I’ve been asked multiple times recently what I think about “Heaven is for Real,” the new movie based on the NY Times best-seller. Specifically, people have asked me what I think about the validity of near-death visits to heaven.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure. So I did a little reading. Unfortunately, I still don’t have a solid conclusion on the “are heaven visits real or not real” debate. Many great biblical minds and trusted theologians continue to kick that one around. However, I would like to share a few strong “cautions” or guiding principles to consider as we prayerfully consider this issue.
1. We do not need the human testimony of near-death visits to heaven to prove that heaven, hell, or an afterlife is indeed real.
In an article on ChristianityToday.com, author Mark Gali said this:
“The silliest claim made in the current wave of books is that because of such experiences, we now know, as some of the titles suggest, that Heaven Is for Real or that there is Proof of Heaven. Christians believe that “heaven is for real” not because of the testimony of a 4-year-old boy or even of a neurosurgeon, but because Jesus Christ testified to such and rose from the grave to vindicate his testimony.”
Plus, we have the whole of Scripture as testimony to the truth of eternity. God’s inspired Word, from Genesis to Revelation, affirms the reality of a spiritual existence far greater – and more “real” – than this physical one. We must not point to a handful of human experiences and say, “See there, that proves it!”
2. We must not allow these experiences to shift the glory that solely belongs to God to a person.
While I was doing my brief reading “research,” something from an article from John MacArthur, hit me right between the eyes.
“We live in a narcissistic culture, and it shows in these accounts of people who claim they’ve been to heaven. They sound as if they viewed paradise in a mirror, keeping themselves in the foreground. They say comparatively little about God or His glory. But the glory of God is what the Bible says fills, illuminates, and defines heaven. Instead, the authors of these stories seem obsessed with details like how good they felt—how peaceful, how happy, how comforted they were; how they received privileges and accolades; how fun and enlightening their experience was; and how many things they think they now understand perfectly that could never be gleaned from Scripture alone. In short, they glorify self while barely noticing God’s glory. They highlight everything but what’s truly important about heaven.”
After I read this, I thought about two very familiar passages in the Bible that recount heaven “visits,” or perhaps – what many scholars feel is more likely – visions of heaven. The descriptions by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 6) and the apostle John (Revelation 4) both entirely center on God and His glory.
3. We cannot allow these human experiences to change or “interpret” biblical doctrine.
Over the centuries, Christians, agnostics, atheists, and others from every “faith” imaginable have had near death experiences. Many of these heavenly visit stories directly conflict with biblical teaching on God, salvation, the afterlife, etc.
Whether these contradictions invalidate a story completely or simply reveals a misunderstanding of the events by the one who experienced them, it absolutely confirms we must be cautious. Jesus is the final revelation of God (Hebrews 1:1-3). Human experience cannot add to or detract from the testimony of Christ or God’s inspired Word (Revelation 22:18-19).
So, what’s my conclusion? Honestly, I’m still not sure how I feel about near-death visits to heaven. But I do know that no matter the incredible nature of the story, the faith claims of the witness, or the volume of sales of their book, I will look first and always to the eternal truth of the Bible and to the faithful testimony of Jesus Christ. And I will give God the glory for it all!
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I too am always cautious of people who claim to have these experiences. I worked as a cardiovascular nurse for 25 years and stood at the bedside of many a dying patient. I’ve also been involved in resuscitation efforts of patients who were restored to life. There were occasions where people would claim to have seen a light and only good things and yet they weren’t Christians. I believe that the devil is a liar and can deceive many, giving them a false sense of peace about their future.
You are so right about looking to the Bible for answers. We may not know exactly how it will be in heaven but there is much written about it. God will be glorified. It’s not about us but about Him. People sometimes ask questions like ‘what will you ask Jesus when you get to heaven?’ All I can think of is to fall down and worship Him.
I appreciate your thoughts on these popular books Kathy.
Blessings and love,
Hi Debbie! I think “biblical caution” is the best way to approach this. I also love your statement about what you think you’ll do when you get to heaven! Amen!
I’ve had the bright light experience a couple of times when being “put into dream land” for medical procedures and I was not in a “near death” experience.
Kathy, I think your guidelines are solid Biblical principles for us to keep in mind. I especially appreciate your reminder to check out where the glory is being directed.
Thanks so much.
Sheila, thank you for coming by and for sharing your own experience with us!
Well said, Kathy. My parents gave my 10 year old son the book, Heaven is for Real, but I have not let him read it. I read it and thought it was interesting but I feel much as you. Our plumb line when assessing any book or movie, etc. must be the Scriptures. One good thing about all these faith related movies and books is the conversational door for discussing the Scriptures with people whose curiosity is peaked by the movie is thrown wide open.
Laura, you’re right it does give us an opportunity to talk and write about the things of God. This post for instance!Thanks for coming by!
Thanks for this, Kathy. It’s so important to only interpret personal experience s by what we know to be truth. All the rest is dealt with with caution and care. You did well in voicing this. Thanks so much.
Marsha, oh, you said this so well: “It’s so important to only interpret personal experience’s by what we know to be truth.” We humans sure can “misinterpret” many things if we fail to use God’s Word as our guide!
But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” This is the verse I have heard all my life, so I have a problem with anyone claiming to have seen God face to face and live to tell about it.
Hi Sue, that is definitely a passage we should keep in mind as we evaluate these experiences. I think one of the problems with many of these experiences is that God is barely mentioned and definitely not central. That’s part of the problem with some.