A core tenet of the Christian faith is that once life on this earth is over, believers will go to a wonderful place called Heaven. It’s there that they will finally meet their Maker and live for eternity. Heaven offers a marvelous hope that there is indeed a better future that awaits and that this troubled life on earth is only temporary. As the late evangelist Billy Graham so wonderfully said, “My home is in heaven. I’m just passing through this world.”
But if heaven is a place believers go after they die, how is possible that some claim to have already been there and back?
Many people, believers and nonbelievers alike, say they have been to heaven. People like Ian McCormack, a former atheist who says before going to heaven, he first went into a place of darkness and terror. Or Don Piper who died in a car accident and spent 90 minutes in heaven before returning. Then there is Dr. Eben Alexander, the neurosurgeon who traveled to another realm on the wing of a butterfly while in a coma. And of course, the young boy, Colton Burpo, who went to heaven while battling a life-threatening episode of appendicitis. All of these people, and hundreds of others, have claimed to visit heaven, but have they really? And if not, what is going on?
Interestingly enough, countless books have been written and movies have been made about these encounters, catapulting each person into instant fortune and fame. For instance, the book, Heaven Is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back has sold over 12 million copies. The movie grossed over $150 million.
Stories like this are nothing new. Betty Eadie wrote her book, Embraced by the Light back in 1992. The book detailed her account of a near death experience that she had in 1973. While undergoing surgery, Eadie says she was transported to the afterlife where she was embraced by Jesus. After returning from her visit to heaven, she converted from Catholicism to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) and became a Mormon. Since that time, several more books have been written about visits to heaven, creating a whole new genre for which Pastor Tim Challis coined the phrase, “Heaven Tourism.”
Pastor John MacArthur, known for the radio program, Grace to You says, “For anyone who truly believes the biblical record, it is impossible to resist the conclusion that these modern testimonies—with their relentless self-focus and the relatively scant attention they pay to the glory of God—are simply untrue. They are either figments of the human imagination (dreams, hallucinations, false memories, fantasies, and in the worst cases, deliberate lies), or else they are products of demonic deception.”
If Christians are trying to determine whether or not these visitations to heaven are real, they need not look any further than the Bible. Only four people, including Isaiah, Ezekiel, Paul, and John were given visions of heaven. None of them, however, visited heaven during a near-death experience.
When the Apostle Paul spoke of someone he knew that had been “caught up to the third heaven,” he warned against talking about it. “And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows, how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” (2 Cor. 12:4).
Besides that, there are two places in the Bible that talk about going to heaven. One is Proverbs 30:4 and the other is John 3:13 that says, “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.”
The fact of the matter is Christians should not need proof that heaven is real. If they read the Bible, believers already know what awaits after death. According to MacArthur, these accounts are agnostic insights about the afterlife that have, “strong New Age and occult overtones.”
One simply has to look at new age practices called astral projection to believe this. Astral projection is described as a powerful out-of-body experience in which the soul separates from the physical body. While normally people have to will themselves to have these experiences, they have been known to happen involuntarily. During astral projection, people travel to something called the astral plane, which is a place that all consciousness is believed to reside.
Those who do like the heaven tourism books and movies must remember, that despite the fact experiences like this make good stories, they should never be regarded as truth.