If you take a quick stroll through the religion section of a bookstore, it might surprise you how many people are going to heaven these days but are not staying.
Currently, there are no less than twelve such books for sale on Amazon about people who have taken a brief heavenly tour. What’s going on? Are they running out of room in Glory Land? Are these people being deputized for a special mission to convince a cynical world that heaven is real?
If so, the Kevin Malarkey story doesn’t help. This six-year-old spent two months in a coma after a car accident in 2004. It was during this time that he claimed he went to heaven. The book became a New York Times best seller. Now a teenager, Kevin claims he made up the entire story to get attention. It turns out that Kevin’s version of heaven was a lot of Malarkey.
Of course, this fuels the flames of every cynic who chastises the faithful for daring to believe in an afterlife. For many, it will cast doubt on the stories of others who claim to have briefly entered another world only to be given an opportunity to live here a while longer.
It is disappointing to hear that a book touted as a true story has turned out to be nothing more than imagination of a six-year-old. However, the Malarkey story and other accountings of people dying and going to heaven may be telling us more about ourselves than they are telling us about heaven. What are these books telling us?
We have a deep desire to live beyond the grave. People struggle with meaning and purpose. If we crawl into a grave and return to the earth, same as the animals, same as the leaves that fall from the trees, what is the meaning of life? Heaven provides us with a sense of purpose and meaning. We want to know that this life has a destination.
We need hope. Hope is an unseen but motivating force that keeps us moving forward. Without hope, our lives can spiral into despair, chaos, self-destruction, and possibly into destructive behavior toward the world around us. While heaven is often seen as a motivating factor in living moral, godly lives, it is also hope for anyone who hasn’t lived that kind of life, because heaven cannot be earned anyway. It is a gift of God, through the grace and mercy of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
We are looking for deliverance from our pain. This world is a world of suffering. Many people suffer until the day they die. For some, death loses its great fearful hold because heaven will be such a better place to be. Some people are reading these books to hear some assurance that this is the case.
We are curious about the details of heaven. When we go on a trip, we always come back with pictures to show our friends. If we’ve never been to China, France, or South Africa, we want to see the pictures they provide us so we can have some frame of reference to that foreign country. Likewise, if someone says he or she has seen heaven and describes it in word pictures, we are naturally curious enough to want to see those word pictures for ourselves.
Not only do we want to know what heaven looks like; we want to know who’s there. Some wonder whether their baby who died remains a baby in heaven. Others want to know if people can their loved ones on earth. Can people understand each other’s language? What do you do there? Will we see Jesus? If someone claims to know, we might buy his or her book.
People’s claims of entering heaven after a near-death experience don’t prove heaven is real any more than those people who come back from a near-death experience and don’t have such a story to tell prove it doesn’t exist.
For Christians, proving that heaven is real has never been an issue. We accept that it cannot be proven, no more than we can prove that God created the universe. For us, our entire faith rises and falls on the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus into heaven. Without Jesus’ resurrection, we have no faith. Without the resurrection of Jesus, our faith would be a bunch of malarkey, and heaven, too.
However, because of the resurrection, we live with the assurance of our salvation, and thus of our promise of heaven, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, which Paul wrote about to the church at Ephesus: “The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him (Ephesians 1:14 NLT).”
It is because of the grace of God through Jesus, that heaven, the inheritance Paul speaks of, is even a possibility. That doesn’t mean that heaven didn’t exist before Jesus. However, it may explain the reason that the concept of heaven is not very developed in the Old Testament.
It should be noted that just because we believe there is a heaven doesn’t mean we are all going. It does seem that most people at funerals believe that’s where the person has gone. However, it might do us all good to read the Good Book and see what it has to say about heaven and about the qualifications for getting there.
It does seem a bit unusual given the grave state that the world is in that we haven’t had a plethora of books being written on one’s brush with hell. It could be that if the old devil ever gets his hands on us in the afterlife, he’s not about to let go of us and send us back to warn our friends. But if there’s some money to be made in some book sales, I have a feeling that eventually someone’s going to slip through his hands and come back to tell us about it. It will be up to us all to decide whether it really happened or if it just more malarkey.