But as a teenager I found it very disturbing that there was no relationship between all the nice things that were said in church, about love and kindness and God…and home. I began searching for answers and came to the conclusion that atheistic philosophy was the greater truth.
I became a college professor of art. My goal was to be a famous artist; that some day there would be that big book on the coffee table with my name on it. This pursuit of my ego left me with a great emptiness.
In 1985 I had a near-death experience. I was in extreme pain, I needed surgery immediately, but there were no doctors. I never had any thought of God. If I had, I would have thought it was just a sign of tremendous desperation.
I knew I was going to die. I closed my eyes…but then I was awake and standing next to the bed. The pain had gone, and I had a heightened ability in sight, taste, touch and smell. I saw the bed was occupied ? and to my surprise and horror ? by me. I tried to hold on to my rational self: this can’t possibly be me, I can’t be in two places at once.
I heard people outside calling me by name. There was something about them that didn’t feel good. I left the room and they led me into the greyness. They started ripping pieces of me, biting, and doing invasive things. I was on the ground physically destroyed, and the pain was quite overwhelming.
I heard a voice: ‘Pray to God.’ I thought, ‘What a stupid idea! I don’t believe in God.’ I wasn’t intending to pray, but I began muttering. The beings around me became extremely agitated and told me in the most filthy, horrible language that there was no God. Mention of God offended them so much that it drove them away.
As I lay in the darkness, I thought about my life. I had lived for my own gratification, and so when I died, I had gone to people who had the same values. It’s like ? this is what you lived for in the world, this is your reward. This felt very, very bad emotionally, but it also felt true. I called out, ‘Jesus, please save me.’ A light appeared in the darkness, and it got brighter and brighter. All of the pain and terror was pushed aside by a love more intense than anything I’d ever experienced.
Jesus was very kind and had a terrific sense of humour. We talked for a long time. Jesus said what he really wanted me to do was to love the person I was with. He said, if you do that, you’ll change the world. If you love, they will respond by loving the person they’re with. He said there are millions of people doing it; it’s God’s plan, they’re going to win, it’s just a question of time. When I came back, I was in the bed, in my body, in the pain. A doctor was found and I had surgery.
As I recovered I started reading the Bible, where I realised many of the things that Jesus had told me were from. When I was physically ambulatory enough to go to church, I saw angels up in the rafters, rejoicing that I was there and that the people were worshipping God.
Now, my friendship with God through Jesus Christ is the foundation of my life. Before, I was a taker; I took from the world for my own selfish purposes. As a Christian, I try with every action that I have to give love, hope, faith, joy and peace; sometimes more successfully than others.
I believe that God’s desire is that everybody goes to heaven. God allows there to be a hell because that’s what people choose. I feel that a lot of people make that choice because they don’t really understand that they can turn their lives around and it’s as simple as calling on Jesus as their Saviour.
Howard Storm left his professorship at Northern Kentucky University to become a pastor in the United Church of Christ, from which he has recently retired. His full story is told in My Descent into Death and the message of love which brought me back (Clairview). He was speaking to Heather Tomlinson