So I'm finally through a very long weekend and thought I'd come back to this thread and see where my thoughts lead.
First, I agree with everyone here who says that a belief in the afterlife can have negative effects. Some people seem to disengage from this life, banking on a promised post-mortal future to bring peace and happiness. They don't enjoy this life or attempt to make a real difference in the lives of others because they don't see this life as anything more than a temporary test. Many of these people are instantly recognizable in church because they speak about "the world" as being an outside entity against which they are pitted in battle for their very souls. These are people clinging, white knuckled, to the tight rope of life just inching along from one side to the other. They see the platform on the far side of the rope and that is all they see. Mortally afraid of falling, they never risk loosing their grip, and if they do slip, even a little, they are nearly paralyzed by fear that they will never reach the safety of the platform. Theirs is a coward's life.
This view of heaven, as an escape, is a miserable degradation of what the gospel actually teaches. The gospel is Kingdom AND Cross. In other words, it isn't just about salvation from eternal hell (Cross) but about building a life now that's worth living forever (Kingdom). We are supposed to be fashioning a new garden in this lone and dreary waste. It's the sweat of our brow and the struggle to bring new life to this place that we are charged with. In this kind of gospel centered life, the walk across the tightrope becomes a divine dance through the air. The platform on the other side, just like the platform from which we stepped out into the spotlight, is not a goal to be reached by the timid but an anchor whose existence is essential in creating the space where the most brilliant performances play out.
This is not to suggest that I don't believe in post-mortal existence. I do. But I don't believe it's an "after" life. It's just life. The continuation of our divine dance.
I've given some thought to sharing the experience I had when I was 20 but almost 22 years later, I'm still processing it. Basically, I felt myself slipping away. The room went pitch black. I heard a voice with whom I had a short conversation. I felt others present in the room, people who had passed on already. I vaguely recognized most of them even though I also knew none were individuals I had known in mortality. I did sense my grandmother although she did not speak or make contact with me - she was simply present with the others. I say "sensed" because I could not see a thing. It was pitch black. There was no tunnel, no light calling to me. The voice seemed to be audible but I can't be sure, needless to say it pierced me to the center (blatant plagiarism) and it felt like I was hearing it aloud. We had a conversation and I was presented with a choice. I had the sense that there was a brilliant light just beyond this enveloping darkness and that I could enter into it at will but would be unable to return if I did. I had to decided for myself whether I would stay or go. I felt myself leave my body as I contemplated the possibilities. I looked down and saw myself lying on the bed. It should have felt strange but it didn't. The body on the bed wasn't really me and I felt completely separate from it. In that moment, I saw the next few days play out. I saw my family struggling to cope with my death. Oddly, looking down on my body felt completely natural but "seeing" the possible future was surreal, like trying to make out details through a haze. One thing was certain, I knew, as well as it is possible to know anything, that my body would be dead in an instant if I decided to move on. I couldn't bear the thought of my parents grieving. It felt merciful that the being behind the voice kept me in the dark, otherwise I might have made a different choice. I said I would stay and immediately I was inside my body and the room looked normal.
One thing I should add. The voice told me a few things to expect in my life. These were things that I could not foretell, cause, influence, or prevent. Subsequent events have confirmed everything I was told. The specifics were personal and I'm not going to post those but I am absolutely convinced that I was given the information so that I would have the strength to get through the experiences.
Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. ~ Luke 7:47