Will our souls go to Heaven, or will all of our thoughts and emotions simply cease forever with our last breath? At some point, every person wonders what will happen after death. No one can answer for absolute certainty until after death, and the dead can’t communicate with us. Most people who believe in an afterlife also believe in a Supreme Being who reigns over it. If our existence—on Earth and after death—is really possible, was it brought about by God? Others ask, “If God created everything, who created God?” From a human perspective, if you allow logic to drive your definition and belief of a God and Heaven, it gets pretty scary because that means it’s impossible for us to exist! Of course, from the Christian Bible, the book of Genesis says, “In the beginning, God created Heaven and Earth.”
According to recent Gallup polls, the number of Americans who believe in God has dropped from 92% in 2011 to currently 81%. Only 36% of Europeans believe in a Supreme Being, with Germany being the lowest (10%). If you don’t believe in God, then you would be inclined not to believe in Heaven.
Scientists can’t prove or disprove that God exists, but they do know a few things about the universe. Most believe that it was formed approximately 14 billion years ago. Harvard University scientists have proven that a “Big Bang” led to the creation of the universe and its expansion. Some of the light from the explosion, traveling at 186,000 miles per hour, is just reaching us today! Most researchers believe that the Earth compared to the universe would be like a speck of sand on a beach! Now that’s mind-boggling since it shows how vast the universe is with all of its mysteries. At the forefront: whether or not the Big Bang and the universe were made by God, or if all existence somehow just happened.
Although most people’s perceptions of God and Heaven are faith-based, some scientists have also shared their opinions on God. Physicist Stephen Unwin, Ph.D. used the “Probability of God” mathematical equation he created to put the likelihood that God exists at 67 percent. In his famous “Wager,” 17th-century French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal said that it makes more sense to believe in the existence of a God because if you do, and there is no God, you lose nothing—but if you don’t, and God does exist, you could be in trouble! Many mathematicians simply go by the “coin toss” theory and put the probability at 50-50.
Our purpose today is not to debate whether or not God exists, however. We have attempted merely to present interesting descriptions of heaven based on our studies. Our hope is that people will use our findings to become excited about nature, the universe, God, and Heaven.
First, what is “Heaven?” The three most widely practiced religions in the world (Christianity, with 2.2 billion followers; Islam, 1.6 billion; and Hinduism, 1 billion, approximately), each believe in a Heaven and a Hell, although they disagree on how one enters the afterlife and its exact appearance. Because Christianity is the world’s most common religion, we have assumed the Christian idea of Heaven as described in the Bible for the purpose of this column. Bits and pieces of scripture describing Heaven are woven throughout the Old and New Testaments. Images mentioned in them include: walls with jewels and precious stones; a place of many rooms; twelve gates of pearls; city streets and buildings built with pure gold; a city of brilliance illuminated by God; music, worship, and singing; angels and believers everywhere; a pure River of Life flowing through the middle of the land; twelve crops and a Tree of Life from which Heaven’s inhabitants eat; a place of rewards; friendly animals; no pain, sorrow, suffering, crying, or death; joy, fellowship, and productive work; Heavenly bodies; everlasting life; and, the opportunity to meet and talk directly with God. The prophets Isaiah, Matthew, Jude, John, and Paul all wrote that Heaven will be beautiful beyond human imagination. Even Egyptians were convinced there was an afterlife and went to great lengths to prepare for the journey.
In addition to these ancient views of Heaven, we can also learn more about what it might look like from those who have died, been revived, and reported they visited Heaven. Because humans are so curious about Heaven and the afterlife, there is a huge demand for these stories; in fact, many of the past bestselling books in America deal with near-death experiences. This is not a new trend—in fact, accounts of near-death experiences and visits to Heaven have been recorded as far back as ancient Greece! Many skeptics say that near-death experiences are the result of chemical reactions in the brain. Others point out that since life after death can’t be absolutely verified, unscrupulous people could take advantage of others to make money from their stories. However, with recent books about visions of Heaven coming from respected medical doctors and Christian ministers, even skeptics are taking notice. We read six books about near-death experiences to look for threads of consistency among the authors’ views of Heaven. In addition, to the Bible, we examined the bestseller, “Heaven,” by Randy Alcorn, who did not die but is a leading Christian writer.
The authors came from different backgrounds, including Christian pastors, an atheist neurosurgeon, a medical doctor, and Christians with weak connections to the faith. The circumstances leading up to each author’s experience varied, yet their visits had many parallels. None of those who visited Heaven during their near-death experiences wanted to return to Earth. In fact, some were angry that they had been brought back to life! According to all the writers, Heaven is a far better place than Earth. Their glimpses of Heaven also radically changed each person’s life. However, most were afraid to initially speak about what they saw because their experiences were so bizarre and extraordinary. They said that God told them to return to Earth and share what they saw! While you might be skeptical, remember what Jesus said, “All things are possible!” We sometimes put God in a box and forget, if He created the universe, He has the power to bring the dead to Heaven, show them its wonders, and return them to tell others. Jesus also brought dead people, like Lazarus, back to life. So, with an open mind, let’s begin.
90 Minutes in Heaven: Christian pastor Don Piper was traveling home from a ministers’ conference when a truck hit his car, killing him as verified by paramedics. Unlike others, Piper said that he appeared instantly in Heaven without traveling through any tunnel. Once there, he became aware of large crowds, many of whom he had known, like his grandfather, friends, and teachers. It was a joyous, excited reunion of people kissing and hugging him. He described Heaven as a “first-class buffet for the senses…Warm, radiant light engulfed me…As I looked around, I could hardly grasp the vivid, dazzling colors. Every hue and tone surpassed anything I had ever seen.” Never, had he felt so alive, and he experienced no sadness at leaving behind his Earthly family and possessions. He heard and felt beautiful music flowing through his body. He saw a gate ahead that had an amazing brilliance, and behind it, buildings and streets of gold. Moving towards it, “I had the sense I was being ushered into the presence of God…A holy awe came over me as I stepped forward,” he said. God tells him that he is returning to Earth because another minister stopped after his accident and was praying for him inside his wrecked car. Afterward, he underwent 13 excruciating months of hospitalizations, and 34 major surgeries, but maintained the memory of his Heavenly experiences, saying, “I was home. I was where I belonged.” (donpiperministries.com)
To Heaven and Back: Orthopedic surgeon, Mary Neal, MD, who is a Christian, dies during a river accident. She described being met by many “dazzling and radiant” souls “who greeted me with the most overwhelming joy I have ever imagined.” These beings were sent to protect her during her journey to Heaven. She said that the guides engulfed all of her senses “as though I could see, hear, feel, smell them, all at once.” The beings communicated with her (and each other) without speech as they guided her along a path toward “a great and brilliant hall larger and more beautiful than anything I can conceive…radiating a brilliance of all colors and beauty.” Before she reached the great hall, she was told that it wasn’t yet her time. Despite her protests, woke up in a hospital room. During her recovery, Neal said, an angel appeared and transported her to a rock in a sun-drenched field, telling her “to rejoice always even in the midst of troubled circumstances.” The angel informed Neal that her eldest son would soon die and her husband would experience significant health problems. Her son’s death a year later and spouse’s medical problems added credibility to her journey. Even though she faced enormous tragedy, she concluded her book by saying, “God created us, knows us, loves us, and guides us.” (drmaryneal.com)
Heaven is for Real: Christian Minister Todd Burpo shares the story relayed to him by his four-year-old son, Colton, who dies on the operating table during surgery, goes to Heaven, and comes back with remarkable stories. He returns knowing family secrets that his parents had never revealed. Colton told his father, upon his death, he felt his body rising and saw his parents praying in different rooms. He traveled to Heaven, where he met Jesus who had the most beautiful, radiating eyes and clothed in varying rainbow colors. He said that Heaven consisted of gold, pearls, and jewels; that there were many beautiful flowers, trees, and animals of every kind, including dogs, cats, and lions; and that no one was old. Colton also described seeing the Holy Trinity (God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit), and the Angel Gabriel. He revealed information about the eventual spiritual battle of good and evil predicted by the Bible. Like Dr. Neal, Colton was given information that he couldn’t have obtained otherwise. He told his parents that he met his great-grandfather (who died 30 years before his birth) and his stillborn sister (appearing as a grown woman). Colton was able to identify his great-grandfather’s picture from groups of photos, and his skeptical parents were shocked by his sister’s reference, as they had never told him about her. Colton’s parents said that his story of Heaven gradually unfolded over time and they were stunned at the details he knew about his family’s past, God, the Bible, Heaven, and the future.
Waking up in Heaven: Christian Author and school-teacher Crystal McVea, was a thirty-two-year-old mother-of-four, who was medically dead for “nine minutes,” although she reported being in Heaven for days. Like others, two angels guided her through tunnels (“a magnificent passageway…of blinding, swirling, shimmering brightness”) to Heaven’s gates where she entered a place beyond our imagination: “Beautiful, brilliant, amazing are wildly inadequate.” McVea said the colors she saw were a trillion times brighter than ours, and that she could feel and taste light. She felt as if she were “home” and a part of God, bathed in love, joy, and purity. There were no bad feelings and she sensed being more alive there than her entire life on Earth. “I believed I couldn’t possibly feel any more joy than I did,” she wrote. “I truly believed my soul was going to explode.” She inquired about her traumatic life on Earth while in Heaven, and all of her questions were answered. In the end, she was instructed by God to go back home and “Tell them what you remember.” She returned with a different mindset. “After I died, I came to realize that my fortune was my family and friends and the love of God, and the rest didn’t matter all that much.”
Proof of Heaven: Like other writers who died, neurosurgeon Eben Alexander, MD experienced visions of Heaven upon his death where he wanted to stay forever. Unlike the others, he was an atheist—until he experienced Heaven. “The place was real in a way that makes life we’re living here and now completely dreamlike by comparison,” he wrote. Like others, he had a guide, an angel in the form of a little girl. Similarly, he also experienced a sensory overload of beautiful sounds and indescribable colors. “It seemed that you couldn’t look at or listen to anything in this heavenly world without becoming a part of it,” Alexander wrote. “The landscape was Earthlike. I was flying over trees, fields, streams, and waterfalls, and there were people and children, too, laughing and playing. The people sang and danced around in circles, and sometimes, I would see a dog, running and jumping among them, as full of joy as the people were.” His guide and other beings answered his questions without language, and he was able to “instantly and effortlessly understand concepts that would have taken me years to fully grasp in my Earthly life.” Alexander was told by God to return to Earth and tell others of his experience, although he was very sad to leave his Heavenly “home.”
Heaven: Randy Alcorn is a leading Christian writer on the Old and New Testaments’ Biblical views of Heaven. Unlike the others, he did not die. While we won’t dive into deep theology, Alcorn writes in his books that Heaven will be a garden, city, and kingdom. He states that “Heaven will cause us to gasp in amazement and delight!” People who enter will “be with Jesus in Heaven, being reunited with family (some of whom we have never met) and friends while enjoying great adventures.” We most likely will be called by our Earthly names (among others) as written in the “Book of Life,” have bodies, and be able to recognize each other. Alcorn says that Heaven will be “filled with natural wonders, magnificent architecture, and thriving cultures.” It will be overflowing with arts, music, drama, and even sports. He stated we will renew old relationships and create new ones with other people while in Heaven and retain our past Earthly memories. Alcorn believes that we might also be reunited with our deceased pets as gifts from God. He says that the people of Heaven will have unlimited, direct access to God, a “one-of-a-kind being who is infinite, existing outside of space and time. We will see the One who made us!” Believers will be able to talk, worship, eat, walk, and laugh with Him. In Heaven, we will never get enough of God. Alcorn notes “Image it!” Our senses will be much more powerful and sensitive beyond our belief. We will wear clothes (most likely white robes). Music will be everywhere and we will sing songs we know in addition to music written in Heaven. Alcorn notes, “We won’t always be on our faces at Christ’s feet, worshiping Him. There will be no temple or formal worship services. We will be living in dwelling places, eating and drinking…and working for Him. Scripture depicts people standing, walking, traveling in and out of the city.” We will have joyful jobs in Heaven. Debra and I will most likely be “cat herders!” Alcorn’s scripture-based Heaven interpretation shares many experiences of the other authors outlined in this article who died, were revived, and came back at God’s instruction to report their Heavenly journey to others on Earth.
The Bottom Line: Of course, you can’t believe everything you read and hear, especially in a place we have not seen. While I have read many books on Heaven, I’m sure not an expert. While we know a little what Heaven is like based on Biblical and other accounts, we cannot comprehend the wonderful place where believers will live for eternity. As Corinthian 2:9 states, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him!” Alcorn challenges us to think vividly with our imaginations what Heaven is as God prepares a place for those who love Him. It’s great to know that He awaits me and I have another journey to come! While I’m not quite ready to go to Heaven, I’m looking forward to having face-to-face conversations with God! I have lots of questions for Him and can’t wait to watch 3-D movies in the “Grand Heaven Theatre” beginning with the creation of the universe! “Now, that’s exciting!”
Mike DuBose is a Deacon with the Presbyterian Church and has been a staff member with USC’s graduate school since 1986 when he began his family of companies. He is the author of The Art of Building a Great Business. Please visit our blog for additional published business, travel, and personal articles, as well as health articles written with Surb Guram, MD.