Why I won’t read your book on visiting Heaven

second_coming

Not too long ago, I received a copy of one of the many books on someone’s alleged trip to heaven and back. I couldn’t bring myself to read more than a few pages before putting it down.

This was probably the biggest trend I noticed in the “Religion and Spirituality” category of publishing over the last couple of years (especially since the wild success of Heaven is for Real), one I hope won’t continue into 2013.

I chose to not read the book about visiting heaven I received—and will continue to do the same for one reason:

They’re almost certainly not true.

That may seem like a nasty bit of prejudgement, but here’s the thing: the Apostle Paul was “caught up to the third heaven”and what he saw and heard “cannot be told, which man may not utter” (see 2 Cor. 12:2-4). Paul in these verses describes this vision of heaven in the third person—which some commentators suggest means he was so hesitant to even talk about it at all, especially in the context of his self-defence against the “super-apostles” at Corinth.

So why do so many people feel they’ve got a freedom that Paul did not?

Some may ask, “but what about other heavenly visions in Scripture?” There are a few experiences recorded. One in particular (Ezekiel) is filled with such peculiar imagery it’s probably not a good idea to base your full theology on it. The others (in Isaiah and Revelation) have a consistent focal point: Jesus.

Isaiah saw the Lord on His throne with the angels singing, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of Hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isa. 6:3) His response? To utter a prophetic curse upon himself and wish for his own death (Isa. 6:5). He recognized his own sinfulness and knew he had no right to stand before the Lord. John’s experience was much the same, falling at the Lord’s feet “as though dead” (Rev. 1:17).

They saw the Lord and were humbled and terrified, until the Lord intervened. Isaiah’s unclean lips were made clean with a coal from the Lord’s altar; John was told to “Fear not.” And their right response was worship of Jesus.

But back to Paul. His speaking of being caught up into paradise”—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows,” he reminds us (2 Cor. 12:3)—was for a single purpose: to quiet the needless boasting about visions.

In effect, he was saying, “If you really want to see who’s got the greater ‘achievements,’ I win.” But he does so in a very interesting way—rather than boasting in his successes (after all, he was instrumental in converting a massive amount of people, and planting dozens of churches), he boasts in his weaknesses. He tells of his many shipwrecks, lashings, beatings, being left for dead, and of the “thorn in the flesh” the Lord permitted to persist.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

This is something we ought to keep in mind as we read or hear of others’ experiences. If what you read or hear does not model the same attitude as that of Paul, Isaiah and John—postures of meekness and humility, a fearful trepidation of even discussing such things!—then beware. I realize many of these authors are trying to be genuinely encouraging to people who are hurt, lonely and grieving, but they don’t need 72 Seconds in Heaven—they need Revelation 4, 5 and 21! There is no greater comfort for us than what’s found in the Scriptures. Christian, look nowhere else.

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  • Jason kanz

    Aaron,
    Thank you for writing this. I have been saying this for some time. I linked to this on my facebook page and it has generated a fair amount of discussion already. One of the questions that arose was essentially, if what you are saying is true, then what are all these stories? Why would people write them?

    I am inclined to respond that 1) they generate wealth, 2) we hear what we want to hear (as in the case of the Burpo dad listening to his son), 3) Satan deceives, or 4) some neurological change that occurs with near death experiences.

    How do you respond?

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      Hey Jason, responding to the question is difficult to some degree because it assumes the infallibility of experience (the postmodern ideal). My experience means it’s true for me, even if it’s not true for you, that kind of thing.

      I am inclined to lean heavier on the second and third options you’ve outlined (although I have no doubt there are some who are profiteers in this whole business). While some folks may have had an experience of some type, it’s not necessarily a true one. Satan deceives us and, more frequently, we deceive ourselves. This is why we must bring these things under submission to the Word of God and use it as our measure for what’s true and what’s not. Feelings and experiences are secondary to that. Not sure if that helps?

  • http://www.facebook.com/josh.linn.33 Josh Linn

    So true, brother. The focus of these books never seems to be upon the Lord, but always on the amazing imagery and things people get to do – so sad that people prefer these fabrications over the ageless truths of God’s Word!

  • Byron

    Well stated Aaron!

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      Thanks Byron!

  • http://www.beforethecross.com/ Mike Mobley

    Excellent post on this, definitely going to share it. Always struck me as strange that people can so vividly describe these experiences when the actual Word of God doesn’t do that and emphasizes the fact that it is a struggle to even put such a thing into words.

    Also, those stories don’t always seem to glorify Christ in the end, but more of a spiritual experience that people want to go through after reading about it.

  • Donna Lochrige

    Good for you! I too think it’s a bunch of bunk to make a few dollars and by the devil to deceive folks into thinking they can bypass repentance, confession, suffering, etc in salvation. That all will be saved and go to Heaven. Lies from the pit!

  • Linda Gabriel

    Great article and needs to be shared. Reminds me of a story my pastor tells of a man who claimed that one day he saw Jesus in the mirror while he was shaving. The other person challenged the man’s story with a simple question: “When you saw Jesus in the mirror, did you just keep on shaving?” ‘Nuff said.

  • Carolyn

    Your article was very good. Even though, I am one that really died and Jesus sent me back. I cannot remember what we talked about, only that He asked me to do something for Him, I said yes, and He said I had to go back. He sent me back and said, I promise, you will be with Me when I return. I was 12 years old, now 55.

    When I woke up, I had had a nosebleed in my sleep (caked blood in my hair, ran down into my ears, in my mouth, blood clots in my nose), of which was a problem I had from birth and my parents had to take me to the ER constantly to be packed in ice to get the bleeding to stop. (Long story). After that, I never have had those nosebleeds again. I believe Jesus healed me then. Well, when I was in my late 30’s, I prayed to God about what I thought was a dream, He said turn to Ezekiel 16:6. He told me after I read it that He sent me back.

    I believe what happened to me was real. I did not see “heaven” so to speak. Jesus and I were walking on this beach. The only thing I saw was a sliver of light, like a portal, if you will. He went through it, I sat on the bolder like He told me, and after a few minutes got up to try to see where He went, and sat up in bed.

    I don’t remember a face. Only the look in His eyes, as we were walking on the beach, and when He stopped and was like listening, then He turned to me and told me He would like for me to do something for Him. His eyes were really kind, thoughtful, and like He was taking in so much information, like conversating with someone and then relaying to me what was discussed. (I believe Jesus still does what he hears His Father say…)

    I only write this because not everyone is lying, making up things about heaven and dying and coming back.

    Thank you for allowing me to post.

    Carolyn

    • Carolyn

      I should mention, what He wanted me to do was … write a book. But it is not about seeing heaven or anything like that, it is about the Church-us; a novel, The Realm of the Unseen (Kindle).

      Tagline:

      The Realm of the Unseen: A territory located in the spiritual sphere
      and governed by you—or, if you allow them—the principalities and powers with
      which you will inevitably wrestle.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Josh-Dear/685415113 Josh Dear

        Carolyn – I glanced at your book on Amazon, and read the preface to it. I can’t help but be troubled by your discussion about God telling you that he’d “already written the book”, and that he just needed somebody to “download it to”. That sounds an awful lot like divine inspiration – and the Bible itself claims to be the only “God-breathed” book in the world – with no further additions necessary.

        That’s part of what Aaron is talking about in the article above. People claim to have experienced, heard and seen all sorts of things – and how can one person possibly “refute” what another person claims to have experienced? We really can’t – nobody truly knows our experiences but us. Yet, what we DO know is that God’s Word is true, and it doesn’t change. So, even when we are convinced that we HAVE experienced something as you claim to have experienced in your dialogues with the Lord, we still have to hold even those experiences up to the truth of what the Bible tells us, because – after all – we are all capable of misunderstanding our experiences, remembering things incorrectly, or believing some experience was more profound than it actually was.

        My goal in sharing these thoughts is not to say that you DIDN’T experience the things that you believe that you did – but to encourage you to compare what you do believe you experienced with what God’s Word plainly says – such as in the closing passage of Revelation, which explicitly forbids anything from being “added to” what God has already revealed to us in the pages of Scripture.

        To claim that a novel about “the spiritual sphere” (whatever that is, exactly) was given to you verbatim by God himself – and that you were simply “His Scribe” – is an extremely bold claim to make, and puts you in VERY dangerous spiritual territory if you or anybody else starts equating your novel with God’s holy Word.

        Regarding one of your other comments about God wanting you to also have your book animated “on the scale of Disney”, I must say – that’s definitely the first time that I’ve heard of God telling anybody something like that (especially since Mr. Disney was acknowledged to be an atheist himself)! Regardless, ANY experiences that we have with God throughout our earthly lives should hopefully draw us closer to him, and help us to serve him more faithfully and proclaim the gospel of Christ with greater passion. I hope that your own ministry does that, and I hope that he’s pleased by it.

        • Carolyn

          Hi Josh:

          I can understand your skepticism. But I think sometimes
          people have a tendency to be unbalanced in their views about what is God and what is not God. Some people believe that God does not speak to people, some believe He does. I believe He does. I believe that God inspires people today and I believe that God inspired me to write The Realm of the Unseen.

          When I stated that God told me that He had already written the book and that He just needed someone to download it
          to, the conversation was because I did not want to write the book. God used something I could relate to as He said, “You like computer’s right?” I said, yes. “You like uploading and downloading, right?” Again,I said, yes. He said, “Well, I have already written the book, I just need someone to download it to. Will you do it?” At which point, I got His meaning. Which to me meant, He would lead, guide and yes, had already written the book…a good work prepared in advance for me to do.

          “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good
          works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10 Could that be possible? I believe it is a good work prepared in advance for me to do. Divine inspiration does happen today.

          God gives people creative ideas. This is a creative idea. God gives people insight into His Word. If I were telling another story, I would be scared, if I were telling another Gospel…I am not telling another story. This story is about Jesus Christ born of a virgin, crucified, resurrected, and returning again. God simply took His Word and expounded on it in story form. Some people need to be reached this way.

          Revelation 22 states:

          18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.

          Expound:

          Present and explain (a theory or idea) systematically and in detail.

          Explain the meaning of (a literary or doctrinal work).

          Many people have expounded on Scripture. You have expounded on the Scriptures, I have expounded on the Scriptures. Again, I took the Word of God and told it in story format. I did not change God’s Word, or His meaning. And personally, without His leading and guidance, I would not have even ventured to write this story.

          Whether you believe it or not, there is a realm that we do not see. Ephesians 6 tells us plainly:

          The Armor of God

          10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

          18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

          Thisis the thesis of my book. It is a book about putting on the full Armor of God, standing ones ground, and takes each piece of the armor in systematic order and detail.

          A Scribe is “one who writes”. In the Old Testament, Scribes
          made copies of official documents. They wrote letters, decrees and other documents. (Jeremiah 8:8; Esther 8:9; 2Kings 12:10, 25:19). The New Testament scribes were a special group among the Jewish religious leaders. Their primary duties were to study the law of Moses, teach it to the people, and to help settle disputes involving the questions of the law.

          When I stated I was just His Scribe, referring to Old Testament Scribes, I was simply stating, I just wrote it down. When I write songs, I tell people, God gave me the songs, and I just write them down, because He does. He inspires me and I write. A lot of Christian songwriters feel this way.

          (Actually, a well known minister of the Gospel said to me in a crowd of over 20,000 people: “A worshiper! Honey God says He sees you when you are sitting on your bed writing those praise and worship songs. And when you are in your kitchen dancing, He’s dancing with you! You make His heart glad!” What was unusual about that is that, I do sit on my bed and write praise and worship songs, spending hours in the Presence of God. And when I am washing my dishes, I sing praise and worship songs to Him and dance around the kitchen before Him.)

          Take God out of the box, sir! You have Him neatly packaged with no license to be Sovereign! God can and does move as He wants. He adheres to His Word and He is Emmanuel, God with us. Moving in our lives, inspiring, and using methods He chooses to minister to people in.

          If God wants to animate on the scale of Disney, why shouldn’t He? Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were/are atheists, but you probably wrote your statements on some Microsoft or Apple software. So, what is that? We are in the world, not of it. I do not advocate Disney’s atheist views nor Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, nor any atheist views. Thomas Edison was an atheist, but, I am still going to use electricity, listen to music, and use camera’s, because God gave it.

          The information was with God, He gave it to man. If God wants to use electricity, use picture’s, motion pictures, or whatever method He chooses to promulgate the Gospel, He is Sovereign. Do you not know that everything that exists is because of God? It is God’s wisdom, not mans. You and I can take these things God gave the wisdom to be developed and use them for the Glory of God. That is what I will do. With God’s help, I will do all that He tells me to do.

          God talks to me. I talk to God.He promised to be with us. He is. He leads us by His Spirit. I will sum up with this song the Lord gave me. Yes, by inspiration…

          How many people
          Are hearing My voice
          In the world
          Today

          And how many people
          Are coming close to Me
          To listen to what I have
          To say

          You are the ones
          Standing nearby
          My throne
          Of grace

          And you are the ones
          Entrusted to speak
          Through your lives
          The Word of Faith

          Chorus

          So get on your posts
          Go to the lost
          The weary and
          The lame

          Bring them to Me
          Bring them to see
          The glory of
          My face

          Go past yourself
          Into the world
          Where the hurting
          Stay

          Bring in the sheaves
          Bring in the thieves
          Go to every
          Race…

          Ohh-it’s still called “Today”

          Did you forget
          Disciples I have
          Called you to
          Make

          And did you forget
          My kingdom comes
          Only when for it
          You pray

          The fields are bursting
          My harvest sits
          But My blood
          I’ve paid

          You’ve taken a vow
          To be a kernel of wheat
          Tell Me, when will you
          Obey

          Chorus

          So get on your posts
          Go to the lost
          The weary and
          The lame

          Bring them to Me
          Bring them to see
          The glory of
          My face

          Go past yourself
          Into the world
          Where the hurting
          Stay

          Bring in the sheaves
          Bring in the thieves
          Go to every
          Race…

          Ohh-it’s still called “Today”

          ©2008
          Carolyn D. Ward

          • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

            The thing about using a phrase like “divine inspiration still happens today” is what you mean or don’t mean by it. Your comments above could be taking as saying you’ve received revelation that is equally authoritative with Scripture, which I would assume (and hope) is not what you’re saying.

            Does God inspire new revelation in the way He did via the Old Testament Prophets or Christ’s Apostles? Nope. Everything we need for salvation and a life of godliness have been revealed to us (2 Tim. 3:15-17) and He has spoken to us fully by Jesus, His Son (Heb. 1:2), no new authoritative revelation is required.

            Does God “inspire” in a general sense? Sure. All creativity flows from God, because the ones doing the creative work are made in the image of God (although not all creative work is God-honoring or glorifying).

            Josh is right to be sensitive when terms like divine inspiration or revelation; Christians are called not to rely on experiences or visions, but solely on the Scriptures as their basis for truth (2 Pet. 1:16-21). Sadly these terms have been abused by far too many, especially those who have proclaimed themselves to be Prophets in the modern era and were charlatans and heretics (think Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, and the false teachers in the prosperity theology movement).

            While this is somewhat tangential to the initial conversation, it’s wise for us to keep this in mind, especially in this type of discussion.

            • Carolyn

              Aaron, I truly do not mean that I have received revelation that is equally authoritative with Scripture. I mean simply that God is the driving force behind the songs, book, teachings that I write. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is what I expound on. Nothing new or that adds to or take away from the Gospel message.

              In my book, I was timid at first to write what God told me to write about the same thing you speak of: “and the false teachers in the prosperity theology movement”-but God had me write about it because He said it had to be spoken. He had me add this Scripture from Titus 1:

              10 For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision,11 who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain. 12 One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.

              God bless you.