I’ve just read a great book. It’s called The Case for Heaven by Lee Strobel. Strobel is one of my favorite authors. He was an atheist who worked as an investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune. His wife Leslie became a Christian, and it upset him so much he set out to disprove Christianity and “rescue” his wife. But after months of researching the evidence and interviewing experts, to his dismay he found himself convinced, and he became a believer in Jesus, too. He wrote a book about his faith journey called The Case for Christ. He has since written The Case for Faith, The Case for the Real Jesus, and The Case for a Creator.
In 2011, Strobel had a life-threatening incident that landed him in the hospital and brought him face-to-face with the prospect of his own death. He survived this crisis, but it caused him to consider what happens after we die more seriously. As a Christian, he of course believed in heaven, but he hadn’t given it much thought. After he nearly died, he wanted a clearer idea of what the Bible has to say about the afterlife, and to know if the many accounts of near-death experiences (NDEs) had any validity at all, and whether they supported or contradicted the Bible’s teaching. So, he embarked on yet another months-long investigation, researching and interviewing experts all over America and Great Britain on the subject of life after death. The result was his latest book, The Case for Heaven.
I devoured it in about four days. It’s fantastic. Let me give you the high points.
I hadn’t really read much about NDEs since the mid-1990s. I had read a lot about them up to that point, and concluded that, while there were fascinating reports from people who have been resuscitated after being declared dead or near-death, our only real, reliable source of information about the afterlife was in the Bible, especially the words of Jesus. I still believe that to be true.
What I hadn’t realized was that in the years since then, many, many more studies have been conducted into near-death experiences, often by skeptical doctors and scientists. And over and over, these skeptics have become convinced that at the very least there is scientific evidence of an afterlife. And many of them have become Christians.
Several things stood out to me from this book. First, the sheer number of near-death experiences that people report. Advances in medical science have made it possible to bring more people back from the brink of death, or to resuscitate them after they have apparently died. There are thousands of NDE experiences on record, and one researcher estimated that one person out of every twenty has had a near-death experience.
Second, these people see details about their surroundings or what was done to them that cannot be explained by lack of oxygen, side effects of medications, lucky guesses, or deliberate deception. They can recount what the doctors did to try to resuscitate them, often from a vantage point above their own body, and have observed things that they couldn’t possibly have seen—such as a sneaker on a ledge outside a hospital window several floors above the emergency room. And they see these things while their hearts are stopped, or they are comatose, or even while they have no brainwave activity at all.
Third, the core events in these accounts are the same, even if the details are different. Researchers have noted the difference between what these people actually remember versus their interpretation of what happened to them. When you filter out their personal conclusions or interpretations, the accounts are remarkably the same. And they are the same all over the world, whether the person is from the United States, Great Britain, South America, or India.
Fourth, these NDEs all tend to reinforce the Biblical teaching on the afterlife, rather than the Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim views. A Hindu doesn’t encounter Krishna. A Muslim doesn’t see Mohammed. Buddhists aren’t absorbed into the great nothingness of Nirvana. Instead, what people report the world over is remarkably the same. And what they see dovetails with what the Bible tells us about life after death.
None of this is meant to replace the Scriptures as the foundation for our beliefs. Instead, everything must be evaluated in light of what the Bible says. But John Burke, who wrote Imagine Heaven, and who Lee Strobel interviewed for his own book, put it this way:
“The Scriptures tell us that all creation declares the glory of God (see Psalm 19:1). But if you actually witness a glorious sunset of explosive colors, where the bluest Hawaiian ocean crashes into the majestic mountain-lined beaches of gold—now you’ve experienced the black-and-white words of Scripture in a color-saturated way that can glorify God even more. Near-death experiences do not deny or supplant what Scripture says, they add color to Scripture’s picture. But of course, like any gift from God, people can miss what God wants them to understand, misinterpret the experience, or even worship the gift instead of the gift Giver.” (Imagine Heaven, pages 16-17)
This is all gripping, thrilling stuff. Except the hell accounts. Those will raise the hair on your head.
Strobel ended his book by interviewing Luis Palau, the Argentinian evangelist who died of lung cancer in 2021. He has been called “the Billy Graham of Latin America,” and his ministry has brought at least a million people to Christ. In his mid-eighties doctors diagnosed him with incurable stage four lung cancer, and gave him no more than twelve months to live. Palau died at the age of eighty-six, just a few months after Strobel interviewed him.
Strobel said he wanted to talk to Luis Palau to get a perspective on dying and Heaven from someone who was on the verge of death. Palau was very honest. He said at first he became very emotional, and his thoughts were about everything he was going to miss: his wife and sons, seeing his grandchildren, and things he wouldn’t be there for. Strobel asked him if he feared death. He answered quickly, “No. No. I’m convinced from Scripture that after I close my eyes for the last time, I go to be with God. The apostle Paul says that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. I’ll be honest with you—I’m a little disappointed He hasn’t taken me sooner. I got myself all ready. My conscience is clear. I have everything in order. But—not yet.”
Palau talked with eagerness of wanting to see “the very face of Jesus, my Savior.” And he spoke with anticipation of seeing his mother again, and of meeting “the great heroes of the faith,” such as “Augustine, Whitefield, Moody. And, of course, I want to see Billy Graham again. …And Spurgeon.”
Palau had a message for Christians. He said, “And that’s how I’d encourage my fellow believers—step out in faith, take action, strike up a conversation with someone far from God. …I can tell you from personal experience that at the end of your life, when all is said and done, you’ll never regret being courageous for Christ.”
Then Strobel asked him, “And what about people who aren’t Christians? What message would you send them from heaven?” Palau immediately responded, “I’d tell them, ‘Don’t be stupid!’ …Don’t pass up what God is offering out of His love and grace. Why embrace evil when goodness beckons? Why turn your back on heaven and choose hell? …Don’t miss the party that God has waiting for you in heaven!”
Wow. I certainly can’t add anything to that. Palau’s words remind me of an old song by Christian singer Nancy Honeytree: Heaven’s Gonna Be a Blast!”
I bet it will. Don’t miss it for the world.
Soli Deo Gloria!