The Boy Who Didn’t Come Back From Heaven?

Title: The Boy Who Didn’t Come Back From Heaven?
Text: 1 John 4:1
Time: February 5th, 2015

 
A few years ago I read a Christian book about a surgeon who claims he died and went to heaven. He then wrote a book describing his experiences and explaining how his brain had zero brain wave activity yet he was perceiving objects and having mental experiences nonetheless. He argued for the survival of the soul after physical death. I was very impressed with the book. About the same time I was aware of some other books that were out in the Christian publishing world, books that also recounted experiences of heaven, in particularly a few books recounting the heavenly experiences of a number of different little boys. The one book, which I never read, came out as a full-length motion picture, and I was able to see the movie. It was interesting but not all that impressive as far as stories go. But, because it didn’t contradict anything I knew about heaven from the Bible, I categorized it as something that might have indeed happened. There was another book about another little boy who supposedly died and went to heaven and then returned. I was given this book to read, but I never got around to reading it. As it turns out, this little boy, whose story is recounted in the book I never got around to reading, as it turns out the story is false. The little boy admitted recently to making it all up. He also made the comment in the same statement that Christians shouldn’t look to anything or anyone except the Bible for information about heaven. That’s exactly true, and it’s just what I wrote a couple of years ago in a message about heaven concerning the topic of reported heavenly experiences by people who claim they’ve visited and returned from heaven. But I’m afraid Christians routinely fall into the trap of reading and believing too many supposed personal testimonies about heaven and other things, and they begin to put far too much weight in these stories rather than in God’s Word the Bible. I’ve seen it time and time again. Now I’m not against testimonies and recounting spiritual experiences. I find them interesting, inspiring and often helpful to my faith. But I’m always aware, nonetheless, that I don’t need any testimony to convince me of something the Bible already teaches me. I don’t need testimonies about heaven to convince me of heaven because I believe the Bible and it teaches me all I need to know about heaven – or any other subject. But the question is, “Why do Christian keep turning to these kinds of stories to strengthen their faith when they have their Bibles to do that?” Let me say a few things about this most recent disappointment about the little boy recanting his testimony about heaven and see what we can learn from this experience.

First, there is a dangerous tendency for Christians to believe something if it sounds good. 1 John 4:1, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit. . . .” Now this warning comes from the Apostle John in his series of short letters to Christians. He teaches these Christian not to automatically believe any or every spirit. What is he saying? He’s saying to them not to be so gullible, so trusting, so eager to believe anything that sounds interesting or exciting or inspiring. He’s trying to put into the minds of these early Christians a little healthy skepticism. Yes, that’s right, a little skepticism. Now normally skepticism is a bad thing because it keeps people from believing in God and Christianity and the Bible. The skeptic keeps doubting and keeps claiming he needs more and more information. He keeps stating that the verdict isn’t in yet, there isn’t enough persuasive evidence one way or another, and so forth. So he sits on the fence and refuses to get off the fence because he claims he doesn’t know. Or, he keeps saying that he would believe in Christianity if only he could be persuaded, but so far he isn’t convinced it’s true. He’s skeptical of the Christian faith. Well, we’ve all encountered the skeptic because he always has a reason why he can’t believe, or he always has another question that needs to be raised and answered before he’ll believe. It’s just a big stalling tactic. But in this instance, the Apostle John is actually telling Christians to be a little skeptical, not excessively so, but a little bit, in order to not be led naively astray. Now we shouldn’t take the word “spirit” too literally here in this verse because what he’s referring to are attitudes, beliefs, religious teachings, and so forth. And he’s also referring to the person’s who bring these teachings. So we can summarize him as, “Dear friends, don’t automatically believe everything you hear or are taught by so-called spiritual teachers.” What he’s saying is that not every spiritual teaching coming from a spiritual teacher is true. Some teachers are fooled themselves by false doctrine and so fool others consequently. Others know full well that what they teach is false, but do it to deceive and lead astray. But the fact is there are lots of ideas and teachings that Christians should reject, and others that Christians should be very skeptical about, but in any instance they shouldn’t just automatically believe something when they hear it for the first time. If Christians today would listen to the Apostle John’s advice they wouldn’t get hurt by revelations such as this little boy confessing that he lied about his experiences of heaven. Christians should be more skeptical of such claims. They may still read such stories but they’ll not take them as any proof or see them as any certain evidence of something like heaven. Even though no doubt some of these experiences are valid, still, it’s better to be a little skeptical and let the evidence speak for itself. Just because something sounds good and confirms what we already believe doesn’t mean we should accept it.

Second, Christians need to test everything by the Word of God. 1 John 4:1, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” The Apostle John teaches Christians to not automatically believe everything they hear or see, but instead, to test all things by the Word of God. God’s Word is the only sure thing we can count on; it’s the only true authority from which to test all things. Now this is where Protestants differ from Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians. One of the defining marks of Protestantism starting at the time of the Reformation in the 16th Century is the reliance upon the Bible as the final authority in all things spiritual and moral. Roman Catholics and Orthodox, on the other hand, see the church per se as the final authority. So catholics would look to the hierarchy of the church to instruct what is right and wrong, true and false. But Protestants look to the Bible alone as the chief authority, so taught Luther and Calvin and others. Why the Bible alone? Because it is the Word of God. It alone is infallible. God inspired the prophets and the apostles to write words under divine guidance for the good the people of God. Now the biggest proof for the priority of the Bible over all other so-called authority is simply to examine the record of human authority. Every time we measure any human authority we see it fails at some point. For example, the Roman Catholic hierarchy or magisterium as it’s called, has obviously failed at times in teachings faith and morals. The hierarchy taught and still teaches the pernicious doctrine of indulgences that led to and still lead to many abuses in the church. Yet it’s all sanctioned by the church, yet the Bible teaches no such thing, and in fact, teaches against such a thing. And on and on we could go. The fact is, human authority can’t be totally trusted, only God’s divine authority in his Word can be fully trusted. That’s why we must test all things against the Bible. If whatever under examination passes the test of scripture, God’s Word, the Bible, then it can be believed. If not, it is to be rejected, not matter how good it sounds. Now if Christians had taken this attitude they might not have been hurt by the disappointment of learning about this little boy’s lying about heaven. They would have not put so much stock in his story in the first place. They might have read the story and found it interesting but not put any authority or trust in it, but instead gone to the Bible and drawn their faith in heaven from it rather than the word of a little boy. If we ground ourselves in the Bible for our faith we won’t be disappointed.

Third, Christians need to wake up to the presence of spiritual danger in the world. 1 John 4:1, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Was this little boy who claimed to go to heaven and return to tell his experience, but who was lying all the while, was he, could he be considered a false prophet? I don’t want to judge a little boy too harshly, especially a child, but from a spiritual standpoint, yes, he was deceiving the Body of Christ with his message and setting some people up for disappointment and possible lose of faith. But it wasn’t just the little boy’s fault, it was also his parents, and we must not fail to mention the establishment evangelical leadership especially in the publishing business but also Christian media as well. They just ran with the story about the boy who died, went to heaven and returned to tell; they just started retelling the story as if it were true because it was a good story and lots of people would be interested. There were television and radio interviews, newspaper articles, personal appearances, and books, lots and lots of books printed about the story – over one million copies, a best seller in fact. The little boy’s story made a lot of money in the Christian world, enough that people turned a blind eye towards whether the thing actually happened. Was there enough fact checking? Did enough people carefully check out the boy’s story? It seems people were so eager to believe the story that they bypassed a lot of common sense questions and just rain with it as is in order to get it out to the widest possible audience. That was a mistake. As Christians we need to wake up to the fact that there are real spiritual dangers present in this world. Yes, we can live pretty sheltered lives and get to thinking that we’ve eliminated most of the dangers in the modern world. Wrong. Because of television, radio and especially the Internet today we need to be even more careful what we repeat and what we believe, because spiritual error can now easily creep into any church, any denomination and any Christian’s heart. We need to give more careful attention to spiritual discernment. When I started seeing all these books on heaven coming out I began to wonder if things were going too fast, if there wasn’t enough discernment given to all these claims. Now it looks as if my fears were correct; there wasn’t enough discernment.

My first impression was, “Why are all these people giving so much weight and credibility over a little boy’s story?” I though that about the other little boy’s book and movie called “Heaven is for Real.” Now I don’t have any reason to think that this little boy made up his story too, but my initial reaction, especially towards the movie, was, “Why is this little boy’s father automatically believing his son’s story?” Why did the parents simply assume everything the little boy was saying was true? It wouldn’t have to be an outright lie, it could have been a vivid imagination or creative thinking. And coming from a child nonetheless. I felt the parents were too quick to believe the story and then too eager to spread the story to others. In retrospect, it looks likes in respect to the other little boy, the one who confessed to lying, his parents might have been eager to believe the boy’s story because it opened up doors for them and their family. And the publishing company might have been too eager to believe the boy’s story because it would be a good way to sell books. I don’t know the circumstances of the publishing process so I can’t say for certain, but what I’m saying is all the pressure was to push the story and very little pressure to be cautious or even skeptical as the Apostle John teaches us to be towards spiritual novelties. What can we all learn from the incident? We can learn that false prophets and false prophecy and false teachings can come from all kinds of sources, not just the traditional sources of error – such as obvious cults and false religions and philosophies. False teachings can come from even seemingly harmless sources, such as little boys with innocent faith telling of their experiences. What started as a feel-good story now has turned into a big disappointment. Hopefully, nobody’s faith has been greatly hurt in the process. It’s hard to tell. The best case scenario is that everybody who read the little boy’s book was inspired to read up on heaven in the Bible and get a solid grounding for their convictions. Hopefully that happened for most people. The worse thing that could happen is for someone to believe in heaven and base their conviction on the boys’ testimony, but when they hear he lied, abandon faith in heaven altogether. I hope and pray that doesn’t happen, or hasn’t happened. That’s why we’ve got to teach the Bible and base our beliefs and convictions on it alone. Test all things by the Word of God. Don’t believe everything you see or hear.

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