Sunday, March 10

At a "Cross Roads" over "Proof of Heaven"

Two books. Both take the soul out of the body and go places not been to before--the afterlife. One is fiction, the other a true story. In both narratives, the main character goes into a coma and emerges from the experience transformed by what is discovered in the spiritual world that lies beyond. I enjoyed both immensely, and hope you read both books!

There is something within us that draws us to the mysterious, the unknown. I love writers who are able to transport us into other realms where the profound questions of the meaning of life are explored. I relish anything that challenges me to think outside-the-box of my own small world. Two such books, listened to back-to-back, are the audio versions of William Paul Young's second novel Cross Roads and Eben Alexander's personal journey into the afterlife, Proof of Heaven.  The former is Young's long awaited follow-up to his 18-million bestselling novel, "The Shack." Alexander's book is a detailed recounting of what happened to him both physically and spiritually while in a coma for seven days.

Both narratives fall into the category of exploring the mysterious afterlife. Neither author questions whether or not life exists after death; but rather, seek to describe what the afterlife is like. Young, utilizing a fictional story, has greater freedom to explore this "other world" without having to justify every word, scene, and sentence. Alexander's recounting is tougher because what he describes of his experience of heaven is limited by having to share only what he personally saw, heard, felt, and experienced without additions. Add to these limitations, his "proof of heaven" is not distinctly a Christian Heaven, which can be a little disconcerting for someone like myself.

Needless to say, both are thought-provoking and explore the timeless questions about life, where we come from, where we are going, what happens after we die, is God real, and does God really love us individually and personally. I think both succeed in assuring us that Heaven is indeed real, and the afterlife is more real than life as we know it now.

Young and Alexander's writing engage the reader on multiple levels:
  • theological--what does the Bible actually say about these things?
  • physical--understanding the brain and our physical world what happens on a scientific level
  • emotional--the power of our emotions and beliefs that directly affect the lives and choices we make in this life
  • spiritual--the soul, the consciousness, our spirits and how all that "fits" inside our body
These four aspects intertwine themselves around two fascinating stories. Both narratives alternate back and forth between the heavenly regions and things as they are back here on earth. They explore choices made here on earth and how these affect what is going on in the "real world" beyond.  If the reader already believes in the afterlife, there is little doubt these two books will only strengthen that hope that lives within, as well as challenge those who might be skeptical.

While I was intrigued by Alexander’s recounting of what happened while he was "dead" for seven days, his experience of heaven was not distinctly Biblical. He even uses different terminology for God, heaven, angels, etc. While there is little doubt Alexander believes in God, what he describes is what one would expect from someone who is not familiar with the Biblical passages and language used in Scripture. He describes in detail meeting God (“the Core”) and learned many things about the universe, including how much we are all loved intimately by God, regardless of our past sins. If you have read Rob Bell's "Love Wins" several of the more controversial concepts he relates in his own exploration of heaven and hell are revisited in these two books.

Alexander didn’t see Jesus but describes in detail the afterlife as being a place of great beauty and peace. There is even an entire chapter entitled, "REAL" where he attempts to describe in human language things incomprehensible.  He likens the difficulty of relating his indescribable experience as if a chimpanze becomes human for one day and then reverts back to being a chimpanze and then trying to express to his fellow chipanzes what he experienced as a human. The language, words, concepts, dimensions are just not there to be able to express the unexressable. I couldn't help but think on Paul's difficulty as he too attempted to describe his own beyond this physical world experience...
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know--God knows. And I know that this man--whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows-- was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.  (2Co 12:2-4)
I have often wondered if Paul's hearing inexpressible things "that a man is not permitted to tell" was meant only for him because of his pride issues (see the verses immediately following 2-4). But it also might be that we are not permitted to tell because we have not yet been given the vocabulary and understanding of what is beyond. To try and tell it as these authors have done falls short of the whole truth. Thus, any attempts to describe the indescribable might distort or cloud what really awaits us over on the other side.  A partial truth can be more dangerous that an outright lie.  Alexander repeatedly refers to his inability to put into language that which he saw, heard, felt, and experienced. In "Cross Roads" Paul Young is not restricted by language and thus is able to offer fascinating dialogues through the interactions of the main character with the beings he encounters in the other world. If you enjoyed the dialogues of Mack with the Godhead in "The Shack" you'll love "Cross Roads" in that, here too, Young has his main character posing the difficult questions of life, trying to make sense of a senseless world, and doing so with the only One who has the answers.

Anyway, be as it may be, these two books are very thought-provoking and are guaranteed to shake you up and rekindle interest (hope) in the next world that awaits us all.


Bob Cleveland said...

My personal position is that I pay no attention to these books or stories. I don't think that anyone has ever really died and seen heaven and then come back to earth. The Bible says it's appointed to us once to die, and the judgment comes after that.

If any further revelation of heaven is to come, from where I stand, it must necessarily come from the Bible. If I accept external evidence, then I'll have to accept it all, even where it disputes Scripture. So I just don't go there. Ever.

J. Guy Muse said...


I hear where you are coming from. For me, reading these kinds of books has a way of bringing the afterlife into the here and now. While one might certainly question details, for me, the point is clearly there is life after death. For those who doubt God's Word and do not believe in life after death, possibly these writings might stimulate serious reflection.

While my own personal faith in God's Word does not depend upon the either of these accounts, it is hard reading either one of these these two books and not giving thought to what lies beyond.

As I write in the post, "both are thought-provoking and explore the timeless questions about life, where we come from, where we are going, what happens after we die, is God real, and does God really love us individually and personally. I think both succeed in assuring us that Heaven is indeed real, and the afterlife is more real than life as we know it now."