Plenty of books about going to heaven - and back
And while these stories abound in the 21st century, they are not a new phenomenon with the Apostle Paul in the 1st century being one of the first to publish an experience of heaven.
"I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell." 2 Corinthians 12:2-4But while Paul was quite circumspect about sharing his heavenly experience, even referring to it in the third person, today we'll look at five recent books that give detailed accounts of what the authors believe were their own experience of being "caught up to paradise".
Interestingly, two accounts are from doctors and two are from young children - both groups that might be considered less likely to conjure a story of heaven. Children because they have little learned material to draw from and doctors presumably because of the professional credulity they would have to overcome.
"I died and went to heaven. After a brief stay I was returned to my body. I returned to my earthly life with two shattered legs and pulmonary problems. I was hospitalised for more than a month, wheelchair bound for even longer, and did not return to my orhopaedic surgery practice for more than six months." To Heaven and Back - PrologueShe describes the experience as one of the greatest gifts she ever received and her book tells of her first hand experience of heaven and its continuing life-enhancing effects. Read the prologue, introduction and first chapter of To Heaven and Back.
Over an hour later as another minister at the conference prayed for him on the roadside, even though he knew Piper was dead, he returned to life with his only memories being of heavenly bliss. These included meeting family members such as his great grandmother and joining a heavenly choir!
A gruelling recovery lay ahead and also the re-telling of his experience, but not at first apparently - he had to be convinced by family and friends to share his story. Eventually, 15 years later, the book was published. Today more than four million copies have been sold.
In the months following the surgery, Colton Burpo began talking about seeing the doctor operating on him and his dad praying in the waiting room. He went on to describe visits to heaven where he met his miscarried sister of whom he was unaware and his great-great grandfather who died 30 years before Colton was born.
At first his family was unsure what to make of lttle Colton's revelations but these "impossible-to-know details" led them to believe something unusual had happened. Other descriptions inclued sitting in the lap of Jesus, how the Holy Spirit "shoots down power" to help people and that "Jesus really loves children, and to be ready... there is a coming battle".
The book is written by father Todd with the assistance on Lyn Vincent but often uses Colton's own words. Within three months of being published, Heaven is for Real was a New York Times best seller with 200,000 copies in print. As of this year, over a million ebooks have been purchased.
The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven (July 2010, Tyndale) tells the story of six-year-old Alex Malarkey with his father Kevin were involved in an horrific car accident in 2004. Alex was in a coma for two months and it seemed unlikely he would survive.
But then he woke from the coma, and began sharing incredible details from the accident scene, of being in hospital (although he had been unconscious throughout) and of angels taking him through the gates of heaven. As in the previous accounts, various intriguing details of heaven are shared including Alex meeting and talking to Jesus.
"The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven is the true story of an ordinary boy's most extraordinary journey. As you see heaven and earth through Alex's eyes, you'll come away with new insights on miracles, life beyond this world, and the power of a father's love."
Interestingly, Alex suffered serious permanent disability from the accident and was the first child in the world to have received the “Christopher Reeve surgery" allowing him to breathe without a ventilator. He can stand in a supportive frame for an hour at a time and, with the help of a special harness, can walk on a treadmill while helpers move his legs. He believes that he will walk on his own again.
Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife by Eban Alexander (Simon & Schuster in the US, October 23, 2012) is the latest in our series of heavenly tomes and is by our second authorial doctor, this time a neurosurgeon no less.
The official website for the book says that Alexander was a religious sceptic, who, "Before he underwent his journey, he could not reconcile his knowledge of neuroscience with any belief in heaven, God, or the soul."
But then he contracted a rare bacterial meningitis which cause his brain to shut-down and doctors were a the point of giving up when his eyes popped open - "he was back".
And while some reports say he is a devout Christian, and his official website mentions God, some other aspects of the beliefs he has formed through his experience sound a little "new age":
"Together, science and spirituality will thrive in a symbiosis offering the most profound insight into fundamental Truth, yielding unimaginable power. The keystone is in global progression of individual conscious awakening. Many in both the scientific and religious (or spiritual) realms must denounce their addiction to prejudiced, closed-minded, dogmatic beliefs, in order to open our awareness to this novel synthesis of understanding Truth. By probing deeply into our own consciousness, we transcend the limitations of the human brain, and of the physical-material realm."And just to show balance, there are books about coming back from hell including 23 Minutes In Hell: One Man's Story About What He Saw, Heard, and Felt in that Place of Torment by Bill Weis (January 2006) and To Hell and Back by Dr Maurice Rawlings (September 1993).