but now tired.

‘How many children do you have?’ asks Papa.

‘Three, or … What kind of a question is that?’

‘And how many of your children have been hurt bad?’

‘You’re supposed to know everything.’

‘How many children do I have?.. Do you think I’m so different to you? And how many of my children have been hurt bad?.. You’ve been furious. Yeah, we know all about that! When we want to take the attackers’ children and have them torn limb from limb in front of their eyes. When we want them to burn with pain outside and inside so they feel what they have done.’

Mac looks up, surprised.

‘They’re not just your thoughts, Mac. We know! How many children’s tears rip into our heart?’

Mac holds his head in his hands.

‘Mac,’ says Papa gently, reaching out to touch his hands. ‘We want to make it better. Just like you. Make it better for your kids, for all the kids, even the grown-up ones. How does hurting someone who has hurt someone make it better?’

Mac relaxes, collapses ‘OK, OK! You win.’

‘And how can you heal someone who doesn’t want to be healed; they just want someone else to hurt?’

‘I guess you let them do some hurting and wait for them to want it to be made better…’


Mac goes back to his room. He hears a groaning, a yearning, an anguishing cry beyond words. He searches for where this sound comes from. The Holy Spirit is bent double, clutching her belly. Her hands and arms are cut, bleeding, like Jesus’ hands and arms.

Mac grimaces at the sound, shaking his head, trying to distance himself. But as he walks away, there is an even more piercing shriek. Mac turns round quickly his mouth gaping open. He echoes the cry.

After that cry, Mac tries to pull himself together, but tears are beginning to fall. His tears mirror the tears of the Holy Spirit, her tears mirror his. Gradually he lets go and echoes the groaning of the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit echoes Mac and also begins to look more like him. Together they weep and cry and groan and shout.

The wave of anguish ebbs away.

‘You do know. You do feel.’ Mac shakes his head in wonder. ‘I always thought you were impervious to feeling.’

The Holy Spirit shakes her head, still looking like Mac. ‘Love always feels. We never stop feeling.’

‘Thank you,’ says Mac wiping his eyes and sinking back exhausted. ‘That does feel a little better.’

‘We want to make it better.’

Mac smiles ‘I’ve heard that somewhere before.’

‘For all our children? The Holy Spirit now looks more like the Father. ‘Will you let us make it better?’

Mac nods, a tired but definite deep nod. ‘Yes. I want it made better too.’

‘You don’t want someone else to hurt?’

Mac shakes his head, tired and definite again. ‘Not now.’

‘Come here!’ invites the Holy Spirit with great motherly warmth. As Mac comes to her, her arms become huge wings with golden feathers and he rests and sleeps like a little child. The Holy Spirit becomes a great dove hovering, brooding, over Mac. Angels come with bright glittery clouds which they gently pour into Mac’s head. His forehead seems to glitter a little from inside as his eyelids move rapidly. The Holy Spirit bends down and kisses Mac’s head. ‘Sweet dreams Mac!’


Mac awakes and goes out for a walk. He sees Jesus a little way off and goes to join him.

‘Man! How do you do it?’ Mac asks in wonder. ‘I’m not the same and, you know, I am sorry now. Sorry for smashing up your shed. So sorry for… killing… my Dad. It didn’t make anything better, did it? Only worse.’

Jesus smiles at Mac. ‘Thank you. That’s a great gift. Is there anything else you want to give me?’

Mac looks a little nervous.

‘Just that while you’re in apologising mood, you might like to add something?’

‘Yeah. Why not?’ The camera moves away so that Mac and Jesus are further away and their voices soon cannot be heard. ‘I’m sorry I’ve ignored my daughter. I wasn’t making it better for her either…’

The sunlight moves, indicating that a couple of hours have passed. Jesus stands in front of Mac as the camera moves in again. Jesus holds out his hands showing his nail-wounds. He smiles. ‘Peace be with you, Mac. You are forgiven.’ He looks Mac in the face and nods. Then he takes a deep breath, fills his lungs, throws back his head. ‘YOU ARE FORGIVEN!’ Jesus proclaims, his voice reverberating around the tress and buildings. Mac stands buffeted and buttressed by the sound as in a strong wind. Jesus then leans in close to Mac and adds, more quietly. ‘And you always will be!’

‘Come and see!’ says Jesus excitedly, taking Mac’s arm. They go to Jesus’ shed. Angels, hundreds of angels, are just leaving, Huge bright beings, some with wings, some like people, some shafts of light, broad or fine, many with workman’s tools.

‘They’re good at their work for us’ says Jesus. The shed has been transformed. The broken glass has become fresh diamond insets, the broken wood has become part of an intricate pattern of jagged and rounded shapes. The whole place is larger than before and more intricate and also more useful, with more space for work of different kinds.

‘I did that, and you did that!’ Mac exclaims in awe.

‘We want to make it better. We can make it better. When you let us.’

Now Mac sees and meets his father. Now Mac sees Missy in her field, with Jesus and with her grandfather.


Another morning, another breakfast is finishing. Plates show remains of barbequed fish. A charcoal barbeque is close by, one last fish still on it.

Papa leans back contentedly. ‘Mac, we’d love you to stay, but we’d love you to love a little more.’

Mac looks puzzled.

‘Why don’t you three go for a walk?’ invites Papa cheerily and firmly.

Jesus and the Holy Spirit stand up and invite Mac to join them. ‘OK!’ Mac says, a little puzzled but happy.

As they walk along the Holy Spirit becomes a dove, or like a dove, again, hovering over them. They reach the lake where there is a small sail boat. Jesus steps in and invites Mac to join him. The Holy Spirit fades and becomes faint. We can just make out her wings, now very large and fanning. A wind from the Holy Spirit blows the boat along.

‘Faster?’ asks Jesus.

‘You bet!’ replies Mac.

The wind rips into the sail and the boat takes off at a perilous angle. Jesus and Mac yell and yelp as they career along, pulling ropes, leaning out, laughing in the spray.

‘Where are we going?’ shouts Mac.

‘Haha!’ shouts Jesus back. ‘It’s up to her!’

The boat veers and turns and speeds forward and calms to pottering before speeding up again.

‘Enough already!’ yells Mac at last. The wind calms down.

‘Man, am I hot!’ exclaims Mac.

‘Shower?’ asks Jesus.

‘I could do with a full body cool wash!’ laughs Mac.

The Holy Spirit is back over them, now like a cloud. A gentle shower begins to fall on Mac and on Jesus. Mac tilts his head back to receive the water on his face. ‘Man, that is so sweet!’

‘More?’ asks Jesus. Mac nods.

The water starts coming a little more strongly. ‘More?’ asks Jesus. Mac nods. A few times until Mac is standing under a great torrent, his body moving sensuously taking pleasure in the flowing waterfall.

‘Enough already!’ yells Mac. Jesus slaps him on the back with approval.

‘How do you get dry in this place?’ asks Mac.

‘Like everything,’ replies Jesus happily. ‘You ask. Anything. Try it!’

‘Hey! You!’ Mac turns to the cloud-Holy-Spirit above him. ‘Can I have a towel please?’

The cloud flattens out, becomes white and fluffy and comes down, wrapping itself around Mac.

‘How many wows can you give a guy?’ asks Mac in wonder, clutching his perfect towel, now bathrobe.

‘More than you can ask or imagine!’ shouts Jesus and gives Mac a high five.

Jesus sits down on the grass. Mac sits beside him. ‘If you go,’ says Jesus, ‘you can go with me with you, and with her.’ The bathrobe lifts off Mac and becomes the female Holy Spirit again.

Mac looks puzzled. ‘You’ll have to look. It’s a bit murky there, you know. You’ll see me but blurry, like a reflection in the body of a beat up old car. I won’t be as bright as many other things. You’ll have to keep looking. But I’ll be there. With you. Always.’

‘And her?’ Mac gestures towards the Holy Spirit.

‘Who does she look like?’ asks Jesus.

Mac turns and looks intently, puzzling it out. We see his face, looking. ‘She looks like you!’ Mac exclaims. The Holy Spirit has indeed changed to look like a more female version of Jesus.

‘That’s who she is really,’ affirms Jesus. ‘And now?’

Mac looks again, moving his head to the left, to the right, quizzical. As though he can’t quite make out what he’s seeing.

‘Does she look like me?’ asks Mac tentatively. The Holy Spirit has indeed changed to look like a kinder, wiser, younger Mac.

‘Why does she want to look like me?’ asks Mac with some self-disdain.

‘So she can fit into you,’ says Jesus calmly, seriously, nodding affirmation. ‘She will be with you, she will be in you. OK?’

Mac looks bemused. ‘How?’

‘Take her in!’ commands Jesus, then more loudly: ‘Take her in!’

Jesus blows hard on Mac. At the same time the Holy Spirit becomes a cloud, moving swiftly, darting round Mac, brushing past him, returning under him, swirling. His hair moves as blown by a strong wind.

‘Don’t let her just pass by. Take her IN!’ shouts Jesus. He sucks in a great gulp of air. Mac does the same. His cheeks puff out. He looks tense. Then he swallows. A couple more sucks and swallows.

Mac starts giggling. ‘Ye-hu, ye-hu, ye-hi-hu!’ He laughs. ‘It’s like tickling, but it’s warm! It’s so weird! And so good! Ye-hu, ye-hu, ye-hi-hu! Ye-ha, ye-ha, ye-hi ha. Yee hah!’ Mac falls over laughing. ‘I’m burning, man! I’m burning! Man!’

‘Yeah,’ nods Jesus with a broad grin. ’She fits, you know. And she brings gifts. The fire’s good. Real good. Wait till you have the living water, or the dove, or  the oil. Man! That oil is so GOOD! More than you can ask or imagine eh?’

Mac, still laughing nods. ‘Too true! Man! So GOOD!’

‘Enjoy the pictures, enjoy the nudges, enjoy the surprising thoughts. She’ll lead you into everything you need to know. She’ll guide you every step of the way. She will not leave you nor forsake you.’

Mac calms down to chuckling. ‘You mean I get to keep this?’

‘You get to keep the Holy Spirit. You just keep asking, keep taking her in. And you get to keep me. You just keep looking. Now…’ Jesus pauses to gain Mac’s full attention. ‘Are you ready to go back and do some loving?’

‘I need to do something with all this!’ Mac shouts, waving his hands in front of his belly and up to his chest and out around him. ‘This isn’t just for me is it? This is for sharing, for making things better.’

‘You got it!’ exclaims Jesus. ‘Are you ready to go back and do some loving? Are you ready to love patiently, when they think you’re just a weirdo and keep their distance or drive you out of your job and your town? Are you ready to love in tears when the pain is almost unbearable? Are you ready to love all the selfish and nasty people? Are you ready Mac?’

Mac holds up one hand, to ask a question. Jesus nods.

‘What about Papa? Do I go without Papa?’

‘Papa is in me with you. Papa is in the Holy Spirit in you. Papa is closer than the sky. Papa is not far, not far at all!’

‘Thank you.’ Mac beams at Jesus. He holds out his hands in front of him in surrender to Jesus. ‘I’ll go.’

‘As Papa sent me, so I send you!’ Jesus speaks calmly and with great authority.

Mac wakes up in his crashed car, wincing in deep pain, but also chuckling a little.

Roger Harper


A woman Bishop of London? God’s not bothered. 22 December

December 22, 2017

I remember the Big Deal that the ordination of women was in the 1980s. Battle-lines, campaigning groups, bad disagreement. Predictions of disaster brought about by ‘fundamental change’ to Bible teaching and Church tradition.

An Evangelical Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, took a bold stance by disagreeing strongly with the Conservative Evangelicals. Carey called the Church to make the general principle of ‘in Christ there is no male nor female’ more important than particular instructions to particular churches on women in church. Jesus had gone as far as he could in welcoming women as forefront disciples, not least in giving women the responsibility of witnessing to his resurrection. The focus had to be first and foremost on Jesus rather than equally on Moses, Paul and Jesus: ‘Listen to him!’

George Carey, and others, also made sure that no-one would be coerced contrary to conscience. The Church would have two, apparently conflicting, practices to match the conflicting theologies. Some churches would have women in leadership, some would not. Room was made for both. The same decision was made for marriage after divorce, some clergy and parishes taking the weddings of divorcees, some not. Without this, Prince Harry’s marriage to a divorcee would have been tricky, at least.

The Church of England took the step that has now led to Sarah Mullally the next Bishop of London, a Bishop in a direct line of succession from the first Apostles. Paul wrote that an Apostle had to be a witness of the resurrection. It took the Church a long time to recognise the implications of the gender of the very first witnesses of the resurrection. The Holy Spirit leads into truths which, sometimes for a very long time, Christians cannot bear.

Predictions of disaster were not fulfilled. (The gut human belief: change = disaster is another sign of the fall and the fear that we all inherit.) The Church of England has not fared notably worse with women leading parishes and dioceses. Yes, there has been continuing decline, as would be expected in the most Christendom Church as we leave Christendom, but not because of women in leadership. Churches led by women vicars grow, generally, much the same as those led by men vicars. (I don’t think anyone has dared to do these statistics; this is my view, mostly from across the West and East Midlands.)

What about churches who refuse to have women in leadership? My experience is that these churches too grow with the same variety as Anglican churches generally. I think of one Midlands church officially unaccepting of women priests and bishops, running thriving Alpha courses with remarkable Holy Spirit Days and healthy congregations. Predictions of disaster here too have not been fulfilled.

The Gamaliel Principle is that we should allow people to go ahead as they deem best and see if God blesses their ministry (Acts 5:33-39.) The experience of the last 30 years is that God, the Holy Spirit, seems happy to bless ministry whether by those pro or anti women in church leadership. He’s not bothered. Women in leadership is not a Primary Issue for Him. If it were, the results would be obvious by now. He loves all who faithfully follow Jesus within their own limited understandings.

Can we learn from this for our current debate about Gay Marriage? Might this be something into which the Holy Spirit is leading the Church, though it could not have been borne before? Might the principle of loving faithfulness, to one person, for life, coming out of the heart, be more important than particular mention of particular physical practices? What happens when we do not listen to Moses, Paul and Jesus equally, but listen to Jesus first and foremost?

(Welcoming Gay Marriage is not welcoming all relationships of all LGBT people. The life-long commitment to one person specifically excludes anyone wanting to be a practising bisexual.)

How would the Gamaliel Principle be applied today? Could the Church of England allow, even encourage, two different, apparently conflicting practices, to match the conflicting theologies? Then we could see how the Holy Spirit blesses the different ministries.

Some people say that Gay Marriage is so definitely a Primary Biblical or Church Tradition issue that there can be no fellowship with those who adopt a new understanding and practice. How do they know? How do we know? 30 years ago people were saying the same about women in leadership. Maybe God will be proved to be not so bothered about gay marriage either.

Roger Harper

Justin Welby depressed at Greenbelt about Gay Marriage: 2 September

September 2, 2016

Justin Welby is depressed about gay marriage. On Saturday, at Greenbelt, he was interviewed by Kate Botley. He was delightful, engaging, humorous, positive. He talked about himself, when asked, honestly and humbly. He talked about the Church with love and hope. He emphasised the church being filled with the Holy Spirit. He talked about Jesus and how he, Justin, has to, and delights in, talk about Jesus. In South Sudan in a Cathedral with the dead bodies of some of the staff in plastic bodies outside, he talked about Jesus. What else can you do?

Then a question was asked about gay marriage. As Justin answered a dark cloud seemed to grow and grow over him. He was no longer expressing hope and love, but heaviness, anxiety, depression. He didn’t seem to see or have much faith for a way forward. He talked at length about how homophobia is not on and what the Church has been doing and how hard the issue is. Very hard. Very very hard. Gloom.

Justin seemed to forget his guiding principle of talking about Jesus. Yes! Talk about Jesus and gay marriage. That’s part of the way forward. We’ve talked enough about Leviticus and Romans and how we all feel about gay marriage. We’re Christians, for God sake! We follow the Christ. Let’s talk about Jesus and gay marriage. When we read through the Gospels what light do they shed, about gay marriage? My reflection on doing this is at This is one view. Let’s all do it and see what comes.

Justin seemed to forget about being assured that the Holy Spirit is in the Church, leading us into all truth, including the truth about gay marriage. Let’s also listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church of England. Justin knows about guidance and prophecy and discernment. He just needs to bring out his knowledge and say ‘Let’s work out how to listen to the Spirit and then do it. Let’s aim to be people like those in Acts who came to being able to say “It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us that…” Let’s all be open to the Spirit surprising us.‘ My reflection on this, for what it’s worth, is at

All Justin has to do is be true to himself, talk about Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and smile and relax. Justin wants ‘good disagreement.’ On Saturday he was so taken up with saying what he thought needed to be said officially that he missed a lovely example of good disagreement.

The question at Greenbelt was ‘My partner and I will be married next year. I know God will be blessing our relationship. I know the Church won’t now be blessing us. When do you think the Church will be able to?’ All delivered in grace and good humour.

Justin could have said ‘Thank you for your gracious attitude. You’re not castigating the Church for being homophobic and unjust. You’re accepting, with regret, where the Church is now. You want the Church to move ahead on this. You envisage it taking some time yet. Your attitude is lovely. You have given us a great example of good disagreement. And no, I don’t know when (or if) the Church of England will move ahead as you want. Jesus doesn’t know when He’s going to come again. Only the Father knows. There are some things the Archbishop of Canterbury doesn’t know either! If we can all have your gracious patient attitude we may well come to agree sooner than if we castigate each other. Part of the trouble is that people get up on their high horses to discuss this. Let’s ban the high horses, listen to Jesus and to the Holy Spirit. Amen?’

Peace and joy be with you Justin.

Roger Harper

Proof of Hades? The Experience of Eben Alexander: 8 July

July 8, 2015

‘Darkness, but a visible darkness – like being submerged in mud yet also being able to see through it… Consciousness, but consciousness without memory or identity – like a dream where you know what’s going on around you, but have no real idea of who, or what, you are… My consciousness wasn’t foggy or distorted when I was there. It was just … limited.’ (p29f)

This was the first part of Eben Alexander’s Near-Death Experience in November 2008 as related in his book Proof of Heaven (Simon and Schuster 2012). His Experience is significant in that his brain definitely had no functioning at all, nor any possibility of functioning. As a neuro-surgeon, he concludes that his brain could not possibly have been giving him the Experience in some kind of hallucination. The only explanation he can see is that his soul was truly experiencing life beyond this life.

Eben calls the place where he first found himself ‘Underworld’ or ‘The Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View.’ ‘… like being a mole or earthworm, buried deep in the ground yet somehow able to see the tangled matrices of roots…’ (p30)

The Old Testament’s answer to the question ‘Where do people go when they die?’ was ‘To Sheol – a place of darkness and semi-consciousness, a gloomy half life.’ ‘…for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.’ Ecclesiastes 9:10 ‘… the underworld was not a particularly important concept for the Israelite writers… Descriptive details are very sparse, but suggest a somnolent, gloomy existence without meaningful activity or social distinction…’ (Philip S Johnston Shades of Sheol – Death and Afterlife in the Old Testament, Apollos IVP 2002, p85) Sheol was synonymous with ‘The Pit’ or ‘The Grave;’ the dead were understood to be half-living down under the earth – very much like a mole or earthworm.

Jesus talked of Sheol with its Old Testament understanding. When the New Testament was written, in Greek rather than Hebrew, the writers used the Greek name Hades as the translation of Sheol. (This is clearest in Acts 2 where Peter quotes Psalm 16.) Hades in the New Testament is the same place as Sheol in the Old Testament.

Jesus spoke of Sheol as a place to which people are brought down, a place of darkness and also a place of affliction. The deeply unpleasant nature of (semi-) existence in Hades / Sheol was one of Jesus’ additions to our understanding of it. Jesus also spoke of ‘the outer darkness where there is weeping wailing and gnashing of teeth’ implying that there may be different sections of Hades / Sheol with different degrees of darkness and affliction.

For Eben Alexander the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View was deeply unpleasant. He was immersed in sound, ‘a deep, rhythmic pounding, distant yet strong … like the sound of metal against metal, as if a giant subterranean blacksmith is pounding an anvil somewhere off in the distance: pounding it so hard that the sound vibrates through the earth, or the mud, or wherever it is that you are.’ (p29) ‘Grotesque animal faces bubbled out of the muck, groaned or screeched, and then were gone again. I heard an occasional dull roar. Sometimes these roars changed to dim, rhythmic chants, chants that were both terrifying and weirdly familiar – as if at some point I’d known and uttered them all myself.’ (p31)

‘How long did I reside in this world? I have no idea… When I was there, I felt like I (whatever “I” was) had always been there and would always continue to be.’ (p29f) Eben Alexander uses the word ‘aeons’ or ‘aeons and aeons’ (in a talk recorded for Youtube) to describe how long he was in the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View.

Revelation 14:9-11 describes people in Sheol / Hades in affliction ‘to ages of ages’ (to translate the Greek literally) or ‘to aeons of aeons.’

Although Eben felt like he would always be in the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View, he was rescued from it. First came ‘a feeling like I wasn’t really part of this subterranean world at all, but trapped in it.’ (p31) This made the experience worse, the rhythmic pounding more brutal, the faces more ugly and threatening, now with reptilian bodies he could feel rubbing against him. He could now smell a stench of death. ‘Whoever or whatever I was, I did not belong here. I needed to get out. But where would I go?’ (p32)

‘Even as I asked that question, something new emerged from the darkness above…’ (p32) ‘Turning slowly it radiated fine filaments of white-gold light, and as it did so the darkness around me began to splinter and break apart. Then I heard a new sound: a living sound, like the richest, most complex, most beautiful piece of music you’ve ever heard… The light got closer and closer, spinning around and around… Then, at the very center of the light something else appeared… An opening. I was no longer looking at the slowly spinning light at all, but through it. The moment I understood this, I began to move up…’ (p38)

Eben was lifted up out of the darkness, with its brutal noise, into a place of light, colour, and beautiful, permeating, music. He calls this place ‘The Gateway.’ It sounds like Paradise as talked of by Jesus and Christians. The beautiful music, the same as made by the spinning light, came from innumerable immense beings which he calls the origin of the human understanding of angels. The spinning light which rescued him from the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View was, in our terms, an angel.

Jesus proclaimed to John in Revelation 1:18 that He has the keys of death and Hades. Nearly everyone understands these words to mean that Jesus has the authority and power of entry and exit to and from Hades. Jesus also has angels working for Him. When Jesus rescued Peter from prison in Jerusalem, He sent angels. Peter saw angels taking him out of prison, not Jesus, but he understood they were acting on behalf of Jesus, in answer to the fervent prayer being made for him. (Acts 12) Jesus can bring people out of Hades Himself; Jesus can also use angels to bring people out of Hades, as He did with Eben Alexander.

Eben describes fervent prayer for him. Firstly, his own prayer. Just before he became completely unresponsive ‘out of nowhere, I shouted three words. They were crystal clear and heard by all the doctors and nurses present… “God, help me!” ‘(p24) Secondly, the prayer of many Christians, family and friends, including his neighbour, Michael Sullivan, an Episcopal priest. They were asking Jesus to help Eben and Jesus did.

Later Eben returned to the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View and, through remembering the angel and the music, was able again to be lifted out. Then he returned to the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View without being able to be lifted out. This time, however, he was also aware of ‘countless beings … surrounding me, kneeling in arcs that spread into the distance.’ They were murmuring, a quiet version of the same glorious permeating sound of the angels in The Gateway / Paradise. ‘Looking back on it now, I realize what these half-seen, half-sensed hierarchies of beings, stretching out into the dark above and below, were doing. They were praying for me.’ (p103)

Revelation 14:9-11 not only describes people in affliction in Hades for ages and ages, but also ‘the holy angels’ present with the people in Hades.

Together with the angels praying in the Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View Eben saw faces. ‘Two of the faces I remembered later were those of Michael Sullivan and his wife, Page. I recall seeing them in profile only, but I clearly identified them after my return when language came back. Michael had physically been in the ICU room leading prayers numerous times, but Page was never physically there (although she had said prayers for me too.)’ (p103) Six other faces, saying things, also appeared, faces of people he later identified as his wife, her sister, friends and his son.

In Matthew 16:18 talks about building His Church, ‘and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.’ Gates serve to restrict or prevent entry and exit to a place. Jesus is saying here that nothing will restrict or prevent His Church from entering and leaving Hades. As the angels join with Jesus in His mission to seek and to save the lost in Hades, so His people, those called out to belong to Him and His Father, also join with Jesus in that same mission. The Church’s role begins in this life and continues in the next. Even now, Christians, through prayer, can ‘enter’ Hades. The prayer of Christians is heard in Hades.

This ministry to the dead, prayer for the dead, is, doctrinally, most controversial. It has been much abused over the years and was a trigger for the Reformation. Yet, in the simple way Eben describes, we see confirmation of the simple extrapolation of the words of Jesus. The gates of Hades will not, do not, prevail against the Church. Hades cannot keep the Church out. Hades cannot keep the prayers of the Church out.

It is not only this aspect of the nature of Hades / Sheol that seems to be confirmed by Eben Alexander’s Experience, but every aspect. Eben knew nothing at all of the understanding of Hades / Sheol. (Very few people know of Hades / Sheol because people have instead been wrongly taught or have heard about ‘Hell.’ See The Lie of Hell for an explanation, Eben simply describes what he saw and felt. Even now he seems puzzled by what this Realm of the Earthworm’s-Eye View is. He coins his own name maybe because he is aware of no other name. His focus in the book and elsewhere is on other aspects of and conclusions from his Experience. He may well be surprised to learn that his Experience ties in so closely with the teaching of Jesus and the Bible about Hades / Sheol. He may also be pleased that the Bible shows clearly that Hades will one day be emptied and disposed of, together with all that is evil, all that works against life and the author of life.

Eben Alexander’s Experience could not possibly have been an experience in his human brain. He sees it as proof of heaven. It also looks remarkably like proof of Hades / Sheol.

Roger Harper



The Anglican Communion, dominated by extremists: 7 February

February 7, 2015

Anglican extremists? The two words seem incompatible. Except about gay marriage.

Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, was talking on Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4, 26 December. His reply to a question about gay relationships included: ‘It’s something that, as you go round the Communion, and having visited all the provinces, I’m very aware of this, it is seen by many as an absolutely central understanding of obedience to Christ in both directions either in favour or against.’

Some people, our Archbishop says ‘many’, see gay marriage as a Primary Issue. It has to be either promoted or resisted as a matter of priority. Not to promote or resist means disobedience to Jesus. It is impossible for these Anglicans to compromise on this. Here they stand, insisting that they can do no other

How can either camp be so sure that they are on Jesus’ side on this issue, when it is clear to them and to everyone that fellow Christians, fellow Anglicans, disagree strongly with them? The plain fact that not everyone sees things the same way ought to be enough for them to tone down, pipe down, climb down, at least a little. Add ‘but, of course we might be wrong…’ But no! The extreme, either YES or NO must be proclaimed.

Where does Jesus say in the Gospels that gay marriage is either absolutely necessary or absolutely forbidden? Nowhere so clearly. Some of what Jesus said points one way, some the other way. (See the detail at On what do the Anglican extremists base their differing views of what Jesus is saying?

Paul and Leviticus give the clear impression that we should not develop gay marriage, but their view is not necessarily the view of Jesus for all time and places, notably for this time and place. Jesus said there were other things he had to say which his hearers at the time could not bear. ‘You need to welcome Gentiles to become part of God’s people, without insisting that they keep the whole Jewish Law.’ ‘Slavery is not part of life as God wants it, but something to be outlawed.’ We know now Jesus has indeed said both of these since speaking before his death, Both of these are also against the recorded view of Paul and Leviticus etc. How can the extremists be so categorical that Jesus is or is not speaking about gay marriage in a way that we could not have borne before?

Part of me wants to shout these questions and more to the extremists. ‘Stop being so dogmatic, so blinkered, so arrogant, so extreme! You’re Anglicans for goodness sake. Take yourself with a pinch of salt.’

I am learning, though, that the approach of gentle curiosity is more Jesus-like and more effective. I need to control the anger at both sides callously tearing apart the body of Christ, and, without threatening, invite them to explain. ‘This is an absolutely central part of you being obedient to Jesus. That’s a bit of puzzle to many of us in the middle. Please can you explain it a bit more?’

The conflicting extremes dominate at present. The puzzled middle ground, where even more Anglicans stand, needs to resist and question both extremes.

Maybe Justin Welby can follow up his listening with some questioning along these lines.

Roger Harper

Generous Spaciousness – Middle Ground Voices. Alleluia!: 12 June

June 12, 2014

Wendy VanderWal Gritter has produced what sounds like an excellent ‘middle ground’ book about the church and gay marriage: Generous Spaciousness (Brazos Press May 2014) The publishers write: ‘This book offers a framework for discussing diversity in a gracious way, showing that the church can be a place that welcomes a variety of perspectives on the complex matter of human sexuality. It also offers practical advice for implementing generous spaciousness in churches and organizations.’

Wendy Gritter leads New Direction Ministries, linked to the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Canada. ‘New Direction Ministries began in 1985 as a small Bible study for people of faith addressing personal questions of sexuality. As the ministry developed, counselling, support groups, and equipping for the church were offered…In the twenty plus years that the ministry has been serving the individual and the church, our society and culture have changed dramatically. Having been a member ministry of Exodus International since the beginning, New Direction left Exodus in 2007. This decision was made in light of our distinct identity and no longer fitting an ex-gay paradigm of ministry.

The transition from being an ex-gay ministry to embracing an identity as bridge-builders in the midst of diversity around faith and sexuality has not been a quick or easy one. Such a transition can also raise suspicion as to our true motives and true activities as a ministry.

In the Spring quarter of 2010, the New Direction board concluded a season of conversation with key stakeholders of the ministry. The outcome of this time of reflection on our identity and purpose was an affirmation of our posture as bridge-builders in the context of complexity, diversity, and tension that surrounds the integration of faith and sexuality.’

A good, extensive review by Andrew Goddard is at

My website ‘Gay Marriage Maybe’ could also have been named ‘Making Space: Gay People and the Church.’ A few years ago I wrote a book proposal with that name making a similar case to this website. The Editor of one Evangelical publisher reported with regret that ‘even your Evangelical via media was deemed by the Board too politically sensitive.’

Since then we have had more argument and schisms are more likely, partly because the middle ground voice has not been properly heard. I hope and pray that Wendy Gritter’s book makes many people realise that there is another voice alongside and critiquing the convinced on both sides of the debate.

Another great middle ground teacher is Brian Maclaren. (More to the liberal edge of middle ground but sympathetic to Conservatives) Wise, helpful words from Brian are at Brian gives an excellent perspective on how to reassure Conservatives, how to keep relationships in disagreement, how denominations could work out a corporate way forward, and more.

Roger Harper

Blessing Gay Marriage in the Church of England? The Pilling Report: 10 February

February 10, 2014

In November last year an official, but not authoritative, Church of England Report recommended allowing ‘celebrations’ of faithful same sex relationships. The Report was from the House of Bishops Working Group on Human Sexuality, chaired, not by a Bishop, but by Sir Joseph Pilling. The Report is known as The Pilling Report.

We have here a typical Anglican, English, fudge. A Report set up by Bishops but distant enough from Bishops for them to evade responsibility. A Report which satisfies the need to show that due attention has been paid by our episcopal leaders, after which nothing further need be done for a while. A Report which is a finger up to the wind about blessing gay marriage. If there is a strong current in that direction, the Bishops can ride it. If not, no face lost.

The Report conveys this message:
We have listened carefully to a wide variety of people and not come to a clear common mind about the permissibility of homosexual sexual practice for English Anglicans. (One of us considers there is a clear Biblical mind and disagrees with our not coming to a common mind.)

We recommend that
The whole Church of England also engages in a process of careful listening to a wide variety of people and views on homosexuality
In the meantime, clergy and parishes who are so minded be given permission to conduct semi-formal blessings for same sex couples. There is to be no authorised rite nor push towards such blessings, but, equally, there is to be no outlawing of such blessings.’
(The Report uses ‘celebrations’ instead of ‘blessings’ but, as many people have noted, ‘blessings’ is the usual terminology. cf para 481)

Why more listening to people and views when listening has not led to agreement?

The Report states: ‘The problem we are unable, collectively, to solve is between the belief that God’s purposes revealed in Scripture are eternal, unchanging and consistent, and the plain fact that faithful, prayerful, Christians who aspire for their lives to be governed by Scripture, do not agree about the implications of the scriptural texts for same sex relationships.’ (para 58)

The problem has remained despite much listening. The Report does not explain what is to be gained by more listening by the Church as a whole, other than a deeper sense of fellowship across disagreement. This deeper fellowship is, to some extent, helpful but the experience of the Group is that it does not ‘solve the problem’ of disagreement.

What might solve the problem of disagreement?

Two complementary approaches:

A deliberate process of listening to Jesus, focusing on both His recorded teaching and practice, and on His present voice brought to His Church by the Holy Spirit. This fresh approach to authority might lead to a fresh sense of agreement.

As part of this process, a deliberate focus on whether homosexuality is a matter about which we can agree to disagree. If there is no fresh sense of agreement about the issue, we might have a fresh appreciation of how primary the issue is for Jesus and His Church.

For a detailed explanation see:

May the listening process recommended by the Report be more than a careful listening to differing views among us. May it be also and primarily a careful, humble, listening to Jesus and to the Holy Spirit, both about ‘the problem’ and about what we are do when we disagree about ‘the problem.’

Roger Harper

The Testament of Mary, Luke and Toibin: 16 December

December 16, 2013

A question for any Dads: What was your first child wearing when being taken home from hospital? No idea? You are in good company. Last year and this I have asked this question in church and been met with blank looks.

A question for any Mums: What was your first child wearing when being taken home from hospital? You probably remember not only the type of clothes but also the colour. Some in church remembered the exact nightie, from the days before babygros.

Some things are men things and some things are women things. That’s how it has always been.

What was Jesus wearing just after he was born? You know. Strips of cloth, swaddling bands. This is a woman’s detail.

Was it a woman recording Jesus’ baby clothes? No. It was Luke, a first century doctor turned biographer of Jesus. Why is a man writing a woman’s thing?

There are more. ‘The baby leapt in my womb.’ What man would think that a significant detail? A woman, who knows just what that feels like, would remember and want to pass it on. ‘Mary pondered all these things and treasured them in her heart.’ How did Luke know? Why would Luke think it important to record what is going in in a woman’s heart? This isn’t a regular habit of his.

Could it be that we have a woman’s point of view as recorded by a man? Could it be that the woman was Mary?

Historians tell us that Luke finished his Gospel biography in about 75AD. It is possible that, in his research in the preceding years, Luke talked with Mary. It is very possible that he talked to another woman who had heard all about Jesus’ birth from Mary herself. Luke tells us that he has checked everything out as much as he can from eyewitnesses. Early Christian tradition says that Luke cared for Mary.

The alternative is that Luke made up the story to show how important Jesus was. This is the view of Colm Toibin, author of The Testament of Mary, shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize. Toibin has Mary writing about how troubled she is that her son’s terrible friends are making him out to be more than he was, as they started doing when he was alive. Toibin changes many details in the Bible to suit his version. Small details are different, such as Jesus calling for the jars at the wedding in Cana to be filled in public in front of him. Medium details are different, such as Lazarus being at that wedding, so that it was late in Jesus’ ministry not before the beginning. Big details are not preserved either, such as Mary running away from the cross before Jesus had died, starting an amoral Bonnie and Clyde life on the run. Toibin’s Mary did not hold her son’s dead body, did not see him into his borrowed tomb, did not go a couple of days later to anoint the body…

Toibin holds back from writing that his Mary thinks the Christmas story made up. She goes along with Luke’s version, without saying that this is because it is true or because it is not worth the effort of challenging. Toibin doesn’t want to spoil his or anyone else’s Christmas.

Many people, more theologians than writers of fiction, have said that Luke’s birth narrative must be one of the things he, or others, made up to show how important Jesus was. Other religions of the time had stories somewhat similar. Some details are less than 100% accurate. The clincher, for these mostly male writers, is that women simply cannot become pregnant without a man.

Why would Luke make up the shepherds? They serve no useful purpose in his story. An angel has already explained that Jesus is Saviour and Son of God. The shepherds walk in and walk out, never to be mentioned again. All that we know about the shepherds we know from the point of view of the people by the manger. They tell what brought them there, and that is where Luke begins. They are last heard walking away from the manger singing their heads off. Either Luke is relaying what he has heard from someone who was there, or this is a miraculously sophisticated literary technique for a 1st century man who was not trained as a story-teller or writer.

Asserting that Luke made it up begs a number of questions. There is evidence, on the other hand, that Luke has recorded for us what Mary, or someone close to Mary, told him. The real Testament and Testimony of Mary was probably written by Luke, not by Colm Toibin. The virgin birth is still absolutely unique, like Jesus’ resurrection. Is it logical to say that God, the Creator, cannot do unique things? Even if it makes men feel a bit redundant.

Both views have rational arguments in their favour. As usual with God, He leaves half a fingerprint on what He does. It’s up to us where we choose to look.

Roger Harper

Revival? We don’t know! 14 June

June 14, 2013

‘There is one prayer that God never answers with a ‘yes’ – ‘same again please.’ C S Lewis wrote this, or something very like. God is too creative to repeat Himself. He loves to do far more than we can ask or imagine, as Paul wrote.

Christianity magazine (July 2013, out this week) asks of The Cwmbran Outpouring ‘But is it a revival?’ Some moves of the Holy Spirit in the past have been given the term ‘revival.’ Some people have looked at what the Holy Spirit did then and created a pattern of what they consider revival. What happens today is then checked against this pattern, this definition, so that a judgement can be made.

The danger of this thinking is that it is that of Nicodemus the Pharisee in John 3. Nicodemus starts by saying ‘We know… Because of our religious and historical knowledge we can tell who is a teacher sent by God and who isn’t. Good news, Jesus, you make the grade. We, with our superior special, knowledge are ready to give you our approval. We know you are a teacher sent by God…’ Nicodemus is about to carry on when Jesus interrupts him.

Jesus is not impressed. He does not welcome this, probably conditional, seal of approval. He challenges and dismantles Nicodemus’ whole thinking. ‘Very truly, I tell you, no-one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.’ ‘You think you know things. Here’s the truth, greater than religious knowledge. To see and recognise what God is truly doing, you have to start from scratch. Go back to being a baby who knows nothing at all. Start all over again. Give up your religious knowledge. Then you can see, then you can know.’

Starting with ‘We know what revival is,’ is the wrong place to start. Far better to start with a child’s view, even a baby’s view. ‘What’s this then? Does it taste good? Can I have some? Yum yum. Whoopee!’

Maybe this is why the Welsh Outpouring is primarily for Welsh addicts. Victory Church was started by an ex-addict and, even in only 3 years, has a considerable ministry to addicts. They know they need to start life all over again and need the Holy Spirit to make this happen.

The Outpouring in Cwmbran may or may not be like other recognised Outpourings. It may or may not be like other recognised Revivals. It really does not matter. What matters is what we see God doing, as Jesus said to those John the Baptist sent when John wasn’t sure just how Jesus fitted into his understanding. Healing of body and heart, new commitment to Jesus, new enthusiasm for Jesus. That’s what there is to see. Let’s welcome it, enjoy it and stop trying to find a category for it.

Doug commented on my first post on Cwmbran:
Great post! Although there is great “enjoyment” in being in the presence of God, the ultimate aim has to be to receive the Spirit as per book of Acts and receive boldness to preach renewal in the church and to witness to those outside of the church. The hopes for a wider revival are not for enjoyment, but for the saving of a great many souls in our nation. At least that is my strong hope and prayer. Have mercy on us and our fellow men Lord!

Yes and no. The ultimate aim has to be to receive the Spirit as per Jesus. We are Christians, not Actsians. ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ is a command of Jesus in John 20. ‘Don’t let the Holy Spirit pass you by. Welcome Him in. Take Him in.’ (It’s the same word translated as ‘take’ in Jesus’ words in the last supper about taking in, receiving, bread remembering Him.)

Jesus connects this receiving with power and authority to forgive, an awesome power and authority for ‘Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ Now, because Jesus died and rose again, God the Holy Spirit, living in us, cooperating with us, can and does forgive sins, or retain sins. Mind-blowing! Jesus also connects receiving the Holy Spirit with sending us as the Father sent Him. Our ultimate pattern is not the early Church of Acts but Jesus Himself.

We receive the Holy Spirit, in Cwmbran or anywhere, simply to enable us to love God fully and love our neighbour as ourselves. Part of this love will be witnessing to others. But if we think of witnessing before loving we are putting the cart before the horse. John Arnott of Toronto says ‘The Great Commands before the Great Commission.’

We receive the Holy Spirit to make us children of God. The Holy Spirit does not want to make us servants of God, but children. The Father does not make us His children so that we then act wholly as messenger evangelistic servants. He makes us His children because He loves us and wants us to love Him, because He enjoys us and wants us to enjoy Him and enjoy the life He gives. Enjoyment is primary. It includes the great great joy of seeing sinners repent. But if our witnessing is not enjoyable, not fun, the cart has again crept in front of the horse.

Roger Harper

Visiting the Welsh Outpouring: 2 June

June 2, 2013

The Welsh Outpouring at Victory Church, Cwmbran, continues. Five of us from our family went last Wednesday to catch it.

Victory Church is in a converted industrial unit, round the corner from a major shopping park in Cwmbran, easy to find. We joined a large queue before being ushered into the ‘dark shoe box’, as the Minister, Richard Taylor, called it. People were standing packed at the back, not a seat in sight. A leading local man led us to the front where there were free seats. Not so different from normal church…

The format was normal Pentecostal: worship songs, followed by talk, followed by more songs and prayer ministry at the front by the local team. Some of the initial songs were from 10 or so years ago, not all bang up to date. Later we sang some old hymns. The familiarity and gusto of all the singing indicated that most of the people present were long-standing Christians. We sang ‘Here is love, vast as the ocean…’ the ‘signature hymn’ of the 1904 Welsh Revival. Richard Taylor said that the Cwmbran Outpouring is the first significant such move of the Holy Spirit in Wales since 1904.

People had come far – from Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, Tennessee and Singapore. We heard that Victory Church has had a million people viewing their Facebook page since the Outpouring began. Hundreds of people have decided to welcome and follow Jesus in their lives. Hundreds have reported healing. We were told of an 18 year old girl who had been self-harming, including on her legs, and who now no longer needs to cut herself. She came again to Victory Church in shorts, showing her former scars: ‘trophies of grace’ – a phrase she had heard there. A man with curvature of the spine came. He wasn’t healed, but he started praying in tongues. The Holy Spirit prompted him to go back to be reconciled with the leaders of a church which he had left in bad grace. He returned to Victory Church and, on this second visit, his back was straightened.

My 88 year old mother-in-law was with us, hoping to see at last with her own eyes a dramatic healing, like someone leaping out of a wheelchair. We didn’t see that. We did see her falling onto the floor while someone prayed for her. This is usual for her. Many such times have made her healthier and happier than when she was 68. I went forward for prayer for Holy Spirit Outpouring on me and through me. I didn’t fall over, as is usual for me. Standing, I did feel gently filled up, as though with warm air, similar to other times of prayer for the Holy Spirit, but distinctive. No obvious difference since. Maybe when I pray with others..?

From what I could see, there were fewer physical signs of the Holy Spirit moving, fewer shakings and fallings over, in the congregation, as opposed to during prayer ministry, than I have seen in a couple of other places.

Richard Taylor preached on the cross with genuine passion. He called for people to make first time commitments in the usual way: first putting their hand up, then coming to the front for a prayer of dedication and to be given follow up material. Nothing unusual: focus on Jesus and him crucified, rather than on the Holy Spirit.

It seems that some critics have said the Outpouring is all money-making. Richard Taylor joked that he could make a fortune out of selling anointed prayer cloths, instead of just giving them away. There was no offering, nor a mini-sermon on giving, as is usual in many churches, only a retiring collection. The screen at the front was no hi-tech super-reflective surface, but a white bed sheet tacked onto a wooden board.

Richard Taylor said repeatedly that Victory Church is just a local church. They are doing what they have done before, but with more sense of the Holy Spirit flowing.  He hinted that they have moved on from some of their previous practice – no longer giving a benediction. ‘When the Outpouring came, Benedict left the building.’ Mostly, though, they are the same but more so.

Normal local church with more sense of the Holy Spirit welcome, present and moving. That possibility, to me, is tremendous, exciting, inspiring hope. Not an unusual time called ‘Revival’ which comes and then goes leaving powerful memories and a disappointed hangover. Ordinary local churches being themselves in their various traditions, but with more enthusiasm, more sense of the Holy Spirit, more light, more fire, more healing, more commitment to Jesus. ‘Don’t join our church,’ said Richard Taylor, ‘there are plenty of other good churches.’ A few things may have to leave the building; not all that we do is what the Holy Spirit wants. Mostly, though, we will remain the same, but more so. May this Outpouring flow to many more local churches in Wales and beyond.