Will Heaven Be Boring? Near Death Experiences and our Imagination

unknown-5Belief in the afterlife is a staple feature of all cultures throughout human history. Just what the afterlife will be like is a question of considerable debate. In the Christian tradition, heaven is said to be the deepest longing of the human heart; hell the consequence of a life of self-love and sin.

S. Lewis once said of heaven: “There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven; but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else.”[1] Perhaps. Maybe the great heroes of the faith were “longing for a better country—a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16) but for many of us “normal” Christians, in our heart of hearts, there is a worry that heaven will be one big eternal yawn. The idea of sitting around singing contemporary worship songs for eternity doesn’t excite many of the faithful. To be honest, it doesn’t excite me.

Pastor and Author John Burke addresses this worry when he notes that:

Most people, whether Christ-followers or not, have a horrible view of Heaven. At best it’s a cloudy, ethereal, disembodied, nonphysical experience . . . but if we are honest, we don’t really get excited about it. We can’t imagine actually liking it. At worst, people think of it as an endless, boring church service, singing songs you’re not excited about—forever![2]

But Burke continues:

How you think about Heaven affects everything in life—how you prioritize love, how willing you are to sacrifice for the long term, how you view suffering, what you fear or don’t fear.[3]

In fact Burke thinks that the main reason many—whether Christian or non-Christian—live materialistic, self-centered lives is because they have an impoverished view of heaven. “They can’t imagine Heaven, so they don’t live for it.”[4] Burke’s book is written to help us re-imagine heaven in a way that awakens longing and reorients our life. Interestingly, Burke argues that God has given humanity the gift of  near-death experiences (NDEs) “to color in the picture revealed by the prophets and Jesus” about what heaven is like.[5]

The picture NDEs paint of heaven is anything but boring. Core elements of NDEs, according to Burke, include out of body experiences, heightened senses, intense and positive emotions, the passing into or through a tunnel, a brilliant light, encountering other beings—either mystical beings or friends or relatives—a sense of alteration of time or space, encountering special knowledge, and more.[6] Burke’s book attempts to locate these core elements of NDEs within the biblical teaching regarding heaven. NDEs paint a picture of heaven that is alive, inviting, and more fulfilling than our experiences in this world. Like smelling salt, testimonies of those who have experienced NDEs can awaken us from our slumber and teach us to long once again for “that far-off country.”[7] NDEs are a gift from God to rouse a deaf world, a world focused on this-worldly goods that will ultimately never satisfy.

Will heaven be boring? If NDEs are true, then the answer must be no. In heaven we will experience God and others as we were meant to experience them. We will say, along with C. S. Lewis, “Here at last is the thing I was made for.”[8]

 

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 2001), 149.

 [2] John Burke, Imagine Heaven (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2015), 27.

 [3] Ibid.

 [4] Ibid.

 [5] Ibid.

 [6] Ibid., 46.

 [7] C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins, 2001), 29.

 [8] Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 151.

3 Responses to Will Heaven Be Boring? Near Death Experiences and our Imagination

  1. Phil B says:

    Yes, I have argued for some time that MOST of us Believers are pretty sure about happiness in the “Here-and-now” because it is here and now. We are a bit shaky on the “sweet bye-and-bye”, because it is distant and unknown. Consequently we Christians along with unbelievers tend to mostly devote ourselves to, “getting the most out of this life”. You see LOTS of evidence of the latter if you look around. Lord, “Help Thou my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24)

  2. Jim says:

    I have read Burke’s book. I picked it up when J.P. Moreland recommended it at an apologetics conference earlier this year. It is very well done. I enjoyed it immensely.

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