I’m going to go ahead and tell you right up front…this post is going to offend some people. There are going to be some individuals who tend to agree with on most anything else who will disagree with me on this. I’m prepared for that. This is, after all, my own opinion and conviction and I certainly respect the right of others to hold opinions and convictions that differ from mine and be just as confident that they are right.
There is a “major motion picture” out right now based on the best-selling book Heaven Is For Real, by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent. The book tells the story of Burpo’s son Colton visiting heaven when he was four years old after a burst appendix resulted in emergency surgery and nearly took Colton’s life. This book is perhaps the most well-known, but is but one of a multitude of books that have been released in recent years purporting to provide first-person accounts of what heaven is really like.
In the interest of full disclosure I need to tell you that I have not read Burpo’s book or any of the others that are out there. That I have not read them is probably of interest to you but it is not a factor in the fact that I do not believe these books are true. Indeed, I find it quite appropriate that the author of one of these books has the last name “Malarkey,” because in my mind that is what most of these books are. Here are but a few of the many books out there…
* Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey Into the Afterlife, by Eben Alexander
* To Heaven and Back: A Doctor’s Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, Angels, and Life Again: A True Story, by Mary C. Neal, MD
* 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life, by Don Piper
* My Journey to Heaven: What I Saw and How it Changed My Life, by Marvin Besteman
* The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven: A Remarkable Account of Miracles, Angels, and Life beyond This World, by Kevin and Alex Malarkey
* Waking Up in Heaven: A True Story of Brokenness, Heaven, and Life Again, by Crystal McVea with Alex Tresniowski
* My Time in Heaven: A True Story of Dying…and Coming Back, by Richard Sigmund
There are others. There are also, by the way, books about individuals who claim to have gone the other direction and had first-person glimpses of what hell is like. (I feel the same way about those books).
So why, having not read any of the books mentioned above, am I so confident that the books are not true? The primary reason I do not believe them is because I find no biblical evidence to support their validity. At the same time, I find plenty of biblical support for questioning these accounts. Here are a few reasons…
In John 3 Jesus is having a conversation with Nicodemus. In the course of that conversation Jesus says this: “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man” (verses 12 and 13). I can see no reason to believe that if no one had ascended into heaven when Jesus was talking to Nicodemus that multiple people are doing so now.
Another problem I have is with the inconsistency of these modern accounts of heaven when compared to what the Bible does tell us. The Apostle Paul had a vision of heaven and he wrote that he could not even describe what he had seen. Indeed Paul did not even refer directly to himself when describing this vision; instead, he said he knew a man… Of what heaven was like Paul writes that he “heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2 Corinthians 12:4). The biblical writers who do describe visions of heaven focus almost exclusively on the glory of God and they try mightily to present what they saw in terms humans can understand but their accounts are full of the word “like”–that what they had seen was “like” something humans can relate to. I believe that is because heaven will be unlike anything we can understand in our finite human minds.
In a column he wrote last month on this phenomenon John MacArthur points out that there are several biblical accounts of individuals being raised from the dead, including the widow’s son raised by Elijah, Lazarus and others raised by Jesus and Eutychus raised by Paul. Interestingly, there is no account from any of these individuals about “the afterlife,” about anything that they saw or experienced while their bodies were dead. “Not one biblical person ever gave any recorded account of his or her postmortem experience in the realm of departed souls,” MacArthur wrote.
Heaven is absolutely real–as is hell. But God did not deem it necessary for us to know the particulars of what they will be like. The natural curiosity of humans causes us to want to know what eternity will be like, and I do not see there being any problem with wondering. Questions like, “Do you think there will be _________ in heaven?” are not wrong. (You can fill in the blank with whatever it is that makes you happy and you cannot imagine heaven without). There is nothing wrong with being “heavenly minded.” Indeed, it is probably a good thing! But if we were meant to know what heaven is really like God would have told us. That He did not means that we must not need to know.
Here’s another reason why I think the accounts of heaven contained in the books described above are not legitimate: I do not think that any of the details of the physical beauty of heaven or the activities taking place there are going to be our focus. I suspect all of that will pale in comparison to the glory and majesty of Holy God.
John MacArthur is known for being blunt, and he did not disappoint in his March column. Here is what he has to say about these accounts: “Readers not only get a twisted, unbiblical picture of heaven; they also imbibe a subjective, superstitious, shallow brand of spirituality. Studying mystical accounts of supposed journeys into the afterlife yields nothing but confusion, contradiction, false hope, bad doctrine and a host of similar evils.” That may be worded stronger than I would have said it but, frankly, I couldn’t have said it better myself. Yes, heaven is for real…but I doubt all these accounts of visiting it are real.