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I Went to Heaven! Now Buy My Book

Yep. Another book about someone’s Near Death Experience (NDE) is hitting the market. This one’s a little different because it’s written by a neurosurgeon who, seemingly, brings a more clinical, skeptical analysis to the experience. Eben Alexander purportedly visited heaven while in a coma for seven days in 2008. The account of his journey into Heaven and back is recorded in a book entitled Proof of Heaven, releasing later this month.

Yesterday, I read some lengthy transcripts from the book at the Daily Beast in Heaven is Real: A Doctor’s Experience with the Afterlife. While I am utterly fascinated by such accounts, I am totally conflicted by these types of testimonials. Why?

I believe NDE’s and out of body experiences can be real.

For one, Scripture contains numerous accounts of individuals who glimpsed heaven and returned to talk about it. Isaiah, Ezekiel, Phillip, and the apostle John. Perhaps the most notable is the apostle Paul who claimed to have been transported to the “third heaven” where he heard “inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell” (II Cor. 12:2-4). The Bible doesn’t rule out NDE’s or heavenly visions.

Another reason I don’t immediately doubt such experiences is because there are so many of them. One of the better books I’ve read on the subject, one I’d highly recommend to those interested in further research on this subject, was Beyond Death: Exploring the Evidence for Immortality by noted Christian apologists Gary Habermas and J.P. Moreland. It’s a fairly academic work that explores philosophical, scientific, and theological sides to the question. Interestingly enough, one of the strengths of the case NDE’s is simply the vast number of them. Literally millions of people have reported  mystical, out-of-body types of experiences, many of which bare striking similarity. This girth of reported NDE’s is changing how researchers approach the subject.

I have a friend who is a surgical assistant who’s related such stories to me. One of the most notable was about a man who, for some reason, could not be fully anesthetized during surgery. An artery in his leg was being worked on so he was given an epidural and numbed from the waist down. So he was lucid during the operation. A problem ensued during the procedure, the patient’s blood pressure plummeted, and his life was at risk. During this critical time, the patient began having ecstatic visions. While the doctors scrambled to keep this man from expiring, he was calming the doctors, describing the procedures that needed performed, and telling them that Jesus Christ was in the room, walking about on the perimeter. The man assured them that he would not die. Which he didn’t. Apparently, the medical staff was so shaken up by the event that they needed counseling afterward. This is not uncommon, my friend said, having a “Religious Experience” in the OR.

But this doesn’t explain my skepticism.

For one, the survivors’ accounts of the afterlife are often wildly different from biblical accounts. The Daily Beast quotes Alexander as he describes his heavenly adventure:

Toward the beginning of my adventure, I was in a place of clouds. Big, puffy, pink-white ones that showed up sharply against the deep blue-black sky.

Higher than the clouds—immeasurably higher—flocks of transparent, shimmering beings arced across the sky, leaving long, streamerlike lines behind them.

…It gets stranger still. For most of my journey, someone else was with me. A woman…. When first I saw her, we were riding along together on an intricately patterned surface, which after a moment I recognized as the wing of a butterfly. In fact, millions of butterflies were all around us—vast fluttering waves of them, dipping down into the woods and coming back up around us again….

Needless to say, the Bible never describes heaven as having butterflies, or visitors being transported on the backs of them. Does this mean heaven won’t contain butterflies? Well, I hope not! However, in all the glimpses of heaven in Scripture, never once do we find souls shuttled on monarch wings. So what am I to make about this account?

Compound this with numerous other wild, often kitschy, accounts of the afterlife. On The NDE and Jesus, this author records dozens of testimonials regarding the afterlife. For instance,

  • Jesus hugged a woman and she described it as feeling like a million volts of electricity going through her. (Susan)
  • Jesus gave a man a hug and told him to, “Go and hug others.”(John P.)
  • A man saw the Being of light transform into Jesus, Buddha and Krishna. (Mellen-Thomas Benedict)
  • Jesus gave a woman who attempted suicide the choice to either reincarnate or return to Earth. (Sandra Rogers)
  • A man traveled back in time and lived in the minds of Jesus and his disciples. (Dr. George Rodonaia)
  • Jesus and a man together traveled back in time to the Stone Age to watch cave men and women. (Guenter Wagner)
  • Jesus gave a man something to eat that tasted like chocolate. After the man ate it, Jesus informed him that he just ate the Bible and because of this, he will remember its contents. (Emanuel Tuwagirairmana)

Can all these accounts be true? Whatever your conclusion, one thing is for sure — many of these accounts just do not jibe with Scripture.

Secondly, the “message” these survivors return with is often strangely Universal and non-offensive. Take Alexander’s account of his companion’s words:

Without using any words, she spoke to me. The message went through me like a wind, and I instantly understood that it was true.

The message had three parts, and if I had to translate them into earthly language, I’d say they ran something like this:

“You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever.”

“You have nothing to fear.”

“There is nothing you can do wrong.”

Before I comment on this woman’s telepathic message, let me mention that before all this happens, Eben Alexander admits to having been spiritually agnostic. “I sympathized deeply with those who wanted to believe that there was a God somewhere out there who loved us unconditionally. In fact, I envied such people the security that those beliefs no doubt provided. But as a scientist, I simply knew better than to believe them myself. ”

Okay. Does God deeply love and cherish all people? Absolutely! Could the extent of His grace and mercy to all people surprise us? I’m sure of it! Nevertheless, Scripture paints death for unbelievers as anything but an unconditional love fest. Without getting into the subject of hell, Jesus described the afterlife for many souls as anything but bliss (think of the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, the Rich Man and Lazarus, or John’s account of the Great Judgment in the Book of Revelation). The absence of such tales of torment or warning by NDE survivors makes me very suspicious as to some of their messages. (It also could be why the secular market is so enamored with such tales: They do not challenge their worldview.)

Third, capitalizing on a NDE experience with a book just seems fishy. Of course, some will say that they’re writing the book to spread the love and hope to others. I could see that. But once again, what doesn’t wash is the biblical precedent. Not only did the apostle Paul say that on his visit to paradise he “heard inexpressible things,” he said they were things “that man is not permitted to tell.” It’s in stark contrast to many purported visitors of paradise who write a book, go on Oprah, and start touring with Deepack Chopra. I don’t know. Becoming a celebrity for going to heaven just seems weird.

Despite all these things, I still believe some of these experiences are true. In fact, counterfeit NDE’s imply that there may be genuine ones. So while I am very suspicious of books like Proof of Heaven and the message they send, I don’t want to be so suspicious that I discount every account because it doesn’t perfectly align with how I interpret Scripture. Heaven and the afterlife is a realm of mystery. Let’s not completely strip it of mystery in our attempt to be doctrinally sound. Conversely, let’s also not be so gullible as to embrace every testimony as legitimate.

Question: How do you approach testimonials like the one found in Proof of Heaven? How do you determine real NDE’s from the fake?

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{ 17 comments… add one }
  • Bobby October 15, 2012, 7:50 AM

    I guess to an extent you can’t “judge” a person on whether it happened or not. We can most certainly ask why they’ve decided to publish a book about it, or why such accounts seem to follow each other so closely after a first one hits the shelves and sells well.

    Plus, a few years ago I had a dream in which (and I’m being totally serious) I felt “taken up to Heaven.” I honestly don’t remember specifics, but it sure was a fascinating dream that I ponder from time to time. I feel absolutely no compulsion to now write a book trying to describe it. If anything, I feel it’s something that exists between me and God and I can’t say with the kind of surety Isaiah could just how “real” it was.

    I’m sure dozens upon hundreds of other Christians have had similar experiences that they MAYBE tell spouses or friends.

    But I guess it all boils down to motive, which only God and the person know. Perhaps a good response is skepticism mixed with hope that, even if it is false, God might use it for good and His purposes?

  • Jennifer Major @Jjumping October 15, 2012, 8:07 AM

    I have a close friend who’s got some wicked health problems and fades to black about once every few weeks. This person’s spouse is rather good at CPR. No, they don’t have health insurance. I’ve heard a few accounts about Jesus being in the room.

    I believe this person 100%. Why? Not because Dr Phil may call, but because this person is so very very ill, but is still alive.

  • Jessica Thomas October 15, 2012, 8:12 AM

    I think some of the accounts are real, but I also don’t want to be in the business of sorting out which are real and which aren’t. These books can be spiritually damaging. I know because one I read back in college (“Embraced by the Light”) helped me spiral into depression. I’m not as gullible or quick to believe as I once was, and although it took me many years to wrap my head around it, I believe some of these experiences are demonically orchestrated as part of satan’s ultimate deception of this world. Does it make me uncomfortable to think demon’s might weild this much power over the human psyche? Definitely. But, on the flipside it makes me realize how unfathomable God’s power is. And then I stop thinking about it altogher because my brain can’t handle it…I’m too small in comparison. If understanding such things is relevent to my eternal existance, I’ll wait for Jesus to explain it all to me.

  • Ron Williams October 15, 2012, 8:50 AM

    Was your friends name Ernie…?

  • Jill October 15, 2012, 9:43 AM

    Um, I don’t necessarily buy these experiences as such. Often dreams are glimpses into our own subconscious yearnings (a beautiful woman riding butterflies–sounds like anima projection, to me), not visions of heaven or spirituality. However, I don’t discount them, either. My mom woke up from a major surgery while in conversation with Jesus–as in, she began speaking out loud to him while she was still groggy from the anaesthesia.

  • Marcia October 15, 2012, 10:36 AM

    I believe these experiences fall into three categories: Real, and from God; real, and from the devil (the counterfeit); not real.

    I agree with Jessica that some of these experiences are demonically orchestrated deceptions to soothe unbelievers into further certainty that they’re safe. The books that follow are demonically inspired false gospels. We have to keep in mind that the people we’re hearing the stories from lived to tell them. A NDE isn’t permanent, nor is it even death. The person never finds out what’s at the end of that tunnel of light, and will not until they have died a death they cannot return from. Perhaps what they are seeing is the one who masquerades as an angel of light?

    The onus is on us to evaluate individual NDEs in light of scripture, just the way we evaluate any other doctrine, belief, or spiritual experience. Seeking the spiritual gift of discernment of spirits would be helpful, too. Does the story glorify Jesus Christ and him only, and affirm that we’d be lost if he hadn’t gone to the cross for us? Obviously, anything that suggests we’re not sinners, there’s no hell, or that equates Jesus to Buddha, etc., is not from God. The devil would love people to believe there’s no hell, because if there’s nothing to be saved from, Christianity utterly falls apart.

  • Tim George October 15, 2012, 12:57 PM

    I have had personal experience with two people who had what they believed to be legitimate glimpses of heaven. What I saw in both was a deep sense of awe and general inability to adequately describe what happened during that time. Both were quite qualified to record their encounter and one was more than connected to garner a book deal. Neither ever thought about writing what was to them an intensely personal and private experience.

    The moment you said “BOOK” my skeptical antennae were buzzing. Quite different from the Apostle Paul who was caught up to heaven, had plenty of credentials to speak from God Himself, yet declared what he saw there was not lawful to speak.

  • Melissa Ortega October 16, 2012, 7:11 AM

    And then of course, there is that faction of pseudoscience that is longing to connect all of this with alien abductions (especially the Biblical accounts) – which his hard to do when the (modern) people having these experiences are lying somewhere under supervision of other human eyes.

    I’m pretty sure I can’t explain what’s happening here, having no background in neuroscience. I have watched folks on Youtube coming off of anasthetic from having their wisdom teeth pulled and some of them think they’re at Hogwarts.

    My logic tells me that if God brings a person into His Presence and sends him home to tell everyone about the experience He is going to send an icthus with them – something that verifies the experience is real. Christ said “My sheep know my voice” and honestly, I have not read/heard a single one of these accounts that hasn’t made me very uncomfortable. Even if any are true, I don’t know that the sharing of them is wise. It just doesn’t seem like God’s style. Granted, the human fascination is understandable. The feast at Mary and Martha’s house was packed post Lazarus’ being raised from the dead for a reason – I’m sure people were as interested in talking to him as they were in seeing Jesus at that point. But I almost think that fascination and willingness to focus on any sort of iconography of heavenly places is the reason I tend to believe the most true experiences are probably not shared this way. As Jesus said, Blessed are those who have not seen me and still believe.

    I know that if it happened to me, I would be as reluctant as Paul to put anything to paper – ever.

    Of everything you’ve mentioned above, the account of the man in a lucid state in the operating room giving very accurate information about the state of his body and how it should be fixed is the only one that makes me think, “Hmmm. Possible.” Most other accounts are too…human in their elements. A radically different experience than the Biblical accounts where prophets could not even find words in their own language to describe what they saw.

    • Jessica Thomas October 16, 2012, 9:05 AM

      Melissa, I agree, many of the accounts give me the heebie geebies. I clicked on the above links last night and meandered to one man’s account wherein he says ‘God’ gave him the choice of going back to earth or “merging with the light”. In merging, he would lose his personhood, but the bits of pieces of his personality would still exist in God.

      And of course, somewhere in there the guy references Jesus, but no amount of mental acrobatics can make me believe his account is in any way Biblical. Which led me to strange, disquieting, metaphysical thought. Wouldn’t it be just like satan to fool people into relinquishing their personhood to the “divine” and is “merging with the light” akin to the lake of fire? It got me wondering, since satan rules over this world, how far into the non-physical world can he extend his delusion? *shivers*

      Must stop thinking.

  • Katherine Coble October 16, 2012, 9:59 AM

    I’ve died, been dead and been brought back to life. I remember nothing of the not-living. But I was 8 months old. Too young to have any preconceived notions or to have the part of my brain that imagines things developed enough to manufacture and store thoughts. I do often have a good sense of knowing what is coming–a sense that is different than deja vu. Sometimes I wonder if in the death I existed outside of time and carried back within my deepest subconscious a knowledge of how my life would play out. I know that’s a bit odd to say, but whatever. No odder than all-forgiving butterfly-riding women.

    In many cases I think that the NDEs people experience are actually a fiction designed by the Great Deceiver. Take this new business from Dr. Deadforawhile that you’re writing about today. The man already doesn’t believe in God. And we know that God wants most of all our FAITH. It isn’t going to be FAITH to believe in a God you’ve seen. It’s going to be science. But the Great Deceiver KNOWS that an empirical person who can be convinced by seeing something is going to be convinced by being told that he is just hunky dory and can do no wrong and it’s all butterflies and sexy love mothers once you die. So why on earth would this soul seek harmony with God? Chalk one up for the Father of Lies.

    I really hate all these NDE books. Every single one of them. It bothers me because I think people look to them instead of the Bible. And I think people who release these books are profiting off the fear and uncertainty. To me NDE books are like snake oil, and they take advantage of the weaknesses of others.

    • Melissa Ortega October 16, 2012, 11:34 AM

      “But the Great Deceiver KNOWS that an empirical person who can be convinced by seeing something is going to be convinced by being told that he is just hunky dory and can do no wrong and it’s all butterflies and sexy love mothers once you die.”


      I think these books would sell differently if only they would print this sort of summary in the synopsis flap. “Man goes to heaven, is told he’s perfect while riding on butterflies with sexy love mother, then writes book.”

  • Rebecca LuElla Miller October 16, 2012, 11:31 AM

    I think publishers just realized there’s money in these books. 😕

    People are naturally curious about what comes next. Sadly, we put more credence in what a contemporary might say rather than someone moved by the Spirit reveals by God’s authority.

    Interestingly years and years ago I read a study of NDEs written by Dr. Raymond Moody, a non-Christian. He interviewed those who had returned after being pronounced dead and catalogued the commonalities in their experiences. Very interesting. The book is called Life After Life.

    Some Christians wanted to discount his finding because one aspect of the experience was a feeling of being loved, even for those who weren’t of any religious persuasion. I don’t find that contradictory to Scripture. Rather, God reveals Himself in Scripture as love, and I don’t think He will mask that attribute even as He acts as Judge. Rather, I suspect being eternally divorced from perfect love will be one of the tortures of hell. But that’s my speculation, my way of resolving what I know to be true based on Scripture and what seems to be true in people’s experiences.

    Something else to keep in mind–none of these people have experienced the death leading to judgment (It is appointed for man once to die and then the judgment). Therefore, we know they are not experienced in the determination of Man’s eternal destiny. They had a “partial death” experience that can only inform them of the smallest glimpse of the reality beyond the grave.

    Now Lazarus is the one I wish had written a book about his experiences. Or I wish Jesus would have elaborated more for the gospel writers so we’d know more. But instead we’re stuck with trusting God. Not really such a bad thing! 😀

    But back to your skepticism, Mike–I think that’s healthy. Satan disguises himself as an angel of light and then blinds the eyes of the unbelieving. Of course he’ll try to obfuscate the reality of meeting God face to face. I would expect him to give poor imitations to create confusion.


  • Jon Mast October 16, 2012, 11:33 PM

    As many have said in the comments, Satan can appear as an “angel of light” if he has the desire… and man, he knows how to make things look good! It’s awesome to read that someone else has also picked up on the universalist leanings many NDE’s have.

    I’ve been shocked by how many NDE’s I’ve heard in my short time as a pastor. So many people want to believe them and ask me if I think they’re real. My usual response goes something like this: “I can’t say for sure if what your brother-in-law’s pizza man saw was real. I wasn’t there, and God hasn’t told me. I know there’s bigger things out there. God may allow something like that to happen. He’s God; he can do that. I won’t say it happened, though. I leave it in God’s hands.”

    Yeah. Usually the person I’m talking with isn’t too happy with my non-answer, but it’s about all I’ll say without getting into a serious discussion that they’re usually not able to have at that moment. I think I need to keep your reasoning handy, though, as you spelled it out so well…

  • xdpaul October 17, 2012, 6:48 AM

    The best measure I have found is this: Who does the NDE survivor say He is? If Jesus appears at all, then as long as he is acknowledged in the vision as consistent with the Jesus of scripture, and the survivor is otherwise trustworthy, I see no reason why the experience can’t be taken at face value.

    If Jesus appears as anything other than the scriptural Jesus, then the false Christ is a simple tell that the NDE vision is a deception. Anecdotally, none of the Christians whose NDE I know of ever saw Jesus, and only describe an intense experience of the Holy Spirit, and ALL of them rarely, if ever, discuss the NDE when witnessing or talking with strangers.

  • Robin Stettnisch November 9, 2012, 5:43 PM

    Please google “Proof of Life After Death Yorktown” to read about my experience with psychic medium John Edward…also read all the comments for further details and mention of the book “Proof of Heaven.”

  • Penny Valle December 31, 2012, 6:56 AM

    Did Eben Alexander read A Wrinkle in Time or other books by Madeleine L’Engle?

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