Few years ago I read the book Heaven is for Real. I wrote about it for one of my earliest blog posts, which you can read here. I was not a fan of the book and its premise, i.e. that we can know heaven is for real because of the testimony of a four year-old who went there and was able to come back and tell us all about it.
Disclaimer one: I have nothing against four year-olds. I have been the parent and grandparent of a number of delightful children of that age.
The problem I have with the premise of people making trips to heaven and then coming back to tell us what it is like is that I believe that the Bible gives us more than enough evidence of heaven's reality and purpose. This is true if the author is a four year-old, or an adult, such as Don Piper, author of 90 Minutes in Heaven, which I have also read. There are a number of other books in this genre. I have read two. I don't intend to read anymore. I think it is good read some things that a person likely won't agree with and in this case two has been an adequate ample size.
Disclaimer two: I am ordained and serve as the pastor of the Jicarilla Apache Reformed Church, Dulce, NM. In practical terms this means that I pastor a small mission church on a reservation. Theologically I am aligned with the Reformed tradition of the Protestant family tree. In addition to my Bible I rely on the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dort when sorting out things theologically.
So, why should I write on Heaven is for Real a second time? Because the book has been turned into a movie that is being released in mid-April, and a few questions were tossed my way that led to a different reason for why I hold something that seems so well-intentioned in rather low esteem.
In general terms what these kinds of books and movies claim to offer their readers and viewers is compelling evidence of the reality of heaven. They show the goodness and the beauty. They show reunions with people we knew in life who have gone before us in death. Those people we loved so dearly and long to see again? We are assured that we will see them and be happily reunited. In the end all will be well. So the books and movies would have us believe.
The Bible, by comparison, can seem a bit dry. Glimpses of heaven are rare. Those people we loved so dearly are not present in the Bible stories. The books and movies stir the desires of our hearts for a sense of peace about the end of our life. The Bible versions of heaven…not so much, so it would seem.
Have you ever read C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters? It is a collection of radio talks Lewis gave during World War II. In the talks a senior devil, Screwtape, gives counsel to his apprentice, Wormwood, in the various ways to lead a particular person away from God. Virtually any tactic is fair game for the devils, and often something subtle is believed to be just enough to get the job done. (I haven't read this for a while, so I am working from my memory of the book. I do recommend it highly.)
I am not meaning to say that Heaven is for Real, 90 Minutes in Heaven, or any of the other similar books are Satanically-driven books, purposely written in order to turn people from God. I think that the authors of both books were basically well-intentioned in what they set out to do.
But what I do believe about these kinds of books is that they have the potential to subtly turn our attention to what seems to bring peace to our hearts and minds, and that they do this by taking our hearts and minds off of the One who is the only one who truly brings peace.
The fundamental difference between the version of heaven in these books and the accounts in the Bible is that in the Bible, God, on His throne, is the dominant character. He is the focal point of attention at all times. He receives the worship and glory that is rightly His alone.
The books and movies about heaven seem to show God as more of an ancillary character, which diminishes the glory that He rightly deserves. That may not be the intent of the authors or actors but it is certainly the effect. It is the logic of Screwtape, applied to our time.
So go to the movie or read the book and enjoy what you will of them. But do so with this thought in mind: "We must recognize that the Bible tells its own story infinitely better than anyone else can tell it – Hollywood included. "
Those are the words of Albert Mohler, from his review of Noah, another recent movie with a biblical motif. Given that our reservation is 90 miles from the nearest theater it is unlikely that I'm going to "go there."
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.