I recently completed reading the book Imagine Heaven by John Burke. It contains personal accounts of NDE’s (Near Death Experiences). These accounts appeal to our desire to know more about the hereafter. The thing that bothers me most about this book, however, is its appeal.
There are encounters with loved ones, angels and Jesus; the experience of travel at the speed of light; communication by thought; indescribable visual and hearing experiences; and warm wonders throughout.
How do we deal with things like this that are so wonderful in the telling but may not be true to Scripture? The Bible is the Christian’s only rule for faith and practice. As People of the Book, we must continue to abide in the principle that experience never trumps Scripture. Why is that? It is because the Bible is God’s Word and God cannot lie. Should one’s experience carry more weight than His Word?
Although the book itself is full of Scripture with which the author endeavors to draw parallels with the NDE’s, I find key elements missing from these experiences. Scriptural accounts of heaven always contain worship and reverential fear manifested by witnesses falling on their faces and hearing things unlawful to be uttered. These are things that are not present in the NDE accounts.
The author himself expresses doubt on page 144, where he states: ….it’s amazing how NDErs seem to be experiencing the same wonderful God, or an amazingly good counterfeit.
He goes on to say on page 148: Even though NDErs may call God by other names, the God they’re describing matches the God of the Bible.
This is a disturbing and dangerous statement. This statement appears to be saying that other religions worship the same God as the God of the Bible. They just call Him by a different name. This cannot be true.
The God of the Bible is unique and distinctive from all others. His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, is the only way to God the Father. All other religions have a system of works salvation that does not recognize Messiah Jesus as our only hope of salvation.
One NDEr experienced speaking to God (page 225) and he said to God; If you will give me the chance, I’ll go back and I will tell others that this is real. This experience is diametrically opposed to the account in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 16: Then he (the rich man) said, I pray thee therefore, father (Abraham), that thou wouldest send him (Lazarus) to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets (Scripture); let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. But he (Abraham) said to him (the rich man in hell), If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead. Luke 16:27-31
According to Luke’s account, there are no messages from the grave. Over and over the Bible tells us that the just shall live by faith. Faith is the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1
Faith does not come from experience. Faith comes from the Word of God. So then, faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God. Romans 10:17
Experience does not produce faith, so experience should never be used to trump the Bible. If you see something that appears to be true and it contradicts the Bible, then you should have your eyes checked. I do not intend to be rude, but the point is, the Bible is more dependable than your senses. It has to be, because the Bible is God breathed as to source, and God cannot lie.
Peter illustrates God’s Word versus experience for us in his account of the Mount of Transfiguration:
For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty (what an experience!).
For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount (what an experience!).
We have also a more sure word of prophecy (the Bible); whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: II Peter 1:16-19
Although the Mount of Transfiguration was a tremendous experience, the apostle Peter warns us to take heed to a more sure word of prophecy, which is Scripture!
There are several other things mentioned in the NDE accounts that are not mentioned in Scripture. The Book of My Life is described as being four feet thick (page 255), communication by thought (page 255), breathing under water in the River of Life (page 306 ), etc. Although the canon of Scripture is closed (Revelation 22:18&19/Proverbs 30:6), these items in the NDE accounts are new information previously undisclosed to the apostles and prophets.
Someone may say this is no big deal, these are just tidbits of information that do not affect anything. That is exactly the point. If these tidbits do not affect the Scripture we already have, then what purpose do they serve? If these things contradict Scripture then they should be rejected. If they do not contradict Scripture, then what purpose do they serve, other than to say experience is carries more weight than Scripture?
Imagining heaven is really not possible. Concerning God’s thoughts an OT prophet revealed this: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8&9
…let the word of Christ dwell (take up its life) in you richly…