Debuting this weekend in theaters across the USA is a heart tugging film, Heaven is For Real. Based on the book of the same title, the story is about a young boy who ostensibly died and revived. In between his death and his resuscitation he made a brief stop-over in heaven. At least that’s the story. In the story, as I understand (having not read the book), the “risen” boy gains inexplicable knowledge, compelling his skeptical family of the genuineness of his experience, and thus the reality of heaven.
This is just one of scores of such books – people claiming to have “seen the light”, then returning to this present life. Perhaps most well known, at least before this weekend, is Don Piper’s 90 Minutes in Heaven. (Though I wonder how many people who bought his book mistakenly thought it had been penned by JOHN Piper.)
I suppose the intrigue with such books is understandable. People are looking for hope and assurance. And what better way to learn about heaven than to hear testimonials of those who have ostensibly been there?
And I get why the release of a film like Heaven is For Real would be scheduled for Easter weekend. Easter is a day associated with religious hope, resurrection, etc. So a film like this, especially in a widely biblically illiterate culture, tugs the heart strings while feeding religious (and superstitious) hunger pangs. I suspect that the film will widen the belief in – or at least interest in – many such claims to these experiences.
But what should a Christian think about such claims?
While I cannot claim definitive expertise on this subject, I have some significant qualms about claims to near-death experiences. For one reason, it seems to me that “near-death” is like “near pregnant” – either one is, or is not. I get that some flat-line and then resuscitate. But is that actual death? Second, the claims I have heard regarding this experience are dubious. For instance, I have read that in the case of the Heaven Is For Real kid, that there is no record of him having coded… My greatest skepticism is because few (if any) of those who claim to have gone to heaven for a time make any mention of necessity of Jesus for access. While this may not be troubling for non-Christians, the Believer must reconcile these claims to what Jesus taught us in such passages as John 14.6.
Scripture is largely silent about this subject. In fact, when I think about it, I find it interesting God did not include a testimony from Lazarus about his experience or the reality of heaven anywhere in the New Testament. Perhaps that is because there are things about heaven that are intended to remain a mystery to us for a time.
In a recent podcast, John Piper does discuss this subject. In short, Piper says: “If books go beyond scripture, I doubt what they say…” But take a moment to listen to what Piper has to say: Heaven Is For Real