A 20 year old soldier dies in an Army hospital and after nine minutes he returns to life, ‘Return from Tomorrow’ recounts what he experienced during that time and how it changed his life forever. There are a multitude of books on so called ‘near death’ experiences most of which present a largely positive outcome in the hereafter, approaching a great light etc,. This book strikes me as something different as the soldier, George G. Ritchie records the horrors as well as the blessings of a life beyond this one. There is an authentic feel to his tale not only in the matter-of-fact telling of it, but in the tangible positive change that the experience left on Ritchie for the remainder of his long life. On one level ‘Return from Tomorrow’ can be seen as a parable in the mould of Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ where the miserable Ebeneezer is given a glimpse of a past, present and future that terrifies the miser into a reformation of his life, however the events of Ritchie’s story are narrated as actual events that are rooted in real time and history. Also unlike Dickens work Jesus is referred to explicitly as the young man’s guide through the realms of the next world, and the reassurance of His presence is the constant throughout the account.
George G. Ritchie chairman of the Department of Psychiatry of Towers hospital began his career after military service as a medical doctor. He frames his extraordinary story around a consultation with patient, Fred Hoyle (not his real name) who had been experiencing acute depression after childhood abuse and a variety of other ‘hard’ life experiences. After five sessions where much progress had been made in helping Fred to confront his past difficulties he is given the diagnosis of lung cancer with only four months left to live. He turns angrily to Ritchie, “ What a joke , huh Doc ? All this digging around in the past so I can do better in the future - only now I’m not going to have a future…all a waste of time now, huh ? .”
The psychiatrist told him, “ On the contrary, these things are more urgent now than they’ve ever been. Your future depends more on how swiftly you get on with the business of relationships now than ever.”
The future he has in mind is Fred’s (and ours) long term eternal future to which as a young man he had been given a unique insight. Over several more meetings he shares in stunning detail the extent of his youthful nine minute excursion through the realms of the dead, and the enduring lessons that were etched in his psyche through this memorable experience. One of the practises that helped Ritchie make sense of his otherworldly experience was a renewed interest in the systematic reading of the Bible and he observed, “ I understood at last where the certainty had come from, in His presence, that I was not condemned , in spite of my ugly actions I had committed that were paraded in plain view before us. It was His death, I came to see, that had already paid for these things, the light of His resurrection in which we stood.” That’s as good a conclusion as one could hope for when discussing such a controversial and mysterious a subject as ‘life after death’, and it this solid Biblical grounding that saves the story from descending into a morass of subjective speculation and fanciful conjecture. I raced through this book as it is truly breathtaking and I, at least, have read nothing quite like it.
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