For heaven's sake, what do you know about heaven?
Well, the only thing I really know about heaven is that heaven is the abode of God and one day I want to get there. Sometimes, I think sooner rather than later.
Some are claiming to have had near death experiences where they have seen heaven. Some of these accounts are making news today. Books are selling and movies are being made. Are these visions true?
There are a few ways to handle that question. One way would be to simply ignore these episodes as irrelevant. Humanists might do so.
Here another way, "Heaven Is For Real - David Platt - Secret Church" - a speech by David Platt at a recent conference called "Secret Church." I find the idea of "Secret Church" more disturbing than the idea that some are having visions that are being talked about at a "Secret Church" conference. There is nothing secret or to be secret about the Church (In our American context. That is not to discount the necessity of the "underground" church in some parts of the world)!
But perhaps asking if these visions of heaven are true really is not the right question. Perhaps the better question is what can we learn from these experiences and our response to them?
As much as I appreciate the ministry of David Platt, I think he is missing the point and the opportunity here in his recent talk (see Youtube link above). The experience of a little boy named Colton is personal - for Colton. I don't think it is necessary to make truth claims about personal experiences. Personal experiences are not testable or proveable but rather subjective and, well, personal.
These visions of heaven seem very real to those who have had them. I am not saying they are accurate portrayals of heaven. But rather that they seem very real in the moment to those who report them. I find it somewhat audacious to declare they cannot be true and then try to argue from Scripture like John MacArthur did recently.
MacArhtur, also known for his cessationist views, in an upcoming book dealing with this subject of visions of heaven, says:
We know this with absolute certainty, because Scripture definitively says that people do not go to heaven and come back: "Who has ascended to heaven and come down?" (Proverbs 30:4). Answer: "No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man" (John 3:13, emphasis added). All the accounts of heaven in Scripture are visions, not journeys taken by dead people. And even visions of heaven are very, very rare in Scripture. You can count them all on one hand.I have two problems with this line of reasoning. First, the first sentence in the quote is a red herring. The Colton ("Heaven is For Real") experience is not an in body experience, as we know that little Colton never left the planet to go to heaven and return, physically. Neither have any of the others who have reported their visions. Second, why is it necessary to discount the Scriptural evidence of visions of heaven we do have to make an argument against visions of heaven?
What can we understand about this place called heaven from the Scripture evidence that we do have?
Four authors in the Bible were blessed with visions of heaven and wrote about what they saw: the prophets Isaiah (Chapter 6) and Ezekiel (Chapter 1) gave us some amazing detail, along with the apostles John (Revelation 4). The apostle Paul also had a vision of heaven that he describes as indescribable and says, "I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord" (2 Corinthians 12:1-7). Two others, Micaiah and Stephen, got glimpses of heaven, but what they saw is only mentioned, not described (2 Chronicles 18:18; Acts 7:55).
That makes six accounts, but I only have five fingers on one hand. Hopefully you do as well. That's fairly weighty evidence if we believe that these authors are inspired and making truth claims.
Isn't it short-sighted to discount these Biblical witnesses because we doubt the accounts of a young boy? To MacArthur's first point above, Paul says he does not know whether his experience was in the body or in the spirit - but only God knows (1 Corinthian 12:3). That's how it should be.
Jesus also gives us an other-worldly view in the story of the the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Obviously, it was important to our Lord for him to tell us at least something about how heaven is for real. We may accept by faith that heaven is our final destination but as we see pictured in the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus not everyone enters heaven. And, that should always be the point!
We can take at face value that those who report these visions of heavens are expressing a subjective personal experience. We can also accept that because it is a personal experience it may not be an accurate account of what heaven is like. Is the Holy Spirit "kind of blue?" To one little boy that is how it seemed.
What all these books sales should tell us is that there is spiritual hunger in the land. That people are looking for hope - even most Christians.
What we should be talking about with respect to these various visions by those who have had a near death experience, which science cannot explain, is the reality of heaven and the only way to get there (John 14:6). Visions should point us to the God who is there and to the only way to heaven. What we should be talking about is Jesus!
Randy Alcorn, author of "Heaven," expresses it well in his review of the movie, "Heaven is For Real" when he writes:
"My prayer is that God will use the interest around the movie to open doors for believers to be bold in sharing what Scripture has to say about Heaven and the need for everyone to place their faith in Jesus Christ."When we focus on attacking the veracity of personal experiences, however, we can miss the opportunity those accounts present to share the Gospel. Could God be using these accounts to get our attention today? Let us pray it is so. God uses that which he wills to accomplish that which he purposes, for heaven's sake!