Question: (editor’s note: This is a very long question!)
I have a two part question for you. I. I have been reading about very young children who have claimed to have gone to or seen heaven after having both visual or death experiences particularly two named Akiana Kramarik, age 7, and Colton Burpo, age 4. Colton Burpo: http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/42191453/ns/today-today_news/t/meet-boy-who-says-he-visited-heaven-saw-jesus#.T4oxXHrYCSo Colton burpo, claimed to have visited heaven. He saw his loved ones (grandpa, aborted sister in their “20’s and 30’s”) that he did not know existed until his parents confirmed to him afterwards. He also claims to have seen Jesus in heaven. When his Christian parents asked him what Jesus looked like, he pointed to a picture drawn by a 7 year old child prodigy named Akiana Kramarik, who seems to have an interesting vision/story as well that brought her atheist parents to Christ. Akiana Kramarik: cnn interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=49wut32Cguw
as long as it is align with the bible, I take this serious enough as Jesus did say that the mystery would be revealed to children (Matthew 11:25) Revelation says Jesus has white hair, red eyes. (Revelation 1:14, then does this descredit the coincidences/claims made by these two children? I do know that Samuel came back from the dead as an old man, recognizable to Saul. (1st samual 28:14). Does this also contradict and therefore discredit Colton Burpo and seeing his “young” grandparents? etc? Would these experiences be from the devil?
II. The second part of my question is sort of similiar: I have been searching your site and could not find your view on christian experiences immediately after death. Can you also explain some inconsistencies on death as it pertains to my understanding? Did the concept of death as a sleep in the Old Testament (such as what Samuel described) change after Jesus died for us so that we are immediately with Christ when we die?
I had the impression that we would be in paradise immediately we when died based on what was said on the Cross. (Luke 23:43). But I have been reading this apologetic’s site and it seems to tell me using much scripture, that death is a sleep or complete unawareness for christians.this site has mentioned that Luke 23:43 was a mistranslated grammatical error from the original greek . It says that Jesus really meant ” I tell you the truth today, you WILL be with me in paradise.” Here is an excerpt: “…Surely God has told us in the Bible what we can expect when we die. Consider some of the many verses that talk about death. Matthew 27:52: “And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose.” Acts 13:36: “For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption.” The words “saw corruption” mean that his body decayed after he was laid in his grave. First Corinthians 15:51 tells us that “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” Psalms 13:3 says, “Consider and hear me, O Lord my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death.” First Kings 11:43: “And Solomon slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David his father: and Rehoboam his son reigned in his stead.” The expression “slept with his fathers” is used many times in the Bible to indicate that a person had died…. …..Consider a few more Bible verses which further emphasize the fact that death is exactly like a deep sleep. Psalms 115:17 says, “The dead praise not the Lord.” If a person who was in the habit of praising the Lord in this life were to go to heaven after he died, there in the presence of God he would surely praise Him. He does not praise the Lord, of course, for he has no consciousness. He is asleep in his grave. Psalms 6:5 says, “For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?” Surely if a person who had been righteous during his life on earth went to heaven when he died, he would remember the Lord as he had on earth; for he would be there with the Lord. After he dies, a person cannot remember the Lord because he is totally unconscious. This verse also implies that the dead do not give thanks to the Lord. Certainly a righteous person would thank God for taking him to heaven. He doesn’t, however, because he is unconscious, asleep in his grave. In Job 17:13, Job says, “If I wait, the grave is mine house: I have made my bed in the darkness.” Job also knew of the resurrection. In Job 19:25-27 he says, “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another.” Job says here that after he dies and his body decays, he shall, in his flesh, in his body, see God in the latter day at the resurrection. It makes little sense to expect that when a person dies he goes to heaven or to hell and then climbs back into the grave to be resurrected. ” http://www.pacinst.com/efh/chapter4/death.html Let me know your thoughts.
This is a rather involved question which deserves a rather involved answer. My first comment to get this started is that this is not an important Bible teaching. Where we go when we die is not an essential Christian doctrine. The question is left somewhat indefinite in scripture. I assume this is because it is not necessary for us to know exactly what happens when we die. So, you can relax and understand that you may remain uncertain about this and it does not affect your life now or your relationship with God.
First, you ask about childhood experiences which seem to imply contact with those who have died. The kind of evidence you mention is anecdotal. In other words it is based on personal experience, not on logical argument or direct measurable evidence. My response to this kind of evidence is to say that it is extremely unreliable. We simply cannot reach any solid conclusion based on experiences–especially when the experiences are of children. Such experiences are inevitably gathered and interpreted by adults who know them well. There are innumerable examples which show that the testimony of children is to be taken with great reservation. As for the Akiana Kramarek or Colton Burpo, these experiences have perfectly rational explanations. I may not be able to give one in every case, but, in any case, they cannot be used as evidence for some particular doctrine. If you search the literature you will find dozens or seemingly very convincing anecdotes which “prove” reincarnation. Some of the stories seem to defy rational explanation. Yet we, as Christians, know that reincarnation is not real. One possibility is that these experiences are the result of demonic influence. For all we know, the experiences of these children may be the result of unhealthy spiritual influences. I am not saying that this is the case, but, bottom line, these examples prove nothing. That is my take on it.
Jesus did say that the mystery of the kingdom would be revealed to children, but if you look at the context in Luke 10:21, Jesus certainly is not talking about life after death experiences, but about spiritual truths. We should not take Jesus statements about little children out of context. About the supposed coincidence of Revelation 1:14 and what this child said, it is possible that the child in fact heard the passage read at some time. Also, given that the description in Revelation 1:14 is clearly highly symbolic, it is doubtful that Jesus literally has red eyes. This makes the “coincidence” more or less meaningless in my opinion. It certainly does not verify any doctrine of life after death.
About Samuel, this was a case of a medium contacting a dead person. This was not a person “coming back [to the physical earth] from the dead, but a person who is in Hades (see below) being contacted. In any case, I do not see the connection between the story in Samuel and these childhood anecdotes.
About the Colton Burpo example, you ask if it could be from Satan? I say perhaps yes, but we cannot be sure, so should leave it at that. It might be.
To summarize on your first question, I beleive that we should take these anecdotes with a big grain of salt, as adult humans almost certainly are imposing their interpretation on the childhood observations. In any case, such anecdotes are really not evidence of anything at all, as multiple explanations present themselves.
Your second question seems to really be at least two questions. You ask about near-death experiences. I would put these in the same category as the child experience anecdotes. It has been established that chemicals are released when we go into cardiac arrest which produce a feeling of separation from our bodies and other symptoms which are suspiciously like what are commonly reported as near-death experiences. I cannot say absolutely that these experiences have no reality to them at all. Perhaps there is really something there. The problem is that the information can be explained by natural processes and really cannot provide solid proof of anything. I believe we are wasting our time to focus on these near-death experiences. Interesting? Absolutely! Useful to learn about life after death? Doubtful.
They you ask about the biblical teaching about what happens when we die. The Bible gives a few hints, but we should be prepared to accept that these are hints and leave some significant room for interpretation. There are a number of terms used to describe the state of humans after they die but before we are resurrected at the end of time and judged for eternity. I assume that Daniel 12 and Revelation 20-22 are a description of final judgment and eternal judgment or salvation. I assume that these are things which happen at the end of time. The question is, then, what happens to us after we die and our body rots, but before the final resurrection.
The Bible seems to imply that we “go” to a place which is variously called Sheol, Abaddon, Hades and Paradise (which would be the “good” side of Hades). It is true that death is described as sleep in a few biblical passages, but I believe that, in light of other passages, we can probably assume that the word sleep is being used euphamistically. It is like describing death as “passing away.” I do not believe the biblical context supports a literal interpretation of the description of death as sleep. The fact that Samuel was called up from Hades by Saul (by the witch of Endor, 1 Samuel 28) is evidence that our state after death but before the final resurrection is not one of complete unconsciousness. Again, I believe we should be careful to reach too definite a conclusion, but passages such as the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus seems to clearly indicate some sort of conscious state after death and before the final resurrection. Although this is a parable, it is hard to ignore the implications for lafe betwen death and final resurrection. The Bible does not give us a lot because, presumably, we do not need a lot, but it does suggest Hades is not a place of complete unconsciousness. Another difficult but relevant passage is 1 Peter 3:18-20, which talks about Jesus speaking to those “in prison.” Most commentators believe that this is a reference to souls in Hades. In this passage, these people are waiting patiently.
Some of the proof passages you use simply do not work well as proof. For example Psalm 115:17 is poetry. We need to be extremely cautious about taking a poem as a source of doctrine. David said “Against you, you only have I sinned (Psalm 51). Clearly this is an emotional man crying out to God. It is not doctrine. We definitely can sin against other people. David certainly did. We cannot prove anything about the state of life after death from emotion and imagery-laden poetry.
I am probably sounding like the biggest skeptic in the world here. However, I believe that I must ask what kinds of evidence to accept. Anecdotal evidence is not very helpful. I conclude that life after death for us in found in Hades. The nature of this existence is left extremely vague in the Bible. I believe we should leave it there and not overly speculate about what existence is like for those awaiting the final resurrection and judgment. We can reach a couple of fairly solid conclusions–that Hades is real and that there is a place of waiting which probably is not a completely unconscious state. Beyond that, we should leave the final answer in God’s hands and trust that God will take care of those who love him and are saved by the blood of Jesus. I believe you can rest confident in this without having absolute answers to the nature of life between death and final resurreciton.