Are Visions of Heaven Just Malarkey?

A bestselling book is just bunk, says its young author.

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Posted in , Jan 16, 2015

Visions of heaven.

“I did not die, I did not go to heaven.” With those words, teenager Alex Malarkey upended the religious publishing world –and threw a healthy heap of skepticism on the genre of near-death-experience literature.

His bestselling book, The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven, “co-authored” with his father after he was paralyzed in an accident at the age of six, was untrue.

“I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention,” Alex admitted, in an open letter sent to Christian bookstores. (According to Alex’s mother, he didn’t write any of the book, which, since he was six at the time, should be obvious.)

Sun in the sky. Photo by Ig0rZh, Thinkstock.Alex made the truth public after his publisher, Tyndale House, refused to pull the book from shelves–a decision Tyndale has now reconsidered.

We didn’t publish Alex’s story in Mysterious Ways, but we’ve featured other accounts by those who claim to have seen glimpses of the afterlife.

Neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander, whom we interviewed in our October/November 2014 issue, has had his share of detractors, arguing he invented his story for fame and profit.

Alex’s admission raises the issue: just how much stock should we put in these stories of the afterlife? Should we dismiss every vision as the creative imaginings of a charlatan?

As Alex rightly points out, these near-death experiences don’t always fit neatly into our understanding of scripture:When I made the claims that I did,” he writes, “I had never read the Bible... The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.”

As editors, we know we have a huge responsibility on our shoulders. To instill trust in these stories–which all seem unbelievable–we need to do our best to check the facts.

But how do you check a story like Evangelina Garza’s or Dennis Hale’s? We can speak to those who know them, speak to their doctors, check the details that surround their time “away from this Earth”–but when it comes to checking their vision, we only have their word.

After reading so many of these stories, however, I’m inclined to believe. Not just because some people have returned with knowledge of things in this world they could not have known, like discussions family members had outside the hospital room or events that occurred while they were unconscious.

But because of the transformation these survivors have undergone in life following their recovery–as Dr. Alexander put it, “My older son, Eben IV… saw me two days out of the hospital. He said there was like a light shining in me; I was much more present than ever before.”

I don’t necessarily believe that these people have been to heaven in a physical way, or even seen its true nature–even the authors we’ve featured aren’t 100% sure of that–but I do believe that they’ve each been given an extraordinarily comforting, life-changing experience while on the edge of death.

Considering that’s the moment when the brain is in its most distressed, damaged, incapacitated state, the fact that something beautiful and faith-affirming could emerge from the nothingness is a miracle.

We can never truly know what lies beyond–the Bible itself is maddeningly vague on the subject. But the sum of these brushes with the afterlife tells us that what’s next for our bodies and souls will not be nothingness.

Alex Malarkey didn’t see heaven, but he did survive a terrifying accident, and continues to survive every day with a crippling injury that hasn’t robbed him of hope or a positive outlook on life. The license plate on his family’s custom van reads, “Wil Walk.”

He didn’t see heaven, but he still believes in it.

We should all have such faith.

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