Now that Alex Malarkey, I was always a little bothered by that name, has said that his story in The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven is a fabrication, what should we think of heaven?
I must say, I always suspect these stories. Not that I believe that they are all lies, but I suspect many are something besides the truth. They can be anything from real experiences to outright lies, demonic deceptions, or over active imaginations. Imperfect understandings, or misinterpretations of real experiences, may also explain some of the content of these accounts. I suppose the possibilities are endless.
I don’t assume that all are false. The scripture which some use to say that no one has gone to heaven and returned does not apply. “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.” John 3:13 (NKJV) is not saying that no one has gone to heaven and come back. It is saying that no one has “ascended” to heaven. Many have been taken to heaven but only one has “ascended” to heaven under his own power. Elijah was “taken” to heaven and later paid a return visit at the Mount of Transfiguration along with Moses (Mat 17). Evidently, Paul was later “caught up” into the third heaven (2 Cor 12:2), but couldn’t talk about the things he saw. John visited heaven in The Revelation and told of many things that he saw and heard but many of them seem to be in highly symbolic language. Real visits to heaven are certainly a possibility, so, though I am always somewhat cautious about the tales we are told by those who purport to have made the trip, I hold open the possibility of a real experience, knowing that our present knowledge is limited, and we should not form our opinions about heaven from these stories apart from the biblical revelation.
In a story similar to Alex’s, Todd Burpo writes about his son Colton’s alleged experience. Colton gets a halo and a set of wings while in heaven. Oops! Is this the biblical heaven or the Renaissance heaven, or the cartoon heaven? Definitely not the biblical one.
With all the sad family dynamics in the Alex Malarkey story (the parents are now divorced) it is hard to know what is really happening. Did Alex dream this stuff up on his own? Did the father more or less extract the details of the story from the boy? Did Alex volunteer that he had “been to heaven” or did someone ask him whether he’d been? Since the boy has received no money from the book, as the mother says, is this retraction simply an act of conscience on the part of the boy or an assault on the father? If it is the latter, is it motivated by the mother? As my mother and grandmother liked to say, “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” My heart goes out to the family. I’m glad Alex is apparently coming clean. I hope this will provide a caution to Christians when we hear stories that seem to be real. Christian gullibility is not a virtue and it doesn’t enhance our witness. Hyper skepticism isn’t helpful either, of course. Sometimes, we should just withhold judgment and point people to the real source book on these matters.
The Bible has much to say about heaven. There are some plain declarations and even more things implied. A great book that delves fairly comprehensively into what the Bible says about heaven is Heaven by Randy Alcorn. It is a wonderful book and it makes me wonder why anyone would want to settle for the questionable and fairy tale versions when we have such a good source already in most of our libraries and another outstanding interpretation of that source so readily available.
I heartily recommend Alcorn’s book, but even then, not all answers will be available until we arrive at our final destination. As Bob Dylan said, “Silvio, I gotta go, find out something only dead men know.” And as an even better source once said, “We know in part… We see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Cor 13:90-12).