Book cover, Simon & Schuster, published Oct 2012
Heaven is for Real: A Little Boys Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back (Todd Burpo, January 2010). To Heaven and Back: A Doctor’s Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Angels, Heaven and Life Again: A True Story (Mary C. Neal, MD, May 2012). And now Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife (Eben Alexander, MD, October 2012). Three separate, published true story accounts of visiting heaven within a two-year time frame. If I wasn’t so educated, I’d say God was sending us a message.
All three authors attest to the existence of another dimension beyond earth and that this dimension is irrefutably the place we call heaven. They know this because they’ve been there. All three suffered near-death trauma to their bodies, traveled to heaven as beings of light, then miraculously (and begrudgingly) returned to earth a short time later.
Our latest traveler is Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurologist who taught at Harvard for 15 years. At hospitals, Dr. Alexander encountered many cardiac arrest patients telling stories of an after-life. While he marveled at their ecclesiastic visions and even envied the comfort it brought, he completely dismissed any truth to their stories. Once the brain shuts down. That’s it. Its over. No more awareness.
Then one day something happened to him, that he can’t scientifically resolve, but at the same time cannot deny. On November 10, 2008, at age 54, Eben Alexander contracted life-threatening bacterial meningitis and narrowly escaped death. Doctors say his recovery, let alone the full recovery he managed is a modern miracle. In between near-death and the miracle, Eben says, was a timeless journey to the other side.
There he saw a fantastic world, spent time with his sister (who preceded him in death), and observed a dazzling brilliant light amidst an inky darkness that has changed him forever. He’s been on Oprah and Larry King Live and on the New York Times best-selling list. What’s more, like his patients before him, he obstinately insists, even in the face of utter disbelief and criticism from fellow colleagues, that what he experienced is real.
Book cover, Thomas Nelson, published November 2, 2010
Heaven is free of physical limitations
According to Eben and consistent with many other true story visits to heaven, the other side is non-physical; energy is everywhere like on earth, just not solid. It is a realm of light and pure awareness, a place where time is irrelevant. Eben was a being of consciousness free from the limitations of a body, of physical eyes and ears and a slow brain. Sight occurs at all angles at once. Movement is at light speed and initiated merely by thinking about a place. Eben could “hear visual beauty” and could “see the surging, joyful perfection” of sound. As odd as these descriptions seem they are consistently odd across the spectrum of stories about heaven and the people who tell them commonly struggle with our inadequate language to describe it.
The cumbersome use of language on earth is replaced in heaven with perfect telepathic communication. People exchange absolute information quickly and remarkably without talking. As soon as questions form, the answers arise at the same time. Upon meeting his sister, Eben writes, “Without any words, she spoke to me. The message went through me like a wind, and I instantly understood that it was true.”
Eben struggles to adequately describe the vividness of this kind of information transfer. It is direct communication of the essence of something, like experiencing information versus interpreting it. This information, he writes isn’t “vague, immaterial, or abstract.” This information is “hotter than fire and wetter than water.” Further, the information is coded into your being and does not fade with time. Eben says, as a being, he absorbed volumes of complex information instantly and effortlessly that would have taken him years to understand on earth.
Experience of heaven is more real than life on earth
Despite the unusual features of near-death experiences, people who have them categorically insist on the certainty or hyper-reality of it all. Eben writes, “I was absolutely sure of one thing: this place I’d suddenly found myself in was completely real.” He adds that life on earth is dream-like in comparison to the sharp, crisp reality of heaven, which often includes fantasy-like backdrops of verdant gardens and brilliant colors. Eben describes his journey as “the single most real experience of [his] life.”
Star Cluster, NASA, The Hubble Heritage Team, STScI, AURA
An encounter with God
It doesn’t seem to matter which religion or lack of religion a person has. Atheists, agnostics, Christians alike may experience a light, a presence, or a figure dressed in robes who they are certain could be no other than God. The encounter often happens in a place described by Eben as an “immense void, completely dark, infinite in size, yet also infinitely comforting. Pitch black as it was, it was also brimming over with light.” The 17th-century poet, Henry Vaughan, noted the peculiar expressions of near-death stories in his time. “There is, some say, in God a deep, but dazzling darkness.”
Before his coma, Eben Alexander could be described as a product of his pedigree, a highly educated scientist who had no evidence of and therefore, was completely skeptical about the existence of a God or a heaven. And yet, he is certain he was in the presence of God, although he hesitates to use the oft misconstrued word, preferring to use the term, ‘Creator’ or ‘Om’ instead.
The pronunciation of Om, he says, is near to the deep resonating sound of God within “infinite space, infinite dimensions, and all of eternity.” Eben further describes Om as omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, and as the infinitely powerful creator of everything. If Eben was agnostic before nearly dying, he is clearly a changed man today.
When asked what God looks like, Eben says God has no gender and is made of light–a light brighter than a million suns. This impossible to fathom description is common in near-death stories. Still accustomed to earthly ways, they describe the light as so bright it should hurt their eyes.
The purpose of life
Many who visit heaven are told they will not completely remember what was learned once back on earth and that a required veil of forgetfulness shrouds our earthly minds for good reason, for some sort of larger purpose. What is the profound purpose of life you ask?
The answer isn’t glamorous or very specific, but it does resonate with the heart. Stories about heaven consistently cite the same answer: love. Not the steamy, passionate love that often turns to jealousy and hate, but the unconditional kind of love that forgives everything.
It doesn’t matter so much whether you are the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, or a basketball star, or a parking lot attendant. It doesn’t matter how many trophies you collect, or how much money you make. What matters is using free-will to choose love above fear in any circumstance, particularly difficult ones. Choosing to forgive others for causing you harm, for stealing from you or cheating on you for example, far outweighs any other conventional achievements. Too touchy, feely for you?
Eben Alexander writes, “love and compassion are far more than the abstractions many of us believe them to be. They are real. They are concrete. And they make up the very fabric of the spiritual realm.”
If there weren’t so many of these stories about heaven, I would easily dismiss them. So despite my education, I think God, or however you choose to name it, is sending us a message. Life isn’t just about getting ahead, buying a big house, and eating gourmet food. Love does seem to be a special kind of energy.
For me personally, a big part of my life is learning to choose patience, kindness, compassion, and ultimately love despite the chores and trials of daily living. Its so much easier to judge! Choosing love over anger especially when I am wronged is much more difficult and less glamorous than obtaining an engineering degree or jet-setting across the globe. And when I do manage to do it, I can honestly say I feel more powerful. The struggle to choose wisely is the reason for this blog and the reason I bother fumbling around with these words. Here’s to chores, love, and service!
Click below and watch videos to find out for yourself what to make of stories about heaven.