“But the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me…” (II Timothy 4:17)
The present spate of books about how “I died for a few minutes and went to Heaven and here is what I saw” is not a new thing. A generation ago, there were similar books, all variations of “my four minutes in heaven.”
I read some of those books, but none of the recent ones.
The Apostle Paul had just such an experience and refused to write about it. In II Corinthians 12, he tells us: “I know a man in Christ who 14 years ago–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows–anyway, this man was caught up to the third heaven. He heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak. I’m going to refrain from speaking of this, lest it sound like I’m boasting.” (My paraphrase.)
The best guess is Paul is referring to the time when he was stoned “to death” on his first missionary journey (recorded in Acts 14:19-20). The attackers considered him dead, and perhaps he was, at least momentarily. But God was not ready for him yet; his great lifework was still ahead, so the Lord sent him back. (For which we are eternally grateful.)
But Paul refused to write a best-seller and tell us what he saw.
That caution which Paul felt has not kept many today from telling their stories, publishing their best-sellers, getting on all the talk-shows, and raking in huge sums from royalties and speaking fees.
Note: Please do not write to say that this author or that one is a Godly person whose revelations and testimony are in line with Scripture. As I said, I have not read any of the current books. I’m taking issue with the fact that they wrote the books at all, and worse that God’s people–who do not need them and ought to know better–are buying them.
Here are reasons God’s people should leave such books and stories alone:
1) Stories of people dying-and-going-to-heaven-and-back cater to our carnal desire for “signs and wonders” as opposed to God’s Word.
When religious leaders pestered Jesus for “a sign from Heaven” as proof of His identity, He told them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign.” Evil = no faith; adulterous = no faithfulness.
The simple fact is that signs and wonders–miracles–do not produce faith. They are like the works of a magician. A few minutes after being wowed by his sleight of hand, we are wondering how he did that and wanting more.
2) Such stories become the authority for many people and are a poor substitute for God’s Word.
There is probably no surer evidence of one’s carnal nature being in the driver’s seat than the way people elevate experience and testimony above Scripture. “I know this is true because I felt it” or “it’s true because that writer said it happened to him.”
Someone told me he was in a church once where the pastor told the congregation, “I’d like to read this Scripture, then give you something solid to base it on–my experience.” That is about as backward as it’s possible to get!
3) Revelations (from such books) which are in line with scripture will be contradicted by others with their own far different versions of what happens after death.
Already, we have heard of writers saying, “And in Heaven it turned out that all religions were good.”
If we take one person’s testimony as truth, what’s to keep the other person’s story from being true also? Therefore, the wisest approach is the more cautious one: avoid this altogether.
4) Such stories are like fireworks in the night sky: They titillate and fascinate, but die away and leave us with greater darkness than before.
5) I’ll go so far as to say anyone who needs such books to prop up his faith in Christ, Scripture, and Heaven, probably does not know the Lord in the first place. Well, that’s a little strong. But not much.
It is standard procedure for God’s people in this life to see the Lord all about them, to hear His voice within them, to know His presence working in and through and around them, and to see Him in others.
Jesus said, “I know my sheep and my own know me” (John 10:14). “They shall hear my voice” (10:16). “My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me” (10:27).
In that sense, His disciples have all “seen Him.”
The Lord has not left us in the dark. He has not left us needing stories of dying-and-going-to-Heaven-and-coming-back to tell the rest of us. We have something far better, what Peter called “a more sure word of prophecy.” We have the Word of God.
They said to Jesus, “Show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” He replied, “Have I been so long with you and you still do not know who I am? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:8-9).
I have seen the Lord and I’m guessing you have too.
I have seen the Lord…
–in answers to my prayers. The timing of that blessing just after I prayed was so strategic.
–in key moments of intense inspiration. Sitting at this computer, shedding tears. On my knees in prayer.
–in close calls when I was miraculously spared. In traffic, through cancer, etc.
–in Godly friends. I can tell you stories of Joel Davis, Jim Graham, and Marguerite Briscoe.
–inside me. The tears overwhelm me at times, His presence is so strong.
–and in Scripture. His Word is so right, so true, so faithful, so good.
None of these are sufficient to convince a skeptic, dramatic enough to make a best-seller, nor sufficiently visible to make tonight’s news or attract a crowd. But I don’t require signs and wonders.
The steady loving presence of the Living Lord is quite sufficient.
As Paul testified about his trial before Caesar, which surely had to have been a frightening prospect evidenced by the desertion of every friend, he said, “Nevertheless, the Lord stood by me, and strengthened me, that by me the preaching might be fully known and that all those unsaved people might hear. As a result, I was delivered out of the lion’s mouth.”
“Furthermore,” he concluded, “the Lord will deliver me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (II Timothy 4:17-18). The last words we have from the Apostle Paul. And some of the best.