Return from Tomorrow
Ritchie, George G., M.D., with Elizabeth Sherrill: Return From Tomorrow, Fleming H. Revell, 1978.
For the past 20 years, or more, George G. Ritchie's little book Return From Tomorrow has enabled me to see better some of the mysterious, and the down-right practical Truths encompassed in God's gift of Easter. The fact that our life on Earth is but a part of our journey to God, is portrayed in "one of the most startling and hopeful descriptions of the realm beyond", in the words of Dr. Raymond A. Moody, Jr. Dr. Moody was so affected by George Ritchie's story, that he spent five years in research that culminated in his book Life After Life. The many diverse 'life after death' experiences that have been recorded, speak to me of their validity. Life on earth has the same diversity.
George G. Ritchie, M.D., at the time of the publishing of his book, was a practicing psychiatrist living in Virginia. He held positions as president of the Richmond Academy of General Practice, Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry of Towers Hospital, and founder and president of the Universal Youth Corps, Inc. World War II interrupted the beginning of his education to become a doctor. At 20 years of age, he found himself in basic training at Camp Berkely, Texas. He was pronounced clinically dead during a severe case of influenza. Nine minutes later, he returned to life.
Catherine Marshall, the popular Christian author, widow of former Senate chaplain Peter Marshall and George's personal friend, was the one who first urged him to write down the story that all the rest of his life was about.
(The excerpts and comments which follow should help to give the reader of this review a good sense of the book itself.)
"I got to my feet, glanced back at the bed. Someone who looked like me was still lying there--and this one looked dead. I looked at my own hands. If I were to be a doctor, I would need my hands. But I couldn't touch things. That decided it. No man in this fix could become a doctor! Then suddenly I was no longer alone. Someone stood there. I knew it was Christ, though my chief impression was of dazzling, blinding light." He asked "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH YOUR LIFE?" Thoughts replaced speech in this strange dimension, with no re-considering possible. "Well, I got to be an Eagle Scout" "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO TELL ABOUT ME?" I changed the subject. "I'm too young to die." Very kindly He said, "NOBODY IS TOO YOUNG TO DIE. "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH YOUR LIFE?" Total recalling, detailed and perfect. No horrendous depths but no heights either, only an endless, short-sighted, clamorous concern for myself. Then the rage! It wasn't fair! "How could you judge a person who hadn't even started?! What about the insurance money coming when I'm seventy?!" The Presence beside me seemed to vibrate and shimmer with holy laughter, not at me and my silliness, not a mocking laughter, but a mirth that seemed to say that in spite of all error and tragedy, joy was more lasting still. "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH YOUR LIFE TO SHOW ME?HOW MUCH HAVE YOU LOVED WITH YOUR LIFE? HAVE YOU LOVED OTHERS AS I AM LOVING YOU? TOTALLY? UNCONDITIONALLY?" "Why, I didn't know Love like this was possible! Someone should have told me! This was a fine time to discover what life is all about. Why hadn't someone told me?!" The answering thought held not on rebuke, only that hint of heavenly laughter, "I DID TELL YOU. BY THE LIFE I LIVED. BY THE DEATH I DIED." I noticed we were moving...
After George's initial introduction to Christ and to what was happening, he then was taken, with Jesus as his tour guide, to and through many traumatic, astounding, and awesome sights and experiences. They included, in George's own words (and my own deep impressions in parentheses) :
· A hideous, vast plain, full of shrieking, howling, disembodied men and women, exchanging bites, kicks sexual abuses, hurling their thoughts, "I told you so!", "I always knew!", "Didn't I warn you?!" (This transforms for me, the "simple" attitudes we encounter in others and ourselves each day. These expressions of superior knowledge of the speaker, and God's Love, I see, cannot inhabit the same personality forever. We must choose.)
· Suicides, chained to every consequence of their acts.
· Alcoholics, cut off from the thing they could never stop craving.
That's the negative side. But most of the story is positive. Even each of these wretched beings in each of these circumstances was being watched over by huge, brilliant presences, who were bending over them; maybe even conversing with them, though the miserable little beings seemed oblivious to them. They were too full of their fury, their guilt, and their cravings. Other negative experiences, and even very positive experiences, showed a common denominator: Whether it was a physical appetite, an earthly concern, an absorption with self, whatever got in the way of His Light created the separation into which we stepped at death. (It all begins here in our Today. Jesus' words, "Seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened" mean more and more as I apply the truths George Ritchie was exposed to and shared.) One experience comes to mind:
In one great campus, a tremendous study center, humming with the excitement of great discovery, hooded beings in the wide halls and stairwells seemed to be clothed in total concentration, supremely self-forgetful, absorbed in some vast purpose beyond themselves. Through open doors, he glimpsed enormous rooms, some with complex equipment, intricate charts and diagrams. Then in another building, George and his Guide entered a studio where the music of a complexity he couldn't begin to follow was being composed and followed. He found himself thinking, "Why, Bach is only the beginning!" He asked Jesus if this was heaven. The reply was "THEY GREW AND KEPT ON GROWING." Knowing flamed from Jesus like fire, and communicated the fact that every activity on this enormous 'campus' had it's source in God. His answer to George's question was His communication of love: the compassion for George's ignorance, understanding that encompassed all his non-understanding, and, in spite of His obvious delight in the beings around, George sensed that this was still not the ultimate. What if even a thirst for truth could distract from the Truth Himself, standing here in their midst while they searched for Him in books and test tubes?
Perhaps, George concluded at last, He cannot tell me more than I can see. Perhaps there is nothing in me yet that could understand an explanation. Maybe that was why he had to re-enter his lump-like body in that cell-like room, just as he glimpsed a city of light far away, desperately crying for the most perfect belonging, in Jesus, that he'd ever known.
What kind of effect did this experience have on George Ritchie? In Raymond Moody's words, "Unfortunately, only those of us who know him as friend can truly sense the depth of kindness, understanding, and loving concern for others which characterize this remarkable man."
April 19, 2002