“These moments were not empty suffering”

Any person who believes in God has to confront the problem of human suffering. Why does God permit it?

“Lord, does suffering have any purpose or meaning?”

Of course, suffering is what makes life serious. Imagine a world in which actions never resulted in suffering. Imagine a world without the pain of regret, without feeling bad about doing something wrong (or) shameful.

“But disease serves no moral purpose.”

Now you are fencing with Me on “the problem of pain.” Just listen. You will never learn from fencing.

Disease, disaster, aging, death are essential aspects of suffering. “We” live in a physically vulnerable world. That is the essential condition that makes life serious.

“All that’s rather abstract, Lord. What exactly does disease do for us?” I thought of Job’s boils.

Suffering is the test of your humanity. There is no greater test than pain—how one copes with it. It is easy to be nice, faithful, and such, when things are great, but very hard under adversity.

“But, Lord, that just seems perverse—or cruel.”

No, that’s not so. Think about your own times of physical suffering—in the hospital, for example—the shots, the clumsy aide, the itch, the nurse about urinating, those were full of growth.

Those examples brought back memories. A couple of years before these prayers began, I suffered a mild heart attack and was rushed to the intensive care unit. They took blood tests, day and night. There are a limited number of places from which blood can be drawn, and the same spot cannot be used again right away. The wrists are ideal, but mine are sensitive and a needle there smarts. One does not have much power as a patient, but safeguarding my wrists became my prime imperative. One after another blood drawer would come, and I would plead, argue, wheedle, and insist they find some other place to puncture me. Each resisted, then managed to find a spot.

I was transferred to another hospital for the surgical procedure. I was met by a technician who said his name and stuck out his hand—while looking the other way and standing on my oxygen tube. When it was time to go into the operating room, he snatched away my blanket with so violent a jerk it would have ripped out the intravenous insertion if I had not by now been on high alert.

Once in the operating room, I was placed on a slab with my arms flat at my side. Medical equipment loomed above, posing an impressive threat. “Don’t move!” I was told. My nose chose that moment to itch. The itch grew intense, then more intense, dreadfully intense, until nothing existed but me and that itch. Then I understood. I can’t fight it. I just have to live with it, until the procedure is over. I don’t know if the itch went away or what—I forgot all about it.

The procedure went smoothly. I watched the monitor as the surgeon snaked a catheter through an incision in my groin up to a major coronary artery where a stent had to be placed.

Opening an artery is a very serious matter. Bleeding can be life-threatening. The patient has to lie flat and immobile for twenty-four hours. Nurses at my first hospital had been angels in white, but here I was attended by Nurse Ratched’s less charming twin. She seemed to resent patients needing her help. Finding it difficult to manage the bedpan flat on my back, I asked for assistance. She acted as if it were a dirty-minded request and responded by threatening me, “If you can’t manage the bedpan, we will catheterize you!” Finally, I did manage, and it was time to close up the artery. Another patient had told me the closing could be dangerous as well as painful.

“Who is to perform this delicate operation?”

Nurse Ratched gave me the grim news: young Mr. Sizzorhands, the technician whose previous efforts to hurt me had been foiled, would now have another shot. I asked for someone else. “He is the only technician available.”

“I am not going to let that guy lay another hand on me.”

She made it a battle of wills. We went back and forth. Finally I said, “Let me speak to the doctor.”

She said she would see what she could do and, after a time, she returned with a young Asian-American attendant. He had magical hands. I didn’t feel a thing.

My body was recovering nicely, but the whole experience—starting with “indigestion” in the night (I didn’t know that was a heart symptom), calling the office the next morning to find out what nearby doctor was covered by my health plan, driving myself (fool that I was) to the doctor’s office, filling out forms and waiting for some time before going up and telling the receptionist, “I may be having a heart attack,” the quick examination and discovery that I was at that very moment in the throes of an incipient attack, an emergency medical team rushing to my side trying to head it off, being shoveled into an ambulance, the sirens, intensive care, the surgery, the whole ordeal—left me feeling fragile, as if I were made of spun glass. A sharp tap and I would shatter.

They (these moments) were not empty suffering; they even had to do with leading you to Me.

“How so, Lord?”

They focused your attention on your mortality, which (led) you to open your heart fully to Abigail because you realized how precious this love was. And it led to your prayer to serve God.

“The Soul is at one with God.”


A few days after my dream, I started praying about daily matters and was interrupted.

Stop.  You’re just rambling, not thinking.  If this were our last conversation and you could know only one thing, what would it be?

I thought, what is it that affects me most personally?  “Lord, is there life after death and, if so, what is it like?”

You flunk.  You have asked Me a question I have already told you the answer to.

“But not what life after death is like.”

The dream I sent you told you that.  You got a glimpse of life after death. 

There is a second reason you flunk.  Your motive is honest but wrong.  You ask only what concerns you.  You ask out of desire, and fear of not getting what you desire.  You should ask in terms of the good of life, of all life, and of what I want for you, not in terms of what you want for yourself.  You should seek understanding.

I tried to step back to see what question my “soul” would ask.  “How can I merge with You?  I’m not sure if that’s the best way to put it, Lord:  be at one with You, at rest with You, at one with Your will?”

The question is adequately formulated.  The goal—one way to describe the goal—is to be at one with God, the God of All.  At bottom, the Soul’s will is the will of God.  The Soul is at one with God.  The Atman language is a bit off target, a bit misleading.

Hindus believe that the Atman or Soul is identical with the Brahman, the ultimate divine reality.

It is not that you and I are literally the same substance, the same particular.  It is that we are “at one,” in perfect harmony, and not accidentally so.  It is in the nature of what the Soul is, that it is at one with God.  Remember that these metaphysical (philosophical) categories are crude and inadequate in the first place. 

Back to your question: how can you become at one with God?  Of course, the answer is that you already are—your Soul, that is.  The task is to come to realize that this is so, to realize it not merely in theory, but in intuitive, felt understanding, in your emotions and feelings, and in practice.

“That’s the goal, Lord?  It sounds simple.  The one-ness is already ‘inside.’  All we have to do is to bring our conscious selves along?”

That is right.  It is the simplest thing in the world.  And everyone, at some level and at some moments, knows it, at least glimpses it.  But it is very difficult to actualize in practice.  The empirical world—the world of desires and the senses—seems so real and is so powerful that is extremely difficult to redirect one’s energy. 

And the empirical world is real, in its own way.  This is not Christian Science.  The world is not an illusion, a mirage.  If it is a mirage, it is one from which you can drink water.  No, you must respect the empirical world while at the same time emancipating yourself from it, not letting yourself be identical with your interests in this world.

“I make many covenants with human beings.”




My wife is Jewish and I was afraid all this talk about Jesus would upset her.  But, like someone who talks too much about the very thing he wants to avoid, I asked, “Lord, did the Jews make a mistake in not being open to the new covenant announced by Jesus?”


Oh, no, here it goes!

They became wedded to the covenant, the covenant with the people of Israel in their Messianic destiny.  That was, and remains, a valid covenant.

But it is not the only covenant.  I make many covenants with human beings.  They are all valid and have their own destiny, and work together toward a common destiny for mankind. 

The new covenant of Jesus is not as incompatible with the covenant with Israel as Jews tend to suppose.  It is compatible, but does not supersede, does not erase or nullify, the old covenant.  That is all you are prepared to understand at this point.

I wanted to nail this down.  “Does Jesus replace the covenant?”

No, he fulfills it.

That answer was consistent with the New Testament.  In Matthew 5:17, Jesus says, “Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.  I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”

Like an attorney driving a point home, I asked again, “Does Jesus fulfill the covenant in a way that replaces it?”

No, it remains fully valid.

But, back to my first question, “Should Jews, in Jesus’ day, have accepted him as Messiah?”


Okay, Abigail would just have to live with that answer.  “Lord, why didn’t they accept Jesus?”

Many different reasons.  He was too radical, flouted their traditions, spoke a language they found uncomfortable, alien.  It’s not easy to believe.  It is easier to pray for a distant Messiah than to accept a present one.

I didn’t seem to be able to stop myself.  “Lord, was it a sin for Jews to reject Jesus?”

No, no more or less than all those years you did not believe.  It is a sin in a sense, but it is also much of the human condition not to believe.  People are skeptical for good reasons, having to do with their intelligence, as well as bad.

Finally, I went over the top.  “Did Jews kill Christ?”

That’s a silly question.  Did Americans—or Southerners—kill Lincoln?  Some Jews, some Gentiles were equally implicated.  That is a non-issue.

Good.  At least that issue was taken off the table.


“There are different pieces of the same puzzle.”

If there is one God, why are there so many religions?  Philosophers call this the Problem of the Diversity of Revelations.  But I was told,

(There is) no reason to think (the) diversity of revelations is a problem, any more than for a therapist to say different things to different clients (whose needs and situations differ).

That analogy didn’t take me very far.  The therapist, like a doctor, is giving advice depending on the needs of the client.  But God is giving different people contradictory stories about Himself, and also about how they should live.  Perhaps God’s messages had to start simple, when cultures were primitive, and became more adequate as cultures developed.

“Lord, do Your revelations progress from lower to higher?”

Yes and no.  Much of what I have to say is universal, and good for all times and places.  Some is quite specific to the individual and his or her circumstances, the actions he or she faces.  Some is developmental, on the side of the culture and also on My side.

“Why not just give everyone the whole truth?”

Your question has presuppositions—that I have given different, incompatible stories to different cultures.  This is only apparently true.  If you think them through, they are different pieces of the same puzzle.  Names shift but that is superficial.

“Even though one says ‘God’ and another (thinking of Buddhism) says ‘Nothingness’?”

No religion puts Nothingness in the place of God.  If it appears to, think again.  What is the role of each (name)?  Is one a substitute or replacement for the other?  And (think about) the meaning of each.  Are they really incompatible once you examine their properties?

“Perhaps each religion is like a single eye-witness report of some strange event such as a Martian landing.  The reports might be wildly different from one another.  The challenge would be to sort them out and put them into a single coherent account.”

Not exactly.  It’s not to blend the religions into a single synthesis or theology.  It’s to put them into one story.  (To take your analogy,) imagine a reporter who interviewed everyone who had an encounter with the Martians, starting at the first encounter, and wrote it up as a narrative.  Certain consistent themes might emerge, but this would be different from a scientist trying to adjudicate and synthesize the reports.  In your version (of the religions), there will be an additional unifying factor—Me.

“It is good, just let it happen.”

One experience, late at night, went even further.  I felt the distance or boundary between me and the world becoming narrower and narrower, and less and less distinct.  Slowly, subject and object were blending, becoming intimately bound, not standing apart from one another.  I was noting this intellectually, but it was not an intellectual experience.  It was, you might say, an ontological experience, an experience of my whole being.  Finally, for a few moments, it approached total one-ness, the complete loss of awareness of self.  At that point, I pulled back.

“Lord, what is the meaning of this kind of experience?”

There are many levels and kinds of experience with Me (including music).  Do not make too much of it.  It is good, just let it happen.  It does not mean that you are about to become a mystic or anything unworldly.  It is not unlike—it is on a continuum with—a wide range of spiritual experiences, in and out of religious practice and sensibility, that people have all the time.  But it is definitely good.  It will give you energy and peace and insight, so let it in.

Many times one “loses oneself” in an experience, but those moments are less threatening than merging with God.  I pulled back, but felt a nagging sense that I was not supposed to.



“I want you to enter My heart”

It all seemed intolerably bizarre. I thought I should talk it over with the wisest people I knew. One, a distinguished medical ethicist, responded, “First of all, this is not weird.” Nothing he could have said would have been a greater relief to me! Another, a well-known author, said, first, “That’s great—now you know there is a God,” and then added, “You have had a Kierkegaard moment,” recalling that philosopher’s question, “If you encountered Jesus on the streets of Copenhagen, would you follow him?” A prominent lay theologian said he was “touched” by my story and suggested some reading while I waited for my “big” assignment.

While there were also cautionary responses, no one seemed to think I was crazy or a fool to take the voice seriously.

Still, I was not prepared for the next experience.

I want you to enter My heart.

Enter God’s heart? This is weird, Lord, and scary, like out-of-body travel.”

I will protect you.

For moral support I asked, “Lord, first give me Your love.”

Let Abigail love you. You will feel My love through her.

“Then strengthen me, be with me, for this.”

I will.

He took my hand, as it were, and led me into the “heart of God.” I had expected it to be an overpowering, perhaps terrifying experience. But it was more like the eye of a hurricane. I was at the center of something vast and powerful, but here it was quiet, calm, and peaceful. I surveyed the things I feared—the end of my career, loss of reputation, financial insecurity, and a book that went nowhere. In that calm that is God, each concern disappeared.

“That is how revelation works.”

I was trying to be flexible, but my mind was being stretched out of shape.  Some days I would doubt the voice.  It was, after all, in my head and talked a lot like me.  But I was told,

My words are coming to you for a reason.  Do not worry that it (My voice) sounds like you.  It is bound to sound like you (and to use) your vocabulary, your concepts.  That is how revelation works.  But notice that what you are now writing is completely different from what you believed prior to prayer—so different, much of it is profoundly uncomfortable and disturbing to you.

“Well, then, it is not just my own thoughts projected through Your voice.”

As you press ahead and pray more, and read reverentially and in conversation with Me, more revelations will come to you, and you will doubt less.  Just relax, and put yourself in My hands.

But being reassured by the very voice I was doubting seemed circular.  How can you tell whether a message is really from God?  Without mentioning my personal story, I sought advice from a philosopher I knew at Calvin College.  Did he know of any writings about how to tell if an answer received in prayer is really from God.  I learned that my question had an official name, the Problem of Spiritual Discernment, and that indeed it had been addressed.  Now I would get to the bottom of it.



“Is This Just Entertainment?”

The historian Paul Johnson writes in his spiritual memoir about having once called the prime minister’s office and, instead of getting the secretary’s secretary, the prime minister herself answered.  “It happened to me once with a prime minister,” Johnson writes.  “But with God it happens all the time.”

I don’t know if Johnson’s experience is like mine, but from that day on, when I prayed, I almost always received a verbal response, often with quite specific guidance.  At first, it just seemed an oddity that went too much against my agnostic worldview to be taken seriously.  Once my son had classical music playing in his ear all the time.  It turned out to be an ear infection, causing buzzing signals that the brain very skillfully translated into Mozart.  Maybe my prayers were like that.

I would tell Abigail about these odd experiences.  While I am cautious in my beliefs and skeptical by temperament, she is more spiritual and less distrustful.  I had always been skeptical of paranormal reports, near death experiences, and the like, but she was not.  I assumed she put the voice I heard in that category.  I didn’t really know because, usually, she just took in what I told her and didn’t say much.  She explained to me later that she thought I was engaged in a sensitive, fragile communication and did not want to create static.  But, one day, she did speak up.  “Are you going to take the voice seriously, or is this just entertainment?”

She had put her finger on the contradiction I was living.  The voice was too real and spoke with too much authority to ignore.  Yet I could not imagine actually acting on it.  Well, actually I could and did act on it, but without quite taking it seriously.  I would be told to do this or that.  Sometimes the guidance was about some matter facing me that day, and following the guidance usually worked out well; other times I received directives that seemed quite arbitrary but, since they did no harm, I would follow them.  For example, one morning, Abigail and I had just sat down to breakfast when I was told,

Don’t eat.

So I just sat there for maybe fifteen or twenty minutes, until I was told I could eat now.  I always did as I was told, but it was still more like a game of Captain-may-I than a life imperative.  I was not ready to answer Abigail’s question.


“It will be My voice.”


So that is what the new Elijah, the new messenger, is about.  But telling the world that I am the new Elijah?  “Lord, I am back to the laughing stock problem.”

As I tell it to you, it will become clearer what you should write publicly.  There is no point in writing something that will be dismissed.  You will need to continue reading and studying—otherwise, you will not have adequate words and concepts.  There is a reason I chose an educated man for this task.

My message is evolving over time.  You will carry it forward.  Do not credit this to your ego—it will be My voice.  (Just) focus on the task.  The world’s religions have spent themselves.  They need renewal.  There will be many voices for renewal.  Yours will be one of the most important.

“I would feel more comfortable being one of the less important.”

“There is a spiritual reawakening.”

It is your task, as one of My messengers, my Elijahs, to straighten out some of the errors and distortions, and also to broadcast these particular revelations to others.

“Lord, how will I get myself heard?”

You will be heard precisely because there is a spiritual reawakening.  Many are listening, waiting, open to a new word.