Sep 13, 2011

Are "Near-Death" and "Post-Death" Experiences Really Necessary?

Time to get something that's bothering me a little bit off my chest.  I was at home today for lunch and my wife was watching Pat Robertson's 700 Club.  I am not really a big fan of Robertson or his ministry. I think he sticks his foot in his mouth way too much, but I have had that said about me more than once.  700 Club does have some very inspiring stories, they pray for people, and overall I think his ministry is much more harmless than Paul Crouch, Benny Hinn, and many others.  Anyway, towards the end of the program they did their usual appeal to "become a member of the 700 Club" for a monthly donation.  As a "thank-you gift" they would send to me "this powerful video full of stories of people who have experienced near-death experiences - some to heaven and some to hell."  This really is beginning to bother me some.

This video is the latest in the line of many resources that are now beginning to proliferate the church market about people who claim to have died and what they saw and experienced right after.  The market is currently flooded with these types of books and videos - (Heaven is for Real, 90 Minutes in Heaven, 23 Minutes in Hell, The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, My Time in Heaven, and several more).  These type resources are creating a frenzy among people who want to hear these "amazing stories" of what life is like "on the other side."  I think this is mostly due to our innate fear of dying and many people's uncertainty of whether there is something else or what it's like.  I think it's also because in our media-driven age we are drawn into fascinating stories.  I personally met and heard Don Piper share his experience of Heaven and listened with rapt attention.  I believe Piper to be a very humble, sincere, and fascinating brother-in-Christ.  As far as I can discern, his story seems very real and his accounts of Heaven didn't appear to contradict what I have studied personally from God's word. 

I will admit that I have personally never read any of these books and really don't feel the need to.  I do not know any of the other people, other than Don Piper, that have written these books or told their stories.  I am not so cynical as to think that these people had to have made these stories up and are doing so for personal gain.  I don't think they are greedy.  I also admit that in most of the cases that I have heard of there is medical evidence that these people died and later came back to life.  I don't even question that.  I am not questioning whether these "experiences" are real.  I cannot know, prove, or disprove that at all.  My question is "Are these stories and experiences necessary?"  I am not questioning the validity of these stories, just their necessity.  Are we now to assume that we are living in an age where God, because of the technology and interconnectedness of the world, has now chosen to reveal truths about heaven, hell, and the afterlife through new stories?  Are we to assume just because some of these people claim personal faith in Jesus Christ that these are experiences sent by God to tell us something?  There are other questions I think these books raise as well:
  1. If God really is behind these experiences and revelations, why is he choosing to do this now and seemingly so often?  These are not the first people to have near-death experiences and talk about them.  However, is it just because we have more media that we are aware of them or is God up to something.
  2. If God is not really behind these experiences, then where are they generating from and could some of them possibly have a demonic origin designed to confuse and distract Christ-followers?  Scripture says that Satan masquerades himself as an angel of light.  I am not suggesting these this is the case, just asking the question.
  3. Does the Bible not provide enough sufficient explanation about Heaven and Hell?  I think one of the tragedies of these resources is that we are relying on these accounts to "understand what Heaven and Hell are like" instead of the sufficiency of what God has already said about them in the Bible.  The result of this is people propagating ideas about heaven that have no scriptural basis.  I know several good books about Heaven that have been written that are completely based on Scriptural revelation and not second-hand sources.  (Heaven by Randy Alcorn, The Glory of Heaven by John MacArthur, One Minute After You Die by Erwin Lutzer)  I would recommend reading these as a substitute or at worse as a supplement for these other books.
  4. If there are things in these books that contradict or confuse what is revealed in Scripture, how do we handle that?  The problem for most people who buy these books is that they haven't carefully evaluated everything that is revealed in God's word about these subjects, so they don't know error when they read it.  
  5. Can these type resources eventually become a substitute for Scripture?  I have seen people who will voraciously read these books but if you ask them about their personal time in God's word they will say that they find it hard to "make time for the Bible".  What does that say about us?
  6. How do we discern "legitimate" experiences from "illegitimate" ones?  By what standard do we have to decide which stories are real and which are not?  Are we to assume all of them are real?  Are we to assume all of them are false?
  7. ?  The rich man in hell pleaded with Abraham to let him or someone else go back and warn his family.   And he said, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'"  Did Jesus change his mind now from that story and now think that people rising from the dead is a legitimate way to evangelize?
I don't want in any way to stir up emotions and controversy with these thoughts and questions.  Again, in this post, I don't question whether any of these were valid experiences or not.  I don't know if I have researched the subject or these books enough to make a declaration of their validity or not.  I just question whether they are necessary for us at this time to advance the truth of the gospel or not.  Or, are they just some kind of TMZ for Christians?  

If you want to read one of these books and find them to be inspirational and informative, I am glad.  I hope they can be a true blessing and hope they verify what is revealed in Scripture.  Maybe after reading them you can help me answer the question of this post more clearly.  I would like to know if these are necessary and why.  I would simply request that you at least take time beforehand to research carefully all the richness that Scripture already reveals about this subject so that you can be better armed to see truth from error.  If you can, pick up one of the other books on the subject I recommended earlier to help.  Not everyone will agree with my thoughts and I do not mean to offend.  I am just questioning and am concerned how many more of these we will have to see before we drive ourselves back to the already sufficient revelation of God given to us in the word.


Michael Helms said...

I think for me, the books and stories are a reminding inspiration of His POWER. Nothing more, nothing less! I am always questioning things and not giving anyone the complete benefit of the doubt so it is hard for me to see any of these as absolute truth. Not saying these stories are a lie and certainly not proud of my thought process but that's what working with conspiracy theorist Greg Burgess will do to a man. He ruins the True Story movies for me weekly with his "that really didn't happen" commentary. Most recent heartbreaks were Blindside and Secretariat by the way.

Sorry tangent...Questions 4&5 really hit home with me...I personally tend to substitute these type resources for scripture way too often and that my friend is an absolute no, no. I have struggled with this for years, get caught up in the feel goodism of the story and completely forget about that absolute truth, collecting dust on the night stand. Bit of exaggeration I suppose but you get my point. Bottom-line for me I have to be diligent about reading these type books along with my bible close by so I don't forget why I am actually digging into the read.

Are these stories necessary? I think so, as a follower we all have a different testimony and we use these stories as part of what we are commanded to do in telling the story of Jesus. Some our obviously more dramatic than others but its their story nonetheless. We just probably need to proceed with caution and really fine tune what God is trying to teach us.

OK, I better get going before I start typing about the other questions, plus its time for me to get the TIVO rockin....700 CLUB here I come.

Michael Devillier said...

Great thought-provoking post Matt. People are obviously fascinated by these types of books. These books fly off of the shelves and if the authors are speaking nearby, people will flock to hear their story.

As to whether the accounts actually took and take place, I don't know. I honestly have my doubts about that. However, I cannot say with certainty that these things did not take place. I will, however, say that if these "accounts" do not have the support of God's Word, then they are not authentic. When I say authentic, I mean as being from God. Satan is a deceiver and just as he twisted God's Word in the garden of Eden, as well as in the wilderness when Jesus was tempted, he still twists God's Word today. The first and only test as to whether these and all other "experiences" are genuine is God's Word, as you pointed out in your post.

I will just say two things, both of which appeal to Scripture.

1) In II Corinthians 12:1-7 Paul talks about a man (himself) who was caught up into the third heaven. "I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago--whether in the body I do not know, God knows-such a man was caught up to the third heaven. 3) And I know how such a man-whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows- 4) was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak." (2-4) Paul acknowledges the fact of being caught up into heaven, yet not the details. He says that he "heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak." He was of course given a thorn in the flesh to keep him from exalting himself. After Paul mentions his visit to heaven, he doesn't give us details, he simply gets back to ministry. Again, I am not saying these "experiences" are not real, I am simply asking: What does the Scripture say?

2)In Luke 16:19-31 Jesus tells us about a rich man and Lazarus. As the rich man was in hell Scripture tells us about the conversation between the rich man and Abraham. I will pick up in verse 27. "And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, that you send him (Lazarus) to my father's house-28) for I have five brothers-in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.' 29) But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.' 30) But he said, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!' 31) But he said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.'" (27-31)
Moses and the Prophets=God's Word! The truth is this based upon what God's Word says: "If people won't listen to the Word of God, they won't listen though one were raised from the dead with smoke rising off their heads and their clothes singed." Because the truth is that if people won't listen the God's Word, they won't listen at all.

I apologize for this being so lenghty. In closing this post out let me say again, I do not know if these "experiences" are real or not. I am not saying they are not. Again, I do have questions about them. However, whether they are real or not, I believe based upon God's Word, they are not necessary. Thanks for your post and your time. Let me know what you think.