Four-year-old Colton Burpo from Imperial, Nebraska, nearly died while having an emergency appendectomy for ruptured appendix. He later reported to his family that he had a supernatural experience in a visit to heaven. He described looking down and observing the doctor operating on him and seeing his father praying in the waiting room. He said he visited with deceased family members and Jesus. He described the Holy Spirit as a bluish image.
A 2010 book Heaven Is Real, published by Thomas Nelson had sold over eight million copies and been translated into twenty-five languages. In anticipation of the Sony Pictures movie version in April 2014, it rose to be the No. l best-selling non-fiction paperback.
What are we to think about near-death, out-of-body experiences, experiences of visions, visits to heaven, and supernatural messages from God?
1. Always judge an experience by Scripture. The Bible is the Word of God and must be our highest authority and final court of appeal on spiritual matters. If the experience contradicts Scripture then realize you have drawn the wrong conclusion from it. Subjective experiences carry a degree of subjectivity.
Truth defines experience. God’s truth in his Word defines spiritual experience. Evaluate the experience. Does the experience or part of it contradict Scripture? Even doing religious experiences like doing miracles did not prove people right with God (Matthew 7:21-23).
2. Never tell someone that their experience is not real. Even if what a person has experienced is an illusion, their experience is still real. We may have a dream we are falling. We wake up and find we were not actually falling but we had a mental experience of falling. While a person’s experience of the supernatural is real, they may have misinterpreted its meaning.
3. Never decide what God will not do. The exception to this is what God in his Word has said he will not do, e.g. God will not lie or do evil. God is God, we are fallible humans. He may work in new ways unfamiliar to our experience. We must not put God in a box and become an authority on something out of our jurisdiction, namely God’s freedom.
4. Do not give the experience equal authority with Scripture. If you have had a seemingly supernatural experience that had brought you reassurance, peace, and a closeness o God, thank God for it. Remember to put your confidence in Christ not in that experience. Cults, e.g. Mormonism, and false religions arise because people exalt their experience above Scripture. Jesus Christ and the Word of God constitute the most valid and powerful authority for believing in the reality of heaven.