Heaven’s Real: The Bible, Experience & a 4 Year-Old

When one of our church’s most precious saints died on Tuesday — after a long battle with cancer — I immediately knew where her soul is — heaven.  How did I know?  Because of the Word of God and my faith in God’s promises.  I didn’t need a book about a 4 year-old boy’s supposed trip to the celestial realm to believe that heaven is a real place.

Apparently, some people — even a good many Christians — are turning to the best-selling book, “Heaven is for Real:  A Little Boy’ Astounding Story of  His Trip to Heaven and Back ,” to bolster their belief in heaven.  However, when a cottage industry — including the original book, a new book (“Heaven is for Real for Kids” out in November 2011), and a DVD-Based Conversation Kit and Guide (also available November 2011) —  is built upon “the true story of the four-year old son of a small town Nebraska pastor who during emergency surgery slips from consciousness and enters heaven,” I can’t help but be a little skeptical.    

Why be so skeptical, pastor?  Why question the experiences of a 4 year-old boy who visited heaven?  After all, aren’t all of our experiences true?  I mean, “Heaven is for Real” proclaims that it is based on a “true story.”  Sadly, too many self-professed Christians today, including the boy’s father — a pastor himself — allow experience to take precedence even over the written Word of God.  And, woe be unto anyone who dares to question someone else’s experiences.

But, question we must, especially in the light of Scripture.  The Bible is clear that heaven is a real place.  One can choose to believe in heaven or not, but for Christians, we simply do not need any more evidence — experiential or otherwise — to know that heaven and hell are real.  In fact, the last book of the Bible — Revelation — warns those who would add to Scripture:

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book:  if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book.”  (Revelation 22:18, ESV)

While some may try to limit this warning to the book of Revelation only, I would argue that God’s warning applies to any who would add to His Word — from Genesis through Revelation.  When someone says that he has had a “true” experience in heaven and then proceeds to write a book about it, I’m not sure what loophole he is trying to employ to avoid the plagues?

If this experiential-based Christianity were new, then we might be at a loss as to how to answer those in our post-modern world who allow their experiences to overshadow — and in some cases take precedence over — the Word of God.  But, thankfully, we have God’s all-sufficient Word to guide us  in our queries.

Just the other day, I was talking to someone who relayed how God had spoken to them through a dream.  Now, I love dreams and thinking about the significance (if any) and meaning of my dreams, but I am under no illusion that God is speaking to me through my dreams.  Could God communicate with me (or anyone else) through dreams?  He could because He is God.  What are the chances that God communicates through dreams today?  Slim to none!

Why can I be so certain that God does not currently communicate this way to people even though He communicated that way to Joseph in the Old Testament and Joseph in the New Testament?  Because Scripture tells me that God does not need to communicate with us through dreams anymore:

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world.”   (Hebrews 1:1-2, ESV)

In fact, God, through His Word, even warns people (primarily false teachers) about relying upon their dreams:

“Yet in like manner these people (false teachers) also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones.” (Jude 8, ESV)

I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like a really good argument FOR taking experiences — including dreams and visions — at face value.  But, for those who still think that we need extra-Biblical sources like “Heaven is for Real” or Don Piper’s “90 Minutes in Heaven” or “23 Minutes in Hell” to convince us of the reality of heaven and hell, one need only look to Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Luke.

Jesus, who I don’t believe would make up heaven and hell just for illustrative purposes, was teaching primarily about the sufficiency of Scripture for those who had not yet believed.  The rich man, now in hell, begged father Abraham to send Lazarus, now in heaven, back to warn the rich man’s brothers about the “place of torment” that he was now in.  In sharing this parable or story, Jesus would give us ample evidence for the primacy and importance of Scripture:

“And he (the rich man) said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’  He (father Abraham) said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'” (Luke 16:19-31, ESV)

If anyone has any doubt about heaven or needs to be convinced that heaven is for real, he or she does not need to buy “Heaven is for Real.”  Instead, go to THE WORD and hear God speak His Words of promise and encouragement:

“Let not your heart be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in Me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms (mansions).  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.”  (John 14:1-3)

Where is Jesus talking about?  A very real place called heaven.  I know heaven is real because God’s Word proclaims it as true and promises it to those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ.  I don’t need the supposed “true” story of a 4 year-old boy to tell me that heaven is real.  Do you?

6 comments for “Heaven’s Real: The Bible, Experience & a 4 Year-Old

  1. August 3, 2011 at 8:37 AM

    You might listen to some missionaries relate stories of how God used dreams. I wouldn’t discount those, nor would I pay attention if the content of the dream was unbiblical. I’m a bit wary of some of the stuff rattling around in my brain and have no idea where such things came from. I understand that researchers have long documented that we can have ‘real’ memories of imaginary events, something about the physiology of the brain. Dreams of heaven? I’m with you and will stick with Scripture.

    • August 3, 2011 at 8:23 PM

      William,

      I hadn’t thought about missionaries using dreams in a positive way. I wouldn’t discount their stories, but at the same time, I would say these would be extremely rare and unusual. You’re right that we should stick with Scripture. God bless,

      Howell

  2. Bennett Willis
    August 3, 2011 at 10:02 AM

    It is occasionally mentioned that a major cause of Muslim conversion to Christianity is that Jesus appears in a dream. While I have no personal knowledge of this, it is interesting.

    Sometimes I think I probably know what produced a dream, but generally I don’t. It would have to be a very convincing dream to make me think it was a message.

    • August 3, 2011 at 8:27 PM

      Bennett,

      Hope you are doing well. As I said to William, I don’t discount that God COULD use dreams, even with Muslims. I just don’t think, especially in light of Scripture, that this is how God normally works today. I often say to the members of our church, “God COULD drop a treasure chest of $1 million in our foyer to help pay for our new building, but He isn’t likely to do that.” God speaks primarily through His Word and Prayer today. Certainly if an experience conflicted with the Bible, I would say that the experience was not “of God.” But, it’s hard to argue with someone’s experiences. Thanks for stopping by. God bless,

      Howell

      • March 21, 2013 at 7:35 AM

        I am wondering how you can discount dreams when the bible is filled with dreams and visions when so much of scripture is dreams and visions? Even God’s covenant with Abraham took place in a dream. The one cautioning scripture you point to is taken out of context, yet you point to none of the many scriptures supporting dreams and visions – like old men dreaming dreams and young men seeing visions. But then, it’s not unusual for people to argue against what they are afraid of.

        • March 21, 2013 at 9:02 AM

          Thanks so much for stopping by today and commenting. While I certainly plead guilty to discounting dreams, particularly in the New Testament era, I would not say that God could never speak through dreams even today. There is no question that God spoke through visions and dreams in the Old Testament and even at the beginning of the New Testament. However, with the first Advent of Christ and with the canon of Scripture, I believe that God primarily speaks through His Word to His people today. I would not say that I am afraid of God speaking in dreams. However, in terms of arguments, it is much more difficult to speak against someone’s experience. Now, if that experience — be it a vision or dream — clearly contradicts Scripture, then I believe that their experience was not from God.

          In the case of the little boy at the center of “Heaven’s Real,” I could not argue that it is impossible for him to have experienced what he did. I will say that I am skeptical in light of what we already have in Scripture. If God would have wanted us to know more about heaven, He could have told us in His Word. That He did not does not mean that these experiences of heaven and hell are not real, but it does make them less likely in light of Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man in Luke 16:10-31. Thanks again for the comment. God bless,

          Howell

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