Near death experiences

Near death experiences

I note that there’s yet another book out about someone who claims they made a visit to heaven while being clinically dead. An earlier book on that theme sold more than five-million copies and ended up on the New York Times bestseller list. I’m tempted to say that the author must be laughing all the way to the bank – except that it would be very ungracious of me to say that – and besides, the author is a pastor and pastors don’t normally laugh all the way to the bank…!

I read that book (90-minutes in heaven) some years ago. It’s okay; I didn’t buy it, a parishioner loaned it to me because he wanted to hear what I thought of it. So what do I think of this latest publishing phenomenon of what someone has called “Heaven Tourism” books?

Let me say at the outset that I do believe in near-death experiences. I’ve heard too many stories from parishioners over the years to doubt their reality. As medical science is able to resuscitate people and bring them back from clinical death more successfully than in previous generations, we are increasingly likely to hear such tales.

Yet it was an elderly man from a previous generation who often told a very convincing story from the days when he was a lad. He would tell of falling into a canal and drowning. Someone pulled him out and they commenced emergency CPR. When he rallied he got groggily to his feet and promptly jumped back into the canal. After dragging him out a second time they scolded him for his stupidity but he told them he wanted to go back to the beautiful gardens and flowers that were at the bottom of the canal. Harry always testified that he was not afraid of death because he had been there and that the Lord had given him just a small glimpse of the beauty of another world.

Stories like that are increasingly common and many of them have been carefully documented. My own mother told a similar story when she briefly “died” on one occasion during surgery.

The question is, “What are we to do with such stories and such books”? And may we accept that a near-death experience can actually bring you to heaven and back? Maybe this blog needs to come with a warning, “Don’t try this at home!” The medical people may get to you too late…!

The recent rash of these “heaven tourism” books ought to make us very cautious. A review of one such book by a Christian pastor points out that the particular book he was reviewing was very “new age” in its approach. It was very light on any kind of Christian teaching and the gospel was overshadowed by lots of “sub Christian nonsense”.

In fact, Tyndale House Publishers have just gone through the embarrassing process of apologising to its customers for producing a fake “Heaven Tourism” book. The book had the title, “The boy who came back from heaven”. But the boy, Alex Malarkey, recently admitted that he had made up the story. I would suggest that if Jesus and the gospel are not central in a book about heaven then it’s not worth reading. And maybe we have a right to be doubly suspicious if we read that the “near death” victim witnessed that Jesus has a rainbow-coloured unicorn as a pet.

There are some other things that we ought to keep in mind.

First, we have an incident in the life of Paul where he speaks about being caught up to Paradise. In Paul’s case he’s not even sure whether it was an “out of body” experience. Maybe it was a near-death experience when he was stoned at Lystra (Acts 14). However the telling thing about Paul’s account of his experience in 2Corithinians 12 is that he heard inexpressible things, things “that man is not permitted to tell.” That ought to be a good caution for us to place too much trust in “Heaven Tourism” books.

Second, we should keep in mind that there is so much we do not know. People have commented that in crisis moments they experienced their life flashing before their eyes. Are glorious visions of light and splendour part of God’s common grace in making the journey through the valley of death a little easier? To what extent have people who had a near- death experience really been to heaven and back?

Finally we ought to trust in the totally sufficiency of God’s Word. We don’t need “Heaven Tourism” books. The Scriptures tell us all we need to know about heaven and especially about how to get there when we die. The rest is really unnecessary sensationalism.