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Heaven Is For Real vs. Bible 2/2

08 May

Heaven Timeheaven time

Still, how could Colton see all this? His father Todd mentioned a possibility of “heaven time”, suggesting that concepts of – past, present and future are perhaps valid only for earth, while time in heaven might not be linear. The nature of time and Gods relation to it is closely related both to our individual but also collective future “times” and I will assess it at least briefly. Grudem agrees with God being a timeless being, which does not experience a succession of moments, as his experience of time is qualitatively different. He does not attempt to specify how this could be but only writes, “To God himself, all of his existence is always somehow “present,” (Grudem 1994: 169). Divine timelessness has been the dominant view of Christian orthodoxy throughout the history of the church. However, Grudem suggests that it is not true that heaven itself will be timeless. Based on several descriptions of heaven from the book of revelation[1] he argues that “there will be a succession of moments one after another” and that we will not experience “an exact duplication of God’s attribute of eternity” (Grudem 1994: 173). Others like Professor William Lane Craig, who worked extensively with the Christian philosophy of time deny divine omnitemporality[2] altogether. Craig argues for temporal becoming or a dynamic theory of time (also called an A-Theory of time) in which past is no longer here, future has yet to come and the only thing that is really in existence is present. In his essay “God, Time, and Eternity”, he concludes: “God is timeless without creation and temporal subsequent to creation.” (Craig 2002).

In both cases, Todd’s proposition of heaven time seems inadequate. Cessation or interfusion of time after our physical death is certainly not a doctrine held by most mainstream evangelicals; neither has it been well established in the belief systems of other major Christian denominations.

Second Coming & Final Destination

On the 72nd page of the book, Colton says that Jesus “was the only one in heaven who didn’t have wings, Jesus just went up and down like an elevator.” His father as pastor well connects this to the ascension account described in Acts 1:9-11. Further to his question “You were in heaven?” the boy answered with certainty, “Well, yeah.” When his mom was worried that a car might hit him, he carelessly responded, “That means I get to go back to heaven!” (Burpo, 2010: 113). Later Colton encouraged his father by saying that “Jesus shots down power for Daddy when he’s talking” (Burpo, 2010: 125). Moreover he said that “Satan is not in hell yet” and “the angels carry swords to keep Satan out of heaven” (Burpo, 2010: 133), finishing with a statement that a future war will “destroy this world” (Burpo, 2010: 136). This short overview shows that the employed language is rather of coming and going than of a transformation. Earth, heaven and hell are represented as distinct places to which man can come into or out of. Heaven is in its location thought to be somewhere above the earth, since the power is shot down.

More people are recently hesitant to affirm that heaven is a place, yet Grudem holds that one needs not to be in doubt. Reading John 14:2-3 leads ”us to conclude that heaven is even now a place – though one whose location is now unknown to us and whose existence is now unable to be perceived by our natural senses.“ (Grudem 1994: 1160)[3]

Colton‘s last statement even proposes that one of these three realms, namely this world, will be ultimately destroyed. Among protestants there is a disagreement on the issue of ”new earth” mentioned in 2 Peter 3:13 and Rev. 21:1. While Lutherans emphasize entirely new creation, Reformed scholars highlight verses about earths renewal. While Colton’s position seems clear, Grudem pleads that “it is difficult to think that God would entirely annihilate his original creation, thereby seeming to give the devil the last word and scrapping the creation that was originally “very good” (Gen. 1:31) (Grudem 1994: 1161).

In his recent book “Surprised by Hope” N.T. Wright argues that instead of Jesus coming down to earth and taking believers with him up to heaven, he will appear to restore the present world. He says, “In his[Jesus’] appearing we find neither a dualist rejection of the present world nor simply his arrival like a spaceman into the present world but rather the transformation of the present world, and ourselves within it, so that it will at last be put to rights and we with it.” (Wright 2008: kindle location 2319). However, I have shown above that Colton’s testimony clearly denies such understanding of heaven. To the contrary, it confirms the spaceman and “elevator like” future descension of Christ. Duffield and Van Cleave do justice to this picture in refering to the second coming as a literal, personal (Jn.14:2-3), visible and bodily coming (Acts 1:11; Rev. 1:7)(Duffield & Van Cleave 1983: 535-536).

All in all Colton’s portrayal leans rather towards traditional, literal interpretations of the second coming, heaven and future times, than to those who understand them to be mere metaphores.

So what does it mean for us?

visionOne of the central challenges of the book is that Colton was never medically considered dead. In spite of this and a certain degree of other disagreements with the Christian orthodoxy, it seems evident that the little boy experienced something extraordinary that day on the operating table. He was aware of things he could not possibly know and his entire perception of life shows to be changed by this newly acquired knowledge.

Craig believes that Colton did not literally see these things as of having “photons bouncing off these objects and entering [his] eyes and impinging on [his] optic nerve.” Rather he propounds that he had a mental projection or a vision of heaven. It is not to say it was inauthentic. God could constitute it in a “sort of virtual reality, in which it appears to [him] as if [he is] consorting with other physical persons, when in fact they’re just disembodied souls.” Such cases were common in the Old Testament. (Craig 2011)

Tim Challies, a book reviewer and a pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto, takes a different route. Based on the discrepancies, he unreservedly dismisses this narrative and advises his readers: “Reject this book. Do not read it. Do not believe it. And do not feel guilty doing so.” (Challies 2011) In accounting for the boy’ supernatural knowledge of both things on heaven and earth, David Hunt goes even a notch further. He suggests that in an anesthesia-produced state of consciousness Colton’s mind was like a blank screen vulnerable to occult forces. He writes, “Spirit entities, whose goal it is to undermine the Word of God and deceive the world, might have that ability to program the blank screen and could therefore take advantage of anyone in such a highly susceptible condition” (Hunt 2010: 187-190)[4]

Anyhow, Colton‘s vision paints heaven to be a place one can be looking forward to. Person receives a glorious body, reunites with those once departed, comes into a presence of a loving God, enjoys work for Jesus and resides in a beautiful location inhabited by angels and coloroued by rainbows. Certainly a joyful prospect! Any pastor can draw on this popular contemporary publication to remind the bereaved of Colton‘s vision. Perhaps not in a doctrinal manner, but of an emotional and pastoral one. Colton‘s posterior lacking fear of death confirms other near-death experiences[5] where the dying were reluctant to come back. In this we can assume that dying is a very pleasant experience and one needs not to be afraid. Then the resurrected body is not merely physically flawless but the healing involves also our emotions. While on earth we bear scars from our past, in heaven all our “baggage“, neuroses and complexes will be completely recovered. Similar stories show that our lives are infused with eternal significance and that the death is not the end. (Craig 2011).

About halfway through the book we read about Todd desperately praying and shouting at God in anger to send his son back to him. After all he as a pastor had done for God, he is filled with rage for the situation they now find themselves in. In his true, naked prayer that is free of respectful phrasing and rhetorical decor, Jesus listens. God is there, he is good, and he is real and personal in his relationship towards us. We can come to Him in any condition and lay all our burdens to his feet. Such an invitation can serve in helping people already on this earth, to come closer to God an ask for the kind of comfort and consolation only He can offer.

– written by Peter

[1] Rev. 21:24,26; 4:10, or Rev. 22:2 in which the “tree of life” is said to be “yielding its fruit each month”
[2] A concept that suggests that God exists at every point in time.
[3] “the eternal destination is not something insubstantial and vague, but a very real location—either with the presence of God in heaven, or shut out from that presence in hell. Eternity has a real destination. (Ponsonby 2010: Heaven or Hell)
[4] Retrieved from http://www.thebereancall.org/content/heaven-real-real-exercise-discernment-0/ (3rd of February 2014)
[5] “Reynolds’s account has many of the features that are often found in NDEs: the out-of-body experience, including being able to describe scenes from an out-of-body perspective; the passage through a dark tunnel; the encounter with the light; entering the light; meeting dead relatives; experiencing nonverbal or telepathic communication; a profound sense of peace and love; the desire to remain in the light; and the reluctance to return to the “dead” physical body while at the same time feeling a sense of obligation to return. Also typical is her feeling after recovery: she testifies that she now has no fear of death and thinks that death is a lie.” (Nichols 2010: Near Death Experiences)
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