Approximately 60 persons are now living who report they have gone to heaven and returned. Are these sojourners to be believed?
It is to be assumed persons reporting heavenly visits are sincere and convinced they did have such a visit.
We are visual learners, thinking in pictures. Even dreams are visuals. Some are so realistic that persons awake and are amazed the experience wasn’t reality. The bodily systems of the dreamer respond as to reality. The sensory details including all five senses are vivid. Just as a bad dream can produce a genuine feeling of fear, so euphoric feelings can result from other dreams. Likewise an intense dream of visiting heaven can result in a sensation as impressive as though it were reality.
Most people have had dreams so vivid it takes time to separate reality from the dream after waking. Though oneirology, the science of dreaming, has been around for years there is still much unknown about dreams. While engaged in a deep dream the brain is as active as when the person is awake. Various factors can affect the body’s ability to separate a dream from reality. Hallucinogenic drugs, over-the-counter medicines, neurological disorders, low blood sugar, hypoglycemia, a trauma, diet or something as simple as excessive vitamin B6 are some factors.
Events that have a significant psychological impact on the body influence dreaming. The death of a loved one, a divorce, becoming unemployed or an accident are factors in lucid dreaming.
Scientists at the Lucidity Institute at Stanford are now demonstrating persons can train themselves to alter their dream experience to get the desired results.
Psychologists at Grant MacEwan University in Canada have observed that people who play video games are more likely to have lucid dreams in which they view themselves from out of the body. They are better at controlling their dream world as if controlling a video character.
Dreams become a mental virtual reality game. Their studies are helping war veterans deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The character of reputed visitors to heaven is not to be questioned, their intellect disparaged, their motive impugned, their sincerity doubted, or their intent disputed. However, in light of these scientific facts and conflicts with the biblical model their interpretation of the events is hard if not impossible to objectively defend.
Those reporting personal adventures into heaven are staunch defender of their stories. They believe them. To them they were as vivid as though real. There is little reason to suspect that emotionally their minds and bodies responded as they would to a literal physical experience of such magnitude.
Regardless of how graphic the experience, it should be evaluated against the Bible norm. If an experience does not meet the criterion it is not a valid vision.
And now a caveat. If God decides to amend the biblical model and allow modern sojourners to heaven He has the authority and power to do so. However, it is best not to base one’s faith on someone’s subjective experience, but rather to cultivate an objective faith based on Scripture.
The Rev. Dr. Nelson Price is pastor emeritus of Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta.