Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
We are now in the afterglow of remembering and celebrating the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Even though this corporate focus and celebration occurs once during the Christian year, it is a truth that transforms every aspect of our lives, every day of our lives.
In light of the resurrection, and since I promised to follow up an earlier post, today is the day to do that. This addresses the confession made by Alex Malarkey that he actually did not die and go to heaven. As we learned the publisher, Tyndale House, pulled the book from circulation.
What do we think about the accounts of those who have died and gone to heaven, and have lived to tell the story about it? Why the interest, the fascination? When asked about it, how do you respond?
This question is raised now again, not because another book has been published in this genre, but because one about whom a book was written has retracted his story.
An emphasis on heaven and the realities of heaven are good. As Augustine stated, our souls were made by God and they will be restless until they find their rest in Him. Because we have been created in the image of God, there is something more for which our souls long. If it does not find its rest in God, then it will attempt to find its rest elsewhere, some created thing, for we are all worshippers (Rom. 1:25). The truth/reality of heaven is revealed in the Word of God. Granted, the details of this eternal destiny are not fully fleshed out. But what we know and all we need to know for now and for certain is found in God’s revelation, the Word of God. It is complete, sufficient and authoritative.
This genre consisting of afterlife accounts of heaven generate interest because people, often, long for more than God has revealed, so they want a “more sure” word on this matter. That means they begin to elevate experience, and in our day and age experience trumps truth. This means that many addressing this issue go beyond what the Bible teaches about heaven.
I still find it very sobering that the written word of God trumps experience. Jesus replies to the one who is suffering in torment when he raised issues of concern about his five brothers, which is critical for us to hear again today, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them. And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead’” (Lk. 16:29-31). What is also happening among some who are writing about this after-life experience is that they are denying the reality of hell as eternal conscious punishment.
Heaven is for real. The way we know that is because God has revealed it in the Bible, not because of anyone’s experience. The exception, of course, is Jesus Christ’s, the One alone who has experienced death and been raised again and through that overcome death once-for-all. One does not intend only to be doubtful or skeptical, but one does not want to be gullible and be at a place where experience = truth, or experience determines truth or experience validates truth.
What I find intriguing and disappointing about this focus on dying and coming back to life again are these issues:
I do not put much credibility in these stories. Could God do this? Certainly. Because he could does not mean that he would or does. Furthermore, even if one makes an extremely unusual “could,” one must not make that the norm. I often think of Luke 16:19-31. They have the highest and most credible testimony possible: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (16:31). There is no greater witness than the Bible!
If you want to know what heaven is like and about, read the Bible!