The Easter Question
- By Eben Alexander M.D. Author,
'Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife'
What do you say to a parent who has lost a child?
Any doctor will tell you this is the toughest question there
is. How could one presume to say anything to someone who has
suffered such a thing?
During my years as a neurosurgeon, I operated on hundreds of
children with brain ailments ranging from benign tumors to the
most virulent cancers. Many of the children I operated on
survived. But not all of them did, and on the occasions when
they didn't, the job of telling that child's parents fell to
me. These days, ever since publishing "Proof of Heaven," the story
of the near-death experience I underwent four years ago, most of
my time is taken up not with operating on brains but with telling
my story. I've spoken to thousands of people in the past
several months, and the joy I get from sharing my essential
message -- that each of us is immortal, that consciousness is
not contained or limited by the brain, that death is not the end,
and that love is the most powerful force in the universe -- is
such that I simply never tire of telling it.
But one element in my new life has taken me by surprise. I now
find myself regularly confronted with that question I so dreaded
as a surgeon:
Why did my child die?
I've started to think of this as "The Easter Question." For though
it is asked every day, in every part of the world, by people of countless different faiths speaking countless different languages,
it is a question that for Christians comes into especially sharp focus on Easter. Easter, after all, is built around Christ's
arising from the grave; and from the Christian perspective,
through that event the power of suffering and death was defeated
once and for all. And there is quite simply no greater suffering
than that experienced by a parent who loses a child. I know this
not only because of my experience as a surgeon, but because my
own birth-parents lost their daughter: a sister who, as I narrate
in "Proof of Heaven," I never knew on earth.
Why is there death? Why is there suffering? The Christian answer
to these questions is that these things exist because the world
has fallen away from its original divine perfection. But Jesus, through taking birth in this world, suffering the worst that it
can give and rising again into glory, has defeated the evil of
this world, and the suffering that goes along with it. "In the
world ye shall have tribulation," says Jesus in the Gospel of
John. "But be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."
More than ever since my near death experience, I consider myself
a Christian -- though one who knows that God loves all of His children, including those whose faith is expressed in traditions different from my own (while I feel that God has no gender, due
to convention I use the pronoun He when I refer to Him). Any
pastor will tell you that the single concept that separates the
wheat (that is, the real believers) from the chaff (those who
are Christians only in name), is whether a person accepts that
what Christian tradition says happened on Easter Morning really happened. The entire force of the Christian message can be pushed into that moment when the rock of the cave rolled aside and
Jesus -- the same and yet not the same Jesus whom his mother
had watched die on the cross just two days before -- stepped out
once more into common daylight. That he had, in fact, overcome death.
Now, I can tell you that if someone had asked me, in the days
before my NDE, what I thought of this story, I would have said
that it was lovely. But it remained just that -- a story. To say
that the physical body of a man who had been brutally tortured
and killed could simply get up and return to the world a few
days later is to contradict every fact we know about the universe.
It wasn't simply an unscientific idea. It was a downright anti-scientific one.
But it is an idea that I now believe. Not in a lip-service way.
Not in a dress-up-it's-Easter kind of way. I believe it with all
my heart, and all my soul.
The universe we live in is one in which everything is connected.
Not just in a manner of speaking, but actually. Every atom in
your body, and every subatomic particle of which those atoms
are made, is in profound and direct relationship with every
other atom, and every other particle, in the universe: a
universe that is composed not of hard, unyielding matter but
of energy. This energy, in turn, is "made" of (or "manifested"
by) something called consciousness. And consciousness itself is
not "made" of anything, for it transcends all materiality. If
we insist on envisioning consciousness as being "made" of
anything, that substance must be the Divine itself.
We are, really and truly, made in God's image. But most of the
time we are sadly unaware of this fact. We are unconscious both
of our intimate kinship with God, and of His constant presence
with us. On the level of our everyday consciousness, this is a
world of separation -- one where people and objects move about, occasionally interacting with each other, but where essentially
we are always alone.
But this cold dead world of separate objects is an illusion. It's
not the world we actually live in. The world we really live in
has many more dimensions than we can perceive. It's one in which consciousness, soul, and spirit are not only real, but more real
than the physical, and where the limitations that bind us during
our time on earth will fall away whenwe leave our physical bodies behind.
From this perspective -- and it is a perspective that I now live
in contact with every day -- there is quite simply nothing that
the loving God who rules this world cannot do. God -- the God who
can do anything, and who cares for us more than He cares even for Himself -- is never far from us. Despite the incomprehensible vastness of the worlds He commands, both visible and invisible, He
is right here with each of us right now, seeing what we see, suffering what we suffer... and hoping desperately that we will
keep our hope and faith in Him. Because that hope and faith will
Why did this happen to my child? How could a loving God, if
there truly is such a being, ever let it?
This Easter, in the wake of a year that saw so much horrific
tragedy -- not just for parents, of course, but for all kinds
of people -- I know that if I am asked this question, I will be
more than willing to answer it. Not perfectly, God knows, but honestly. The universe we live in is vast beyond imagining, but it
is ruled by a God who loves us in a manner that is equally beyond imagining. And he has not forgotten us. This April, more than
ever, that, for me, is what Easter is all about.
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