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Visiting Heaven

Two common questions I hear regarding Heaven are: ‘Can I believe the stories of those who claim to have died, gone to Heaven, then returned?’ and ‘Can those who are in Heaven see what is going on here on earth?’ While there is lots of information about Heaven in the Bible, the answers to these questions are a little harder to find.

Stories from Heaven

There are three perspectives on the first question regarding stories of those who claim to have seen Heaven, and then returned.

1. Many conservative theologians argue that these stories are all false, based on imagination or impure motives. John Macarthur state “Stories like [these] are as dangerous as they are seductive. Readers not only get a twisted, unbiblical picture of heaven; they also imbibe a subjective, superstitious, shallow brand of spirituality. Studying mystical accounts of supposed journeys into the afterlife yields nothing but confusion, contradiction, false hope, bad doctrine, and a host of similar evils.” These theologians quote John 3:13 that tells us ‘No one has ascended into Heaven except ... the Son of Man.’ Examples are given of those in the Bible who died and then were resurrected. In no case was a description given of what they experienced. Four people in the Bible were given visions of Heaven (Ezekiel, Isaiah, John the Apostle, and Paul), all of whom focus on the glory of God, and not on experiences or people. They do believe, however, that our tendency to focus on and show interest in the afterlife is very healthy, and even important (Colossians 3:1-2; 2 Corinthians 4:18; Philippians 3:20). by Pastor John Macarthur

2. Many trustworthy scientists and doctors believe that these ‘near-death-experiences’ are real. Dr. Steven Laureys of a hospital in Belgium says, “People who go on these fantastic journeys are often forever changed. Many seem to come back happier and no longer fear death. The experience becomes a cornerstone of their lives.” The key point these people make is that the experiences related have a very common theme, and seem quite consistent.

3. I believe, as in many tough questions, that the answer lies in between the extreme views. What the Bible does teach is discernment. We are to judge all of our experiences with what the scriptures teach, knowing that God’s Word is always true. Often our experiences can be deceptive based on physiological or spiritual forces we do not always understand. The spirit world is very real, with both God’s angels and Satan’s demons at work to influence mankind. The angels work to bring people to the truth, and the demons work to deceive and to thwart God’s plan.

The problem with the extreme view of no truth to any visits is that there are stories that do align with the truth of the Bible. Also, the verse (John 3:13) refers to the time before Christ’s resurrection. Since then, Paul tells us that those who truly believe in Christ do go directly into the presence of God upon their physical death (2 Corinthians 5:8). The problem with the other extreme view is two-fold: we have actual accounts of people lying about their experience, and we know from scripture that not all people go to Heaven, so most of the NDE’s should be seeing the place of torment instead of Heaven.

Key Point: Discernment. Ask God to show you from scripture if the story you heard lines up, and if the event helped the person have more hope.

Seeing from Heaven

What does the Bible say about what people can see from Heaven? The truth is, we cannot be completely certain. What we need to be careful of is why we want them to see us! We have only one mediator, which is Jesus Christ. Those who have gone before us are witnesses whose examples we can follow (Hebrews 12:1), but whether or not they are watching us is unclear. On one hand, 2 Corinthians 5:1-3 indicates that when we are given our glorified bodies (go to Heaven), we are released of our ‘burdens of mortality,’ which means that we no longer are concerned with what is going on with those still earth-bound. On the other hand, when Moses and Elijah came to discuss the events of earth with Jesus (Luke 9), it seems to indicate that those in Heaven are aware of what is going on. Those who have gone before us, whether or not they can see what is going on, are not there to minister to us; that is the job of the ministering angels (Hebrews 1:14) that God has placed beside us. Regardless, God gives us experiences, visions and dreams that are meant to comfort us in our times of grief. by Pastor John Piper

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