There is no shortage today of fanciful tales of heavenly visits and “near death experiences.” We all are familiar with the claims of a calming, bright, white light and the inevitable subsequent book that will follow a person’s return from this brief sojourn to eternity. It seems that, just as one person’s alleged story of a heavenly field trip fades from the mind of the public, another appears to take its place. This week, the media is reporting on the story of neurosurgeon Eben Alexander, who purportedly visited heaven while in a coma for seven days in 2008. Of course, most will not be surprised to know that Alexander has recorded his experience in a book entitled, Proof of Heaven.
Alexander, who prior to the event considered himself a “faithful Christian…more in name than in actual belief” (a concept that seems to be self-contradictory), has landed himself a cover story in Newsweek magazine, wherein he tells the tale of this seemingly inexplicable event. Dr. Alexander writes:
Very early one morning four years ago, I awoke with an extremely intense headache. Within hours, my entire cortex—the part of the brain that controls thought and emotion and that in essence makes us human—had shut down. Doctors at Lynchburg General Hospital in Virginia, a hospital where I myself worked as a neurosurgeon, determined that I had somehow contracted a very rare bacterial meningitis that mostly attacks newborns. E. coli bacteria had penetrated my cerebrospinal fluid and were eating my brain.
When I entered the emergency room that morning, my chances of survival in anything beyond a vegetative state were already low. They soon sank to near nonexistent. For seven days I lay in a deep coma, my body unresponsive, my higher-order brain functions totally offline.
While in this state, however, Alexander claims that his “inner self” was “alive and well.”
It took me months to come to terms with what happened to me. Not just the medical impossibility that I had been conscious during my coma, but—more importantly—the things that happened during that time. Toward the beginning of my adventure, I was in a place of clouds. Big, puffy, pink-white ones that showed up sharply against the deep blue-black sky.
Higher than the clouds—immeasurably higher—flocks of transparent, shimmering beings arced across the sky, leaving long, streamerlike lines behind them.
Yet, the doctor was not alone on this journey. He claims that he was accompanied by a woman who communicated with him, though not with words, and shared with him a three-part message:
It gets stranger still. For most of my journey, someone else was with me. A woman….When first I saw her, we were riding along together on an intricately patterned surface, which after a moment I recognized as the wing of a butterfly. In fact, millions of butterflies were all around us—vast fluttering waves of them, dipping down into the woods and coming back up around us again….
Without using any words, she spoke to me.
The message went through me like a wind, and I instantly understood that it was true. The message had three parts, and if I had to translate them into earthly language, I’d say they ran something like this:
“You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever.”
“You have nothing to fear.”
“There is nothing you can do wrong.”
Let us pause here and reflect on the claim this neurosurgeon has made. Here is a man who admits that, when this coma and the subsequent “near death experience” occurred, was a Christian in name only, not in belief. In fact, Alexander himself states of his spiritual condition in 2008:
I sympathized deeply with those who wanted to believe that there was a God somewhere out there who loved us unconditionally. In fact, I envied such people the security that those beliefs no doubt provided. But as a scientist, I simply knew better than to believe them myself. (Source)
This profession of unbelief leads the reader to conclude that this man suffered a very serious, nearly fatal medical event seemingly as an unsaved individual. Yet, “heaven,” as he experienced it, was little more than unconditional love and acceptance for a man who, based upon his own assertions, actually was an enemy of God. Unfortunately for Alexander, this runs quite contrary to Scripture. Those who are Christians “in name only” are false professors, and do not know God. When these “in name only” Christians meet the Lord face to face, they will hear some of the most heart-wrenching and terrifying words imaginable: “Depart from me, I never knew you” (Matt. 7:23).
Now, let us go back and consider Dr. Alexander’s description of this “heaven” with its butterfly transportation, pink clouds and female tour guide. Does any of this agree with Scripture? What, if any, descriptions of Heaven exist in God’s Word? After all, if anyone would know what Heaven is like, it ought to be God Almighty, Creator of the universe (Gen. 1:1; Rev. 10:6). Further, what are the reactions of some of those in Scripture who were privileged to see the heavenly realm?
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isa. 6:1–5)
“As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened. (Dan. 7:9–10)
But he [Stephen], full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:55–56)
At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald (Rev. 4:2–3)
Not one of these biblical accounts speaks of a wordless woman on an oversized butterfly. No, these great men, when blessed to peek into the heavenly realm, could focus on one thing only: Jesus Christ.
Of further note is that the Apostle Paul, when “caught up to the third heaven” was not even allowed to speak of what he saw (2 Cor. 12:2–4). Yet how interesting it is that those who today claim to have visited “heaven” not only write about their adventures, but endlessly promote their books through talk show appearances, live speaking engagements and other outlets. How is it that the Apostle Paul was given a “thorn in the flesh” to maintain his humility in light of his heavenly visit, and these individuals increase in popularity and notoriety because of their so-called experiences?
Perhaps what is most interesting, however, is that not one of these alleged heavenly visits is the same as another. Dr. Eben Alexander, Don Piper (90 Minutes in Heaven) and Colton Burpo (Heaven is For Real) are some of the most well-known propagators of these heavenly tales in recent years, yet their stories do not align with one another. This is most curious, since the Bible gives no indication that each person will experience Heaven in a different manner. More vital to note, though, is that not one of these accounts coincides with what God’s Word says about Heaven. If we desire to know more about the afterlife, then, it seems most obvious that we ought to turn to the Bible for our information, and not man-made mystical tales.
What, then, could be the purpose of this latest deceptive endeavor? Whether he realizes it or not, Dr. Alexander reveals this objective in the Newsweek article:
Not only is the universe defined by unity, it is also—I now know—defined by love. The universe as I experienced it in my coma is—I have come to see with both shock and joy—the same one that both Einstein and Jesus were speaking of in their (very) different ways. (Source)
It seems fair to propose that this is one of the primary goals of the Great Deceiver. To convince the world that sin, judgment and condemnation are not actual or final is one of Satan’s greatest ploys. To unite the world in a circle of love, while denigrating and diminishing truth is no doubt a plan that has long been in place by the enemy of our souls.
There can be only one Truth, however, and that is Jesus Christ (John 14:6). This truth, the reality of the Gospel, will divide—our Lord warned us that it would (Luke 12:49–53). Christians must be mindful not to be swept away in the glimmer and glitz of yet another story of one man’s purported excursion to “heaven.” Rather, believers must remain in the Word and on their knees in prayer, that God would protect them from such deception, and expose such tales for what they are—lies spewed from the depths of Hell.