There and Back Again

Near-Death Stories

By Beth Hyduke

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But, as it is written,
     What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
           Nor the heart of man imagined,
     What God has prepared for those who love him.

1 Corinthians 2:9
Lately, there seems to be a glut of nominally "Christian" books about visiting heaven. They espouse that it's possible to visit heaven (or hell) roundtrip. Many then provide a personal account of a person who claims that they died, toured the afterlife, and returned to life here on earth. The books have a wide audience with many believers, while the more discerning question and investigate to see if there's any truth to them.

Before we even get into the theology of all of this, let's approach this issue from the standpoint of common sense. One problem with the credibility of such accounts that becomes immediately apparent as soon as you look into them is that each of these accounts vary so widely in their detailed descriptions of heaven, God, the saints, and the angels, as to grossly contradict one another. Logically, this should raise an immediate red flag about their credibility. If several individuals, traveling separately, visited the Eiffel Tower and one of them comes back reporting it is short and round, another that it is elliptical like a jellybean, another that it's flat and sprawling, we would be right to question the credibility of these reports (and of these travelers). Even if we have never seen the Eiffel Tower for ourselves, we know that since the Eiffel Tower is a real landmark — a place that actually exists — it is impossible that all of the travelers' reports can be true of it since they so drastically conflict with each other.

Fortunately, as Christian believers we do not have to idly wonder which traveler among those claiming to have visited Heaven might actually be telling the truth. God does not leave us in the dark about Heaven, but gives us reliable information so that we can know what happens when we die. The first detail He provides concerns the experience of every man and woman at death and of the subsequent afterlife. Hebrews 9:27 tells us that "...people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment..." This is a very clear description of the order of events that God has ordained; in other words, there are no people going back and forth, from this life to the next and then back, to tell us what they saw and experienced there. People making this claim, then, must either be lying about it or are else genuinely mistaken about what they think they saw and experienced while they were in a near-death state. This would adequately explain the logical problem of conflicting reports of individuals claiming to have all been visitors to the same location. Tim Challies, in an article humorously titled "Heaven Tourism," writes:
The Bible says that it is for man to die once and then to experience the resurrection. There are many experiences we can have in a near-death state I am sure—dream-like experiences that may even seem real—but the Bible gives us no reason to believe that a person will truly die, truly experience the afterlife, and then return. Those who have a biblical understanding of life and death and heaven and hell will know that for a person to die and visit heaven, to experience sinlessness and the presence of Jesus Christ—for that person it would be the very height of cruelty to then demand that they return to earth. None of these books are at all consistent with a robust theology of heaven and hell, of the work of Jesus Christ, of the existence of indwelling sin.
Whether the people making these claims are deliberately lying or are sincerely misled, these claims are contradictory to the Bible's teachings on the afterlife. Regardless of their motives, the claims they are making are untrue. Proverbs 30:4 asks a series of rhetorical questions which only find their answer in God:
Who has gone up to heaven and come down?
    Whose hands have gathered up the wind?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak?
    Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is His name, and what is the name of His son?
    Surely you know!
That same question, "Who has gone up to heaven and come down?" is later definitively answered by Jesus in John 3:13: "No one has ascended into heaven except He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man." Jesus' categorical no one makes it abundantly clear that Don Piper, Bill Wiese, Mary Neal, Dennis Prince, and a host of other human beings all claiming to have visited the afterlife are deceived at best, and at worst, deliberate deceivers of others.

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Published 1-11-2016