A False Story

Why Do People Go to Heaven?

Notice that I didn’t say how they get there!

Dr Gary ShogrenI mean why they have traveled there and then returned to tell us all about it. For the past few decades, people have dived into writing up their experiences of heaven – and a few times, of hell – published bestselling books and hit movies.

For my part I am highly doubtful about books on “afterlife tourism”.

One prominent title features The Boy Who Came Back from content (1)Heaven: A Remarkable Account of Miracles, Angels, and Life beyond This World. It is marketed as “A true story”. Yet last week that bestseller was unceremoniously yanked off the shelves when Alex Malarkey, the “boy who came back from heaven”, publicly announced that the story of his journey was untrue. In fact, he had been trying to get a hearing for his confession for two years, but that was hard to do when books kept flying off the shelves – it has sold over a million copies and been made into a TV movie. [1] Thanks Alex, for owning up.

What does the Bible say about these trips? One prominent piece of information is that the apostle Paul alludes to a vision that he, “a man in Christ”, had of the “third heaven” in 2 Cor 12. But he was forbidden to speak of what he had seen:

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know – God knows. – And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows – was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. (2 Cor 12:2-4)

To apply Paul’s point to today: I went to heaven, but no one is permitted to tell of such matters, and so I won’t elevate myself by telling you all the cool things I saw. I won’t go on a book tour, I won’t make it into a movie.

I wouldn’t say the Bible rules out any and all visions of heaven, but it doesn’t give us much hope.

So – why DO people “go to heaven”?

Because there is ___ to be made (you may fill in the blank)

The Malarkeys say they haven’t made any money at all from their book and movie. If this is the case, they have been robbed, because the numbers indicate that a lot of money must have been made by someone.

90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death & Life, Don Piper, has sold 6 million copies.

Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back. The book sold 10 million copies, the movie grossed $91 million. The traveler to heaven, Colton Burpo, has just gone on the record to say that it doesn’t matter what “the other boy” just confessed, the story his boy told was still literally true [2]

Because the stories “help people”, so it doesn’t matter if it’s literally true or false, only that people will be comforted or challenged by its message

I disagree. Lying about God’s truth is not only a sin, it is a wicked class of sin, since it involves taking God’s name in vain = saying something is true, “God help me”, when it isn’t. [3] It doesn’t matter how much it supposedly helps people, a comforting lie is still a lie.

Because people want to have greater authority

“Listen to Romans 8:1,” says a preacher, “and hear how God will not condemn us if we are in Christ!”

Or:

“God told me in a dream just last night that his people shouldn’t be afraid of hell, because he won’t send believers there!”

Which is catchier? Which will get you a larger audience?

Because there is an agenda to be taught

I teach a course on the Background of the New Testament, and that might give me some insight to heavenly tourism. One topic we touch on is Jewish Apocalyptic Literature. These are books such as1 Enoch or the Assumption of Moses which were written after the close of the writing of the Old Testament and which expressed the theological agenda of the (technically) anonymous authors. I say anonymous, because these books were not written by Enoch or Moses. Then, lo and behold, they dealt with the issues of the actual authors’ time and expressed their theological agenda. [4]

As I tell my class: “Let’s say that I, Gary Shogren, want to teach the church today that it is wrong to have salsa style music in church, it being worldly. [5] Now, what are my options? I can write a book titled, Salsa – The Devil’s Condiment, by Gary Shogren. I might sell 50 copies. OR I can write a book and put the name of the prophet Elijah on it, rough up the paper so that it looks old, and then circulate it around as something written 2800 years ago by the real prophet! And surprise, surprise, in my new book The Elijah Chronicles, he predicts that “in the latter days, false prophets will sing with a 4/4 rhythm, backed by trumpets and drums. It will be the Devil’s sauce.” And I sell thousands of copies and I spread my message.

Are you with me so far?

My impression with some of the heaven and hell books, is that they are communicating the agenda of the supposed traveler of today, by faking a trip to heaven, and bringing back the message that God is in agreement with the author. It makes the teaching so much more magnetic than a simple Bible lesson!

What is her agenda? And I’m going out on a limb here, but my guess is that she already believed that Michael Jackson, Pokemon, and rap music were of the devil, and that tithing was necessary to be saved, before she had an experience, or more likely, said that she had one. But because she could footnote her beliefs with a supernatural revelation, she now has massive leverage to persuade others.An excellent example of this is Angélica Zambrano, a teen-aged girl from Ecuador, who supposedly was dead for 23 hours and visited heaven and hell, and has since returned ther several times more. Among the things she has brought back from hell were: demons “dance” like Michael Jackson, so anyone who has listened to his music goes straight to hell; kids who played with Pokemon are tormented by demons who look like them and other cartoon figures; people who didn’t tithe are in hell for robbing God; a young man is in hell because he used Christian rap to bring young people to church.

Whether people are making their stories up, or really did have some experience, the result is that their sciot contains few surprises. For example, Protestants “visit” a Protestant heaven, Catholics see the Virgin Mary, etc.

One example is the book My Journey to Heaven: What I Saw and How It Changed My Life, by Marvin J. Besteman. He had previously read many books on the subject of Near Death Experiences, and so he “knew” what to expect. And sure enough it came out like he thought it would, even to the point that he met St. Peter at the gate.

When we say that we follow the Bible, we are saying that we believe that it is sufficient. Let’s look to the Bible, first and foremost, for our information about heaven, hell, or any spiritual subject; and refuse to soak up additional information that what the Lord has already told us is enough.

NOTES:

[1]http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2015/january/boy-who-came-back-from-heaven-retraction.html?paging=off

[2] http://www.christianpost.com/news/colton-burpo-says-his-heaven-is-for-real-story-is-true-132739/

[3] http://openoureyeslord.com/2012/02/15/are-preachers-allowed-to-stretch-the-truth-part-i-so-i-once-knew-a-guy-who/

[4] Our working definition of “apocalypse” is “a genre of revelatory literature within a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisions eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar it involves, another, supernatural world.” J. J. Collins, Semeia 14, from the SBL Apocalypse Group of the Society of Biblical Literature.

[5] Here’s an example of Christian salsa –https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TzXF9j8dbUc

You are encouraged to comment on this post at Dr Shogren’s blog.

 

Copyright Gary Shogren.

Gary has a PhD in New Testament Exegesis. He serves as Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San Jose, Costa Rica

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