A friend with whom I’ve been dialoguing (debating? arguing? fighting?) for 34 years about the state of the dead sent me a link to the trailer for the movie Heaven Is for Real. “Watch this, Cliff,” he wrote, “and tell me how this fits with your Seventh-day Adventist dogma about the dead.”
Based on a true story, the movie tells about a little boy named Colton who is rushed to the emergency room, where he dies but revives. Colton had a near-death experience (NDE) in which he said he saw heaven. There he had encounters with the dead, everyone from a sister who had died in a miscarriage before Colton was born, to his father’s grandfather, who had died decades earlier. As he talked, the child clearly knew about things that he could not have known on his own.
However moving, compelling, and awesomely convincing, the trailer (hence the movie) is a lie, no more biblical than the Noah nonsense released about the same time. I’m not saying that anyone (other than the devil) is lying. I have no doubt the child had the experiences he described. But I also have no doubt that what he saw weren’t his dead relatives, because the dead are asleep until the resurrection (Ps. 6:5; 115:17; 146:4; Eccl. 9:5; Dan. 12:2; 1 Cor. 15:17, 18). Colton had these experiences, but unless one understands the “Seventh-day Adventist dogma about the dead,” one is all but fated to dangerously misinterpret what those experiences really mean.
With another note challenging “my Seventh-day Adventist dogma,” my friend later sent me an article from Newsweek (Oct. 15, 2012) about a Christian who had an NDE that my friend saw as more possible evidence that at death we soar off to an Elysium. The man who had the NDE described entering another realm where, with a beautiful young woman, he rode on the wing of a giant butterfly. The woman, his spirit guide, then told him three things:
First, she said: “You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever.” OK . . . I can accept that.
Second, “You have nothing to fear.” OK . . . ?
Third: “There is nothing you can do wrong.” Ding-a-ling! Ding-a-ling! Ding-a-ling! If that doesn’t send massive alarm bells ringing in the ears of anyone who believes the Bible, what would?
There is nothing you can do wrong? Funny, but my Bible is filled with stories about the devastation wrought by people doing wrong. My Bible warns again and again about the horrific consequences when people do wrong. There’s even a word the Scripture uses for these acts: “sin.” Also, doesn’t the Bible talk about something called the Ten Commandments, the law of God; and doesn’t this law point out precisely what those wrong acts are? Unless I am misinterpreting 1 John 3:4—“Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness”—if, after he revived, that man were to violate this law, wouldn’t he (in contradiction to what the beautiful woman on the giant butterfly wing said) be doing wrong? And finally, wasn’t Jesus’ death on the cross about Him paying the legal penalty for all the wrong that humans have committed? “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
After hearing from this woman, the man said: “The message flooded me with a vast and crazy sensation of relief.”
No wonder. He’s loved forever, he has nothing to fear, and he can’t do anything wrong. It’s as if this demon (who else would tell him that?) were reading from The Great Controversy, where we’ve been warned, in this precise context, “Love is dwelt upon as the chief attribute of God, but it is degraded to a weak sentimentalism, making little distinction between good and evil.”*
I have no doubt about the sincerity or the good intentions of those who made Heaven Is for Real, and of the man who described his NDE. But not knowing the biblical teaching on death, they are being deceived by the one “who leads the whole world astray” (Rev. 12:9).
Thus, in response to my friend’s query about how well these things fit “Seventh-day Adventist dogma about the dead”: They fit perfectly, thank you.
* Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 558.