Have you ever wondered what Heaven is like? Have you ever wished that you had a little more information than what is given in Scripture?
What’s it like moments after death? Do our loved ones form a welcome committee upon our arrival? What does Heaven look like? Smell like? Sound like?
All of these questions and more, many of which are not answered in Scripture, are provided if you’ll just purchase the books (mild sarcasm permeated virtually every word of the previous sentence). Now, please understand me on this. I’m not standing in judgment of the authors of books like “Heaven is For Real” or “90 Minutes in Heaven.” I’m not saying that those folks didn’t experience what they say they experienced. I’m just stating that I’ve got some serious concerns about them.
First, they present as fact what is not revealed in Scripture. Doesn’t this undermine the usefulness of Scripture? Doesn’t this assume that what God has seen fit to reveal to His church for 2,000 years about Heaven is no longer good enough?
Second, the information conveyed in these books is completely subjective. There is no possible way to “prove” that what they are saying is true. It may be true but there’s no way of validating it.
Third, it opens the proverbial can of worms. The conversation is now based not upon the authority of Scripture but upon each individual’s experiences. So, if one person who tells us that they’ve gone to Heaven expects us to believe their story, what would keep us from believing Bill Wiese’s story (“23 Minutes in Hell”) of how he was physically taken to Hell in a night’s vision. And if we believe his account, where do we stop?
Fourth, I’m concerned that those who have had an out-of-body experience may not be able to interpret what they’ve experienced. There are many who have seen the “light at the end of the tunnel” who have never claimed to have a saving faith in Jesus Christ. There are stories of those in other religions who have experienced places of bliss after their death rather than torment.
Jesus was clear in John 14:6 when He said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me”. Therefore, we MUST conclude that if unsaved folks are encountering similar experiences as those that claim to be Christian, we simply cannot be certain what they are experiencing post “death.” To write a book about the experience means that conclusions were not only made but are then presented as fact. Dangerous, in my opinion.
I’m not saying that these things don’t happen. I’m simply, once again, stating that Christians have no biblical paradigm through which to think about these phenomena. Some may think that 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 may be a “proof text” for an out-of-body experience. However, a logical reading of that Scripture plainly shows that the Apostle Paul could draw no conclusions about whether the experience was real (“in a physical body”) or a vision. Therefore, we can draw no conclusions about “out-of-body experiences” and “trips to Heaven” from this passage.
Fifth, Jesus shed some light on this subject in His parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31). Jesus states that these two men died. The rich man lifted his eyes in a place of torment and Lazarus was transported by angels to the place where Abraham was (Heaven).
Now listen closely. I want you to catch this. In verses 27 and 28 of that text, the rich man in torment begged Abraham to grant a request. “‘Father,’ he said, ‘then I beg you to send him (Lazarus) to my father’s house – because I have five brothers – to warn them, so they won’t also come to this place of torment.’” What was his request? An out-of-body experience! He asked that Lazarus arise from the dead and warn folks of the reality of Hell. If the rich man had lived in 21st century America, he may have even asked Lazarus to write a book about his visit to Heaven while he was at it.
Listen to the few words of interaction following the rich man’s request in verses 29-31. (When Abraham mentions “Moses and the prophets”, he’s talking about the Old Testament Scriptures written by those men.) “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said. ‘But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ But he told him, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’ ”
The principle here is pretty clear. Abraham said that the Scriptures were sufficient. If folks weren’t convinced by reading God’s Word, an account of someone who had an out-of-body experience would do no good. We learn that it is not God’s pattern to send people to Heaven (or Hell) and back simply to tell others of their experience and encourage them to receive the gift of eternal life.
In conclusion, I’m not saying that those who have written such books are being untruthful. I’m not saying that they haven’t experienced what they write about. I’m just saying that a thoughtful Christian must read them with caution. A thinking Christian must base no theology upon something in those books not found in Scripture. You may want to read any of these books but here’s my advice … err on the side of safety and read them as fiction.
If you’re really interested in a book on Heaven that handles the topic in more substantive, biblical ways, you’ll want to pick up a copy of “Heaven” by Randy Alcorn. I have read this book and absolutely enjoyed it!