In the past few years, books written by people who claim to have had some sort of “visionary” experience have become popular. Visits to heaven are the most common theme within this new genre.
Many of these books are being written by professing Christians.
Yet, the majority of these stories include NDE’s (near death experience), OBE’s (out of body experience), dreams, and visions.
Now, I’m not saying certain experiences are impossible for Christians today. I believe God’s spiritual gifts to the church (including tongues, miracles, words of prophecy, wisdom, discernment, healing) are experienced today (First Corinthians 12)
The problem is, fans of such books as Heaven is for Real (or Akiane: Her Life, Poetry, and Art, the visionary girl mentioned in Todd Burpo’s book) give little consideration to the fact descriptions of these visions, dreams, or experiences are not supported by the Bible.
But it sounds good. It “feels” right. Something so filled with “light and love” must be from God.
“But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”
Second Corinthians 11:14 (NLT)
When I was sixteen, I sat down with my pastor to talk about the supernatural experiences I’d had throughout my life from the age of six. He gave me a bit of wisdom that day. I wish I had listened. He told me I should never base my belief in God on experiences alone. My pastor urged me to always be certain spiritual things were grounded by scripture. If the spiritual experience (or feeling) does not line up with the Bible (or if it adds, subtracts, subtly changes) what the Bible says—discard it.
In fairness to the Burpo family, they do try to share the gospel in their book. They are very sincere in their desire to be an encouragement to people. However, this does not dismiss the reality that much of what Colton (the visonary child) describes from his OBE (or dream/vision) cannot be supported by the Bible.
Everyone (except Jesus) had wings.
Jesus rode a “rainbow” colored horse.
There were lights above everyone’s head (the father suggests this might be some kind of “halo” but is unsure).
He had the typical OBE experience of seeing his parents as he left his body, met his great-grandfather and a sibling he was unaware he had.
Truth be told, the part of Colton’s story which rang true (to me) was offered to his parents four months after his illness—Colton claimed angels sang to him while he was sick (Hebrews 1:14), Jesus held him on his lap.
The rest of the story was related over several years as his parents questioned him and sounds more inspired by imagination. Things he’d heard/seen in Sunday school or elsewhere as he matured. I was a preschool teacher. Children assimilate a lot more information than parents give them credit for remembering.
I also find it interesting that the visionary artist, Akiane, (mentioned by Todd Burpo as having painted a portrait of Jesus which Colton identified as “right” ) is not a Christian. During a 2010 interview, Akiane said her family explored Christianity, Buddhism, and other paths when she began to paint her visions at the age of five. She doesn’t hold to a particular belief/religion, simply identifying herself as spiritual.
What’s troubling are Christians looking to these visions of a child (or others) as validation for their beliefs. People are depending more on experience for spiritual truth rather than the Bible.They are finding comfort in these visions, dreams, and OBE’s.
Shouldn’t the Bible be sufficient for our hope and comfort? Doesn’t scripture offer the best description and evidence of heaven as being for real?
When I hear a story of someone’s supernatural or spiritual experience, the first thing I do is refer to scripture. Does it reflect God’s revealed word? If the answer is yes—great. I am encouraged by whatever God is trying to convey through this person or their story.
If the answer is no—I move on.
Spiritual or supernatural experiences are the buzz words of the day (especially among Christians longing for deeper connection with God). Be careful when listening to the accounts of visionaries. Don’t be quick to jump on board the latest OBE/NDE book train.
Listen to or read these accounts with discernment and wisdom.