Heaven Is for Real – Still II

About a month ago I blogged about a best-selling book about a child’s alleged visit to heaven.  The boy has been recanting the book for at least two years and the book has finally been pulled from publication by the publisher.

The initial NPR article I linked to didn’t have much detail, but my wife forwarded me this article with considerably more detail.  It reads pretty much like I expected it would, implying that the estranged husband seems to be responsible for exaggerating or even fabricating material in his son’s name.  Of course the role of money as a motivator – both for personal success as well as in dealing with what must be monumental bills for the boy’s treatment – is front and center.  Implicated are a Christian publishing and merchandising culture that seizes on opportunities to make a buck.  Nothing terribly unexpected.

The one thing I did find interesting was this quote early in the article from noted public pastor John MacArthur:

“All these supposed trips to heaven are hoaxes, and they prey on people in the most vulnerable way, because they treat death in a superficial, deceptive fashion.”

I have a hard time accepting this, while at the same time admitting that I am a skeptic myself.  MacArthur goes so far as to assert authoritatively that no such experiences occur.  I’m not sure on what basis he can make such an assertion.  Reading his Wikipedia profile (linked to above) it is clear that MacArthur is not shy about authoritative statements about what can and can’t happen, what God the Holy Spirit does and doesn’t do.  While I appreciate what I presume to be a fierce resistance against the exploitation of God’s people by frauds of one stripe or another, again I don’t see how he can claim this.

I regularly work with individuals from a broad array of Christian persuasions, from Roman Catholics to Pentecostals and New Agers and atheists.  I always attempt to be respectful of different Christian traditions even when they differ from my own.  I’m not comfortable with charismatic and Pentecostal practices either (as indicated in MacArthur’s Wiki write-up), but I can’t see a Scriptural basis for asserting that they are always outright lies and fabrications, well-intentioned or otherwise.  I don’t see the Scriptural passages that state that God has definitively chosen to stop working the way He did in the early Church.

As such, I have to affirm that such things and practices could be true.  I trust that some people are privileged with a glimpse of heaven, either in a traumatic, near-death experience or in other forms.  I can’t say whether or not any specific such claim is true or not, other than by comparing what is reported with Scripture.  If what the individual claims they did or saw or experienced contradicts the Word of God, then I know that person must be mistaken or incorrect, either in whole or in part.  Where no such clear contradiction exists, I’m willing to grant that it might be authentic.

But always the question becomes – to what end?  If the experience was authentic then what purpose does it serve?  I believe it must serve the same purpose as all of God’s revelation – to point us to Christ.  If it doesn’t do this, it is being misused, whether specifically for personal gain or not.  Such experiences stand in a long history of revelatory experience both in and out of Scripture.  The importance is to evaluate and then incorporate such experiences into this larger continuum, a continuum ultimately intended to direct others not to the individuals who experienced such things, but to Christ through whom such experiences have ultimate meaning.

I haven’t seen the Heaven Is for Real movie nor do I intend to.  Reading the book was more than enough.  The fact that another, similar book has been discredited does not necessarily mean that all such accounts are false.  But we need to take these accounts for what they are worth, which is far secondary to the Lord and life to which they should always and exclusively point.

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