I caught a glimpse of the red flashing lights on the monitor behind me beginning to light up. My vision turned foggy and soon thereafter my eyes shut. Next thing I knew I was with my family in the same car I had been driving just days earlier when the accident had occured. The sky was black as I passed the Red Bank Road exit going up I-71 N, just miles north of downtown Cincinnati. There was a sense of peace in the car as I drove along in a world far away from the intensive care unit in Lexington where my body currently lay. All of a sudden a euphoric feeling rushed over me, but it was suddenly interrupted by a dozen medical people surrounding my bed looking at me with panic, yelling, “Ryan, can you hear us?” I struggled to decipher whether these people were real; as I still felt in control of the steering wheel and gas pedal, believing that letting go would be detrimental.
Slowly my mind calibrated the voices and I smiled, as if to say, “No worries, I’m here.” The demeanors of the people around me quickly relaxed and they began to make comments such as, “You had us scared! We thought we had lost you.” I thought to myself, “Talk about dramatic.” When I came to full consciousness, I downplayed any reason be alarmed, but I later found out this was the first of three cardiac arrest episodes.
I’m not entirely sure what was going on in my mind for the 108 seconds my heart stopped. But near-death experiences make one contemplate life after death more than ever before. Once the busyness of life came to a screeching halt, I wanted to be sure of what awaited me- and what did not. No longer did I want to be blinded by the temporary or numbed by the trivial. It was time to contemplate the eternal. I could not afford to be wrong.
Investigating the Bible on my own led me on a journey in which I had to face a humbling reality. I wanted to deny it but I had to face the facts that lay before me. If my heart did not restart on that cold wintry night in the intensive care unit, I may not have ended up in heaven.
Why didn’t anyone tell me that just because I went to a Christian school or attended church with my family, it didn’t mean that I was actually following Jesus?
Why didn’t anyone tell me that no matter how many accomplishments I racked up or how much money I was making, that it would all disappear into thin air with my last breath?
Why didn’t anyone tell me that Jesus spoke of hell more than anyone in the Bible? Or about where in the lake of fire (or referred to as a blazing furnace if that’s what you prefer) people will be tormented forever and ever and the sounds will consist of weeping and gnashing of teeth? (See Matthew 13:50)
Why didn’t anyone tell me that, ultimately, all that will matter is whom I choose to serve…and that an intellectual understanding of Jesus without life change does not cut it?
That’s when I realized I had no one to blame but myself. I sat there in church every Sunday as God’s Word was being taught, checking my phone and waiting to leave. I had access to Bible teaching nearly every day in a Christian school. I had more opportunities growing up than almost anyone in the world has to hear about the saving power of Jesus. It reminds me of the story Jesus told of the rich man in hell, who pleads for God to have a warning messenger show up to his relatives so they would change. God makes it clear that they have access to all of it and still deny Him.
When sharing these thoughts with a few others, I’ve often gotten, “Oh come on, don’t be so hard on yourself… You weren’t so bad.” I wasn’t a drug dealer, I didn’t sleep around, there were no warrants out for my arrest, but I was a prideful, lustful, greed filled 21-year-old who thought I was in charge, completely unaware of my desperate need for a Savior. The extent of “following Jesus” consisted of going to church and checking the “Christian” box on my Facebook profile.
I know it’s not a sexy topic. I just can’t get my mind off it. Francis Chan wrote a book called Erasing Hell: What God Said About Eternity, and the Things We’ve Made Up, where he unpacks the idea of hell in a culture where it’s frankly just not discussed. Right when I think there are aspects of God’s judgment that seem outlandish, I remain challenged by the question, “So you wouldn’t believe in a God who…what? Wouldn’t do something you wouldn’t do?”
Aside from being distracted by this man’s ginormous hands, this video about the book confronts how quickly I elevate my own sense of judgment above that of God’s. I don’t understand how it all works, but I know His ways are higher than mine. (See Isaiah 55:8-9)
I’m not trying to make a case about what would or would not have happened had my life ended in 2009. That’s irrelevant now. I’m thankful for the second chance. Nothing can take away the fact that Jesus has saved me from the destruction that I deserve. I may be physically limited right now, but I’ve been saved by grace since the accident.
I’m a creature of habit. My previous 33 posts have consisted of a neatly packaged 800 words that start with a story and finish off with whatever take-away I may have intended. Not happening today. I’ve just been in a place where I’ve been forced to contemplate because there’s too much at stake to be wrong.
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