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!