Heaven Can Wait

“Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.” So the jingle goes. Or went. I’ve only met my upstairs neighbors once. Twice now. Apparently last weekend I slept through the fire alarm—one of the dangers of awaking ridiculously early on a daily basis. The neighbors found the source of the smoke and turned off the furnace in the basement, but told me first thing in the morning before the coffee really kicked in. I avoided a close call, perhaps. What if they’d not been home?

I have no delusions about understanding how the Internet works. I’m still trying to figure out the telegraph. Perhaps having this inconsequential blog has put me on somebody’s radar, or maybe it’s just some bored robot that searches for strange combinations of words in the wee hours of the night. In any case, I ended up with an email with the trailer for Heaven Is For Real embedded in it. I recall when the book was on the New York Times bestseller list, and I suppose the Easter weekend release date is no coincidence, but the trailer still bothered me a bit. It’s not the resurrection part—the film industry wouldn’t get very far without that trope—but it is the implications of what heaven would be like. I haven’t read the book, but apparently Colton Burpo had a near-death experience and then for a considerable time afterward began describing things that were impossible for him to know. A miscarriage where his sister died, what his grandfather looked like as a young man, what his parents were doing when he was dead in the hospital. Talk about your spooky effects at a distance!

Despite my penchant for watching scary movies, I don’t think I’ll see Heaven Is For Real. There’s just too much emotional build-up here, and Life After Life traumatized me for weeks a couple decades back. Still, I am very interested in the possible explanations for what might have been going on. Near-death experiences have never been adequately explained. Scientists suggest that a lot can happen in a complex brain in a matter of nano-seconds, and we have no chronograph precise enough to know whether the thoughts and images happened before death, during death, or during resuscitation. Still, how people frequently know precisely where others were, who were not in the room at the time, and how they heard things that, medically speaking, they couldn’t have heard, remains eerie and hopeful at the same time. What does appear to be without question is that consciousness is far from being explained.

Botticini's vision

Botticini’s vision

Heaven is always described as pleasant. That concept differs radically for people, and you have to wonder how it can be one-size-fits-all. Some people prefer to be in crowds, while others like to be alone. Some like it hot. Some like it cold. And those who experience near-death phenomena often report having a body of some sort “up there.” Some people would prefer a different body. According to the trailer, Colton says we’re all young over yonder. For me, such things are far more about questions than answers. We don’t know what goes on after death. Nearly every religion ever invented says that clearly there’s more to the story. Some say we come back, others say we stay away. Maybe it is different for each. Maybe it is just a matter of having good neighbors after all.

2 thoughts on “Heaven Can Wait

  1. M.K.

    NDE accounts are fascinating. And raise all the right questions about consciousness and its relation to a ‘receiver’ body. When I first read about some NDE’s, they were mostly western folks’ (christian or secular in the largely christian developed world). But then — an Israeli jew’s experience totally alerted me to something. The NDE seems to most assuredly NOT be one size fits all. Then I read about what some east Indians report about their NDEs. I don’t pretend to understand quantum field and all that, but it appears to me that what’s going on during NDE’s is not a “heaven” no matter who you are, but very much a construct of personal, cultural and religious customs embedded in the individual’s experience. Instead of assuring me of what’s “after life,” I have the idea from these phenomena that they, like so much else, are not a fixed truth but a very subjective event. None of us can say for sure what happens after death. Isn’t it understandable then, that this uncertainty and the yearning to fix it underpins so much of the religious proposition?


    • Thanks, M.K.

      It definitely does seem that visions of the afterlife are very much culturally conditioned. There’s just enough of a strangeness factor to make me think something more than just fancy is going on, but I’m not sure what it is. Mary Roach’s Spook (which I blogged about a few years back now) was an interesting exploration of some of these ideas. I’ve read a few academic treatments as well, and the more open ones suggest something’s going on, but we’re not sure what. Still, watching a movie about it creeps me out–they offered me free tickets yesterday, but I’m not ready to subject myself to it just yet–Heaven can wait.


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