Podcast listener Laura writes in to ask: “Pastor John, how do you respond to the craze over books like Heaven Is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back? I have heard from many people, both who do and do not profess to be believers, how much they love these books. I’m a natural skeptic. How would you address this?”
If books go beyond Scripture, I doubt what they say about heaven. In other words, I am skeptical. And since doubted claims are of little use for living our lives, I don’t bother to read these books. Since I have my Bible, which already tells me what I can know for sure about heaven, and everything in those books I do not know for sure, I don’t credit them with infallibility. Therefore, it is all guesswork, and I don’t find guesswork about heaven helpful. Therefore, I don’t read the books.
Let Scripture Speak
Now, my skepticism is increased because I tried to read one of these books one time and immediately I saw a mistake. We at Desiring God, we wrote to the author. He had said, “When you get to heaven, there is no mention of death or anything like that brought to memory” — something like that.
And I wrote and I said: “According to Revelation, the centerpiece of the psalms that we will sing is about the Lamb who was slain, which means the most horrible slaughter of any human being that ever was will be on our minds forever.” And he wrote back and said: “I misspoke.” I felt, Oh, my confidence level has just gone down again. And I am thinking — we thank him for his honesty, and that is the sort of thing that is going to happen — I don’t believe these books. I am very skeptical about these books, but mainly I have a Bible that tells me what I need to know.
God’s Word Is Enough
But here is the last and the main problem: the Bible forbids séances and necromancy. That is, it forbids communicating with the dead, whether or not you bring them up like the witch of Endor brought up Samuel, or whether they happen to show back up in your living room because they only stayed there for a while. I don’t think, in principle, there is any difference. And the reason I don’t think there is, in principle, any difference between calling somebody up from the dead in a séance and having them come back from the operating table and claim that they were dead and went to heaven, the reason there is no difference is because the argument that God gives for why we shouldn’t do it applies to both.
Here is what it is: “When they say to you, ‘Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers’” —the communicators with the dead — “‘who chirp and mutter’” — when they say that — “‘should not a people inquire of their God?’” (Isaiah 8:19) That is the argument: Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? In other words, God’s beef with necromancy is that it belittles the sufficiency of his communication. Why would you inquire of the dead to find out what you want to know instead of inquiring of me?
And if they say, “Well, I have inquired of you and you didn’t tell me what I want to know,” he would say, “Well, that is your problem. I have told you what you need to know. You don't need to know about such and such if I haven’t told you. And, in fact, if you go trying to inquire about such and such that I haven’t told you, you are dishonoring me.” So that is the nature of the argument. And, therefore, I think the prohibition of séances and necromancy applies to this kind of thing and people ought to stop writing those books.
What We Know for Sure
Here is what we are told — and this is just a taste. The Bible tells us that in heaven and in the age to come there is going to be no disease, no calamities, no depression, no guilt, no shame, no misery, no pain, no sinning, no being sinned against, perfect joy, perfect peace, perfect righteousness, fellowship, intimate fellowship with Jesus.
“We are going to see God, and we will eat of the tree of life in the paradise of God.”
We are going to see God, and according to those letters in Revelation, we will eat of the tree of life in the paradise of God. We will not be hurt by the second death. He will give us hidden manna and a white stone and only he and we will know the name on it — a very intimate picture. He will give us authority over the nations and make us the morning star. He will never blot our names out of the book of life. He will confess us before the Father and his angels. He will make us pillars in the temple of his God and we will never go out of it. He will write his name on our forehead. He will grant us to sit with him on his throne as he has conquered and sat down with the Father on his throne.
These things take a lifetime to probe into and they are absolutely authoritative, absolutely certain. So I would just direct people to one sermon: Jonathan Edwards, “Heaven is a World of Love.” If you want to see something that is more beautiful than anything you have ever read in any book that is built on going to heaven and back again, read this. And this you can know is true, because it is all based on the Bible.