This week Alex Malarkey claimed that he did NOT go to heaven and come back. In a letter he admitted that his eyewitness testimony of what heaven is like in the book "The Boy who came back from Heaven" was a bunch of, well, malarkey.
Kudos to this young man who admitted, "I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible...People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth."
After Alex's stunning confession Colton Burpo came out in a counterclaim this week that his trip to heaven as a four year old was for real. For those of you who have been living in Antarctica Colton's story became both a book and a movie, Heaven is for Real.
So who are we to believe Colton or Alex?
Whoever you choose to believe I do think that we need to get our theological wits about us as believers when it comes to the afterlife. So, to help, I've developed a short list of three things I do when I hear someone claims to have gone to heaven and has come back with an eyewitness report from on high.
1. I'm initially suspect.
Don't get me wrong. I fully believe in heaven (and hell for that matter!) I'm convinced that heaven will be more amazing than we could ever imagine. How do I know? The great apostle John gives a firsthand account in the book of Revelation of the glory, immensity, power and beauty of heaven. There are times when he has trouble putting what he's describing into words which measure up, but it's obvious that his vision of heaven is overwhelming to him. It's also interesting that the apostle John did not have a "near-death" experience. He had a clear vision while he was alive and well and stuck on the Island of Patmos as a prisoner of the Romans.
So why do I tend to be suspect of firsthand accounts of those who say they died and then came back? Because the Bible makes one clear statement when it comes to this possibility:
"Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment..." (Hebrews 9:27).
This passage looms large in front of me like a yellow light (about to turn red) when someone claims to have died, gone to heaven and come back.
The Apostle Paul didn't die but he did get a firsthand view of heaven. Check out his experience in 2 Corinthians 12:1-4, "This boasting will do no good, but I must go on. I will reluctantly tell about visions and revelations from the Lord. I was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago. Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don’t know—only God knows. Yes, only God knows whether I was in my body or outside my body. But I do know that I was caught up to paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell."
Look at that last phrase, "I was caught up to paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell."
It is just plain weird to think that Paul wasn't allowed to express what he heard in heaven but a child would be allowed to express what he had heard and seen (let alone write a bestseller!)
2. I weigh their description of heaven against the Bible's.
When "Heaven is for Real" came out it was interesting to me how many Christians flocked to accept this preschooler's description of heaven without thinking or blinking. Many of these same Christians, I assume, had not studied the Bible thoroughly on the subject of heaven and measured it against what the little boy said.
Far too many Christians would rather accept the testimony of a four year old boy (who I assume is a very sweet kid) over prophets like Ezekiel, apostles like John and Jesus Christ himself.
So how does the Bible describe heaven?
-Jesus described it as big. In John 14 Jesus said, "In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so I would have told you."
-John describes the capitol city of heaven (aka "The New Jerusalem") as big, brilliant and beautiful. According to Revelation 21:17 it is 1,400 miles long, high, wide and deep. If it landed on America it would extend from the Canadian border to the Mexican border and from Chicago to Salt Lake City. It would extend 1,300 miles into space.
-In heaven there are streets of gold (Revelation 21:21), walls of twelve precious stones (Revelation 21:19), gates made from giant pearls (Revelation 21:21) and a tree that bears twelve kinds of fruit (Revelation 22:2).
-There is no sickness, sadness, disease or death (Revelation 21:4).
-The Father dwells there in an unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6:16).
-Jesus is in the center of this city (Revelation 7:17), seated on a throne (Revelation 7:11-12) on what looks like a sea of glass (Revelation 4:6).
-Seraphim flutter around his throne singing "Holy, Holy, Holy" (Isaiah 6:3).
And on and on and on the descriptions go in Scripture. What is common to most of these descriptions is a glorious, heart-rending, mind-blowing description of Jesus being central. So, any book that comes out that doesn't drive the same theme or has a different physical description of heaven I move to the fiction side of my library.
3. I use it as an opportunity to talk to people about Jesus.
There have been several times when I have heard somebody talking about "the amazing story in 'Heaven is for Real.'" I didn't challenge them theologically or tell them that it could be "a bunch of malarkey."
No, I used this book and these types of books as conversation starters to whether or not they know for sure they are going to heaven. I've had great evangelistic experiences as a result.
These kinds of books, whether true or not, get read by the general public. And the general public needs Jesus.
Whether you choose to believe Burpo or Malarkey is up to you. But please measure their claims against Scripture first and then make your decision. But, in either case, use it as a conversation starter with those who don't know Jesus.
Why? Because heaven is not a bunch of malarkey! It's for REAL!