Have Heart: Bridging the Gulf Between Heaven and Earth all the while Normalizing Necromancy
Thank you to Jewel Grewe and Discernment Research Group for allowing me to publish their articles! :)
Have Heart: Bridging the Gulf Between Heaven and Earth all the while Normalizing Necromancy
Encountering the Dead
Unbelievable as it sounds, one of the latest New (old) Age temptations to confront both the world and the church is to encourage spiritual and religious seekers to talk with the dead. In this maneuver we can see the adversary’s ploy is to further open the door to a seducing spirit world (1Timothy 4:1). Demonic spirits that impersonate deceased loved ones will attempt to convey “new understandings” and “new revelations” that will contribute to a “new worldview.” This will ultimately lead to a deceptively contrived world peace. This deceptive “peace” plan was warned about in the Bible (Daniel 8:25, Matthew 24:3-5, 1 Thessalonians 5:3, 1 Tim 4:1, 1 John 4:1, Revelation 13, etc.).
“[I]f we follow the Synchronicity, we will be able to learn from those in Heaven in a direct way, and that will elevate us into the next level of consciousness.”(p. 178)
“And then one day, without anything pointing out the way, I just decided to tell her how I felt out loud, as though she were there. Immediately, I began to intuit what she might say back to me, only I realized it wasn’t something I would necessarily have been able to guess. That’s when I realized that I was having an interaction with her.”
“The idea of communication with the Afterlife seemed too strange at first, and I stopped for a while, but the memory of the experience was so energizing and profound, I gradually began to communicate with her more often. Eventually, she told me how much she regretted the way she had raised me to think of men. She said it was all a mistake that tormented her, and that now she holds the Agape and speaks from truth-and she wishes she had known earlier, so she could have taught me this new way.”
“…Don’t you see?… The Document says we can begin to communicate with those in the Afterlife and clear all our resentments and issues with them. All we have to do is use more of our power to tune in and have a conversation. It’s never too late. And there is so much more they want to communicate to us.”
“In fact, my mother said they desperately need to speak with us, right now, at this crucial point in history. They know the real Plan for the human world, and it’s time for us on this side to understand.”(p. 179)[emphasis added]
Do the Dead Communicate with the Living?
Part 1) Normalizing Necromancy
By Pastor Larry DeBruyn
[Steve and Sarah Berger, Have Heart: bridging the gulf between heaven and earth (Franklin, TN: Grace Chapel, Inc., 2010) xxiv + 144 pages + Endnotes.]
“Our minds need to be stretched to the other side.”(Have Heart, p. xxii)
The story of Have Heart was born out of immense personal and family tragedy. In August of 2009, weeks before he was to matriculate at the University of Tennessee, Pastor Steve and Sarah Berger’s nineteen-year old son Josiah was fatally injured in a one car accident. Have Heart relates how the parents, family and friends are coping with his death, an ongoing story intended to comfort others who have or are facing similar life tragedies. As the book’s subtitle indicates, one aspect of “bridging the gulf between heaven and earth” involves reports that after he died, Josiah communicated with family and friends from Heaven.
This book is one of the latest among popular books being published for evangelical audiences on the subject of the afterlife involving visitations to and from Heaven and the connection between the living and the dead. Of this genre, this book is one of the most emotionally charged books, and exemplifies how gut-wrenching stories can shut down rational thinking. As the high-intensity story captivates the reader into a feelings-driven state, the book’s contents subtly facilitate a change in worldview as it suggests novel interpretations of Scripture.
Previously, I reviewed a book in this same genre, The Shack by Wm. Paul Young, which evoked similarly strong emotions with its storyline, subtly disarming readers, thereby enabling the author to introduce new concepts about the nature of God, the Trinity, salvation, spirituality and the cosmic reality in which we live, move and have our being.
Do the Dead Visit the Living?
Among other experiences which contribute to Have Heart’s story line, the book recounts a visitation from the dead. One evening at a service set aside for a prayer and worship at Grace Chapel, a guest worship leader played the song, “It’s Gonna Be Worth It.” “The song really touched me and took me to a deeper place with the Lord,” related Jim Sterling, the Executive Pastor at the church. In his heart and mind, he remembered how in the aftermath of Josiah’s accident he, along with many others at the hospital, wrestled with God in prayer. With Josiah’s life hanging in the balance, he prayed, “God, this better be worth it.” So stimulated by the song he was hearing, Pastor Jim asked God, “Lord, is it worth it?” Then, according to Pastor Jim’s account, something amazing happened. “The next thing I knew,” relates “Mr. Jim” (as Josiah affectionately called him), “Josiah came into the sanctuary.” He continues to describe his coming:
It wasn’t like he just appeared there. It was a sense of him coming into the aisle, and he got down on one knee and bent into my ear. He said, “Way worth it, Mr. Jim.” Then, as quickly as he came, he left. It wasn’t that he disappeared; rather, it was a sense of him leaving the sanctuary…. He had a sense of speed about him, not that he was hurried, but as if life on earth was much slower than in Heaven-it’s a different place, a different plane.
I stood up and went over to my wife and told her, “Josiah was just here.”
In the aftermath of Josiah’s “appearing,” the Bergers relate how they informed the guest worship leader, Rita Springer, about Josiah’s visit with “Mr. Jim” that evening. She then told the Bergers about the prayer request she made to God before the service. “Father, could Siah [Josiah] come worship with us tonight?” (HH, 101) God seemingly granted her request. Regarding the implications of this reported incident and others like it, the Bergers reach the novel theological conclusion, “Yes, the residents of Heaven are personally present, they are aware, and they are near!” (HH, 100-101)
From this paranormal occurrence, and similar ones recorded in the book, necessary questions arise:
- Can the dead communicate with the living?
- To what degree do such reports ascribe a normalcy to necromancy?
- Are the Bergers’ laying the theological groundwork for an evangelical acceptance of necromancy?
Have Heart’s story line is that, by various forms of communication, the dead do bridge the gulf between Heaven and earth because those in Heaven are aware of and present with loved ones and friends on earth. This new understanding obviously has great appeal to those who are grieving for the loss of loved ones and who therefore desire continuing communication from them. Thus, for the bereaved, the book’s appeal lies in the possibility of receiving communications from those loved ones who have passed from this world into Heaven.
Note: Have Heart contains no mention of Hell. That the book is written for Christians may account for the omission. Yet, Jesus warned that not all who name His name are going to be with Him in Heaven (Matthew 7:21-23). That Hell is not mentioned might be accounted of for reason of belief in salvific universalism (there is no Hell and that ultimately, everyone is going to Heaven) emerging amongst contemporary evangelicals (as in Wm. Paul Young’s book, The Shack, or as in Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins). The exclusion of any discussion of the condition of unchristian loved ones in the afterlife manifests indifference to the eternal plight of the unsaved (Contra Luke 16:27-28.).
The Book in Brief
In the Bergers’ words, belief in receiving such communication with the dead draws upon a “sanctified imagination within the confines of biblical truth.” (HH, xxii) On this basis, the authors hypothesize that the dead in Heaven are able to present themselves to loved ones on earth. As I see it, the book’s essential argument goes like this:
There used to be a sign commonly posted along America’s highways which read, “Prepare to Meet Thy God.” How tenuous life can be, for all of us, including the life of this author. But on that summer evening in 2009, life was especially tenuous for Josiah Berger when he was involved in a single car accident on his way to meet friends at a familiar burger joint. When they received the call from the Vanderbilt Medical Center, Pastor Steve and Sarah Berger sensed the news was not good. Medical reports indicated that nineteen-year-old Josiah suffered severe injury to his brain. Amidst an outpouring of concern and love from friends, for three days the family prayed the “Lazarus prayer,” that the Lord would resurrect their son back to life. But in God’s perfect providence, that was not to happen.
Had he lived, Josiah intended that the word “Have” would have been tattooed over his heart. So as part of their son’s legacy, the Bergers hope the message in their book Have Heart will help the grief stricken not to “lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:16, NASB, NIV, NKJV), as well as “stretch” the minds of Christians “to the other side.” (HH, xxii) However, such emotional mind-stretching can lead to adopting unbiblical beliefs about the afterlife, one of which is that for the living, contact with the dead is both desirable and possible.
Have Heart is a compelling and emotive account written with the hope that others beset by similar losses in life would be helped. (HH, xiii.) Because the Bergers’ story arouses intense sympathy in readers as they identify with their loss, it becomes difficult to disengage one’s feelings from their teachings about the afterlife. When the authors employ their “sanctified imagination within the confines of biblical truth,” important issues are raised about postmortem existence. The authors believe that breaking away from traditional “in box thinking” about the afterlife gives God an opportunity “to maximize our view of Heaven.” (HH, xxii) But in breaking out of the box, Christian readers must beware lest they will also break away from the Bible.
Heaven’s “Exciting Realities”
Have Heart speaks about the “exciting realities” of Heaven, “its inhabitants, and its activity.” (HH, xvii) The authors state that “the church doesn’t know how to deal with death.” (HH, xviii) Having officiated at hundreds of funerals over a lifetime of ministry, I agree with the authors’ point. For Christians and their believing loved ones, any funeral involves an emotive mix of solemnity and celebration. The “sting of death is sin” even as “to die is gain” (1 Corinthians 15:56; Philippians 1:21). Nevertheless, “It’s time,” say the authors, that “believers become heavenly minded” and know that the saints are “alive, active, and aware” in Heaven. (HH, xviii, 51, 54, 92, 95, 98, 102) But they take this knowledge a step further as they delve deep into their and others’ experience.
Heaven and Earth-Bridging the Gulf
The Bergers quote the words of Philips Brooks (1835-1893), which are found in the introduction of Rebecca Ruth Springer’s (1832-1904) book My Dream of Heaven, which narrates her dreams and experiences of visiting Heaven. A Methodist all her life, Springer wrote the book in the aftermath of the Civil War (1861-1865). In this war, which saw 620,000 soldiers and countless other civilians die, concern about the afterlife heightened. An ill woman most of her adult life, it was not unnatural that Springer shared this concern too. Brooks’ words form the foundation of Have Heart’s message. As the following quote reveals, the well-known liberal clergyman questioned the gulf between the living and the dead:
Shall we stop at that poor line, the grave, which all our Christianity is always trying to wipe out and make nothing of, and which we always insist of widening into a great gulf? Shall we not stretch our thought beyond, and feel the life blood of this holy church, this living body of Christ, pulsing out into the saints who are living there, and coming back throbbing with tidings of their glorious and sympathetic life? (HH, xix)
The Bergers intend for Have Heart to stimulate the church’s thinking beyond the grave so that Christians will become “heavenly minded” (Colossians 3:1-2)-to feel the “connectivity” between the Body of Christ on earth and in Heaven. In this connected state and as the subtitle suggests (bridging the gulf between heaven and earth), it can be expected that loved ones in Heaven will visit loved ones on earth, telling them about the glorious afterlife they’re experiencing. The book’s subtitle alludes to the “great gulf fixed” which Jesus said separated Lazarus and the Rich Man in the afterlife (Luke 16:26). Though that gulf Jesus alluded to separated Heaven and Hades, the gulf Have Heart desires to bridge is between Heaven and earth, between the afterlife and this life. How do the Bergers describe bridging this gulf?
“Connectivity”-A Two Way Street
This way of connecting the living and the dead is also popular in contemporary culture. George Noory, host of Coast to Coast AM, and Rosemary Ellen Guiley, author of Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical & Paranormal Experience, have co-authored a book, Talking to the Dead. Indicating how the culture views the afterlife, they state:
To us, the evidence is clear; we already have the tools for establishing real-time, two-way contact with the dead, as well as entities who perhaps live in parallel worlds to ours, and possibly even with versions of ourselves in parallel dimensions.
According to Noory and Guiley, an experiential superhighway runs between Heaven and earth in both directions. But does it?
One Direction-Earth to Heaven in “The Shack”
It should be noted how the bestselling book The Shack taps into this “connectivity” with “the other side.” In this religious allegory, Mack, the novel’s main character, encounters his dead father from whom he had been estranged on earth. In another incident (the earthly shack below having morphed into a heavenly resort above), Mack is also given a vision of Missy, his little daughter who had been abducted, violated and killed by an intruder while the family was on a camping trip (Mack’s great sadness). Though his vision of her is “one way”-like a one-way mirror of an interrogation room, he sees her, but she doesn’t see him-Mack observes Missy frolicking in heaven with other children. The beautiful judge Sophia tells Mack, “She (Missy) knows that you are here, but she cannot see you. From her side, she is looking at the beautiful waterfall and nothing more. But she knows you are behind it.”
Numbers of Christian leaders and pastors endorsed The Shack, one being Pastor Steve Berger of Grace Chapel of suburban Nashville, Tennessee, the author of Have Heart and father of Josiah. It is apparent that The Shack impacted his thinking about life and death for he lauded that religious book as follows:
Wrapped in creative brilliance, The Shack is spiritually profound, theologically enlightening and life impacting. It has my highest recommendation. We are joyfully giving copies away by the case.
Like freeways, endorsements usually run both ways too, and to this point we note that the author of The Shack also endorsed Steve and Sarah Berger’s new book, Have Heart: bridging the gulf between heaven and earth. Of their book, Paul Young offers the following recommendation: “Framed within the most intimate of loses, this book allows its readers to peek into life-and-death perspectives of those who follow Jesus.” It should also be noted that Pastor Greg Laurie, Harvest Christian Fellowship; Chuck Missler, Koinonia Institute; Wm. Paul Young, author of The Shack; and James Robison, LIFE Outreach International, all endorsed the Bergers’ book. [DTW Emphasis added]
The Other Direction-Heaven to Earth in “Have Heart”
Have Heart opens the possibility that those who have gone on to Heaven will be visiting loved ones on earth. And playing with the emotions and feelings of readers like The Shack, it draws readers into the story at a heart-felt level.
From my pastoral perspective, Have Heart tells a story that will appeal to many who have experienced the tragic death of a loved one. As the Apostle put it and the Bergers believe, to die is gain (Philippians 1:21). The memorial service to Josiah bore testimony that for Christians death is victory, not defeat (1 Corinthians 15:51-57). Admirably, and unbeknownst to his parents, Josiah willed that his vital organs be donated to others in the eventuality of his death. By his death, Josiah gave life. Despite these positive examples amidst a heart rending story, Have Heart contains matters that ought to concern Christian readers; that is, if Scripture is our sole guide in matters of the afterlife.
The Bergers dutifully remind their readers: “Remember, anything we think God is saying or revealing [through personal experiences] must line up with the Word and the nature, character, and will of God.” (HH, 44) But the book contains material which does not agree with this assertion.
Because of the sympathy aroused in readers as they identify with the Bergers’ loss (I even speak of my experience while reading the book), it becomes very difficult to orient one’s emotions to the Word of God. Nevertheless, there are matters in Have Heart that do not line up with Scripture. In brief, I do not see that the Word of God supports the notion that postmortem, persons in heaven come back-whether in the body or out of the body, no one really knows-to visit loved ones and friends on earth. (HH, 97-104, 109-112, and 114-115) In saying this, I realize that I am opening myself up for criticism of not “having heart,” of not accepting how the Bergers are coping with their loss, of being categorized as a minimalist, or of even being under Satan’s influence. (HH, 108) Indeed, to examine this book’s contents from an objective, biblical perspective opens one up to the criticism of being unsympathetic and uncaring, perhaps even cruel, to those who are bereaved.
In contradiction to the claim that loved ones, whether they are Christians or not, make postmortem presences or appearances, intuitive or actual, to loved ones or friends on earth, the following biblical and theological evaluation is offered. In doing so, biblical texts used by the authors to substantiate the claim that the dead in Heaven are aware of and present with the living on earth must be evaluated. But before dealing with specific texts appearing in Have Heart, the modern and ancient contexts of the issue of visitations from the dead should be compared.
Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the Word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the Word which by the Gospel is preached unto you. (1 Peter 1:23-25)
The “Canaanization” of the Church
Part 2) Do the Dead Communicate with the Living?
Our Reality and Our Culture
Death is a regular visitor in an irregular world. In our culture with its cultic fixation upon youth, health, beauty, brains and brawn, Christians, of all people, should be prepared to cope with death. To help others deal with the loss of a loved one who is a believer, Pastor Steve and Sarah Berger have written Have Heart: bridging the gulf between heaven and earth. Using the Bible and their “sanctified imagination,” the authors inform readers how they are dealing with the death of their beloved son, Josiah. In a public forum, at what they perceive to be the risk of ridicule, they state their case that those in Heaven are aware of and can actually be present with loved ones on earth.
In both the culture at large and amongst growing numbers of evangelical Christians, interest in the “connectivity” between this life and the next, between earth and heaven, is on the rise. Both children and adults report visiting Heaven. A few even claim they’ve been to Hell and back. Others report “conversations” with Jesus. But, the highway between earth and heaven appears to be run both ways. Deceased persons are now also reportedly appearing to earthly family, friends and acquaintances. One CNN writer calls these postmortem visits “crisis apparitions.” Numbers of publications claiming to connect this life with the next can be noted, books bearing titles such as The Spirit Whisperer: Chronicles of a Medium, After Life: Answers from the Other Side, One Last Time: a Psychic Medium Speaks to Those We Have Loved and Lost, and Crossing Over: the Stories behind the Stories.
Sometimes, living persons initiate ritual contact with deceased loved ones through mediums and sÃ©ances. On other occasions, as the CNN writer reports, apparitions just “happen.” It is claimed that these ethereal appearances-whether in or out of a body, no one knows-support that after death, there’s “life and love.” While such experiences are increasingly contemporary, they are not new. For centuries apparitions of Mary, as well Jesus and others, have been reported throughout the world.
In their book, God and the Evolving Universe, New Age Spiritualists James Redfield (author of The Celestine Prophecy), Michael Murphy (cofounder of the Esalen Institute) and Sylvia Timbers (a long time counselor to the terminally ill) write that in the “face of life’s brevity, mysteries, and misfortunes,” humans have, “Since the Stone Age… sensed that physical death might not be the end but a transition-that some part of us, a spirit or soul, survives the body’s passing.” From ancient to modern times, the world’s literature contains, accounts of phantom figures that threaten, inspire, guide, or support those who encounter them. Apparitions have long reminded humankind that there is more to life than our senses perceive, more than our immediate desires reach for, more than the ordinary self conceives.
Humans remain fascinated by what might lie ahead for them in a postmortem continuation of being. Since death first entered into human existence, from the time when Satan told Eve, “Ye shall not surely die” (Genesis 3:4), the desire to “know” about life after death remains embedded in the hearts of humanity (See Genesis 3:19; 4:8; 5:5; etc.; Romans 5:12 ff.). So the curious have designed methods to penetrate the mystery which shrouds death. Developed in and practiced from olden times, these methods are known as the occult arts (i.e., of, relating to, or dealing with supernatural influences or phenomena). Nations in antiquity, especially the Canaanites, the people Israel displaced in the Promised Land, pursued these practices as Satan and his messengers continued promoting to them the Edenic lie-surely you will not die.
The Conflict of the Ages
Because Satan is “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience,” an ongoing conflict exists between God and the Devil, between His good angels and Satan’s evil spirits (Ephesians 2:2). Paul taught that the Christian’s struggle is “not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12; Compare Revelation 12:7, ff.; Daniel 10:13; Jude 9; etc.). Whether they are aware of it or not, Christians are involved in a war with Satan’s deceivers. We know so for two reasons: first the Bible tells us; and second, at one time or another, many Christians have been drawn into what has been called the conflict of the ages. Though for the most part the war between Satan and his demons and God and His angels remains invisible (Daniel 10:1-21), sometimes it becomes manifest.
Against the backdrop of this occult war (occult means hidden or secret), “crisis apparitions” must be evaluated, for to perpetuate the lie that all will not die, one means that Satan employs is disguising himself a messenger of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). In the Old Testament era, God called upon Israel to fight this war.
Israel and the Conflict
The Surrounding Culture-the Old Canaanites
Among other of the “secret arts,” the Canaanites (Deuteronomy 18:9-14, *11) consulted with “familiar spirits” (communicated with ghosts) and practiced “necromancy” (sought oracles from the dead), perhaps by “visiting their graves (Isa. 65:4).” Of “necromancy,” Merrill F. Unger (1909-1980), Old Testament scholar who thoroughly researched and wrote about occult and demonic activities, comments:
This practice is called “spiritualism” today; actually, it is “spiritism” (traffic in spirits). Occultism was part and parcel of the debauched Canaanite religion, which was honeycombed with demonism, sexual perversion, and violence, as Ugaritic literature recovered from Ras Sharma (ancient Ugarit) attests.
So, poised to enter the Land of Canaan, the Lord informed Israel through Moses that while He was giving the land to Israel, He was not giving the nation permission to engage the occult arts and practices of the Land’s inhabitants (Deuteronomy 18:9, 14). Totally and without compromise, God forbade the Israelites “to do after the abominations of those nations,” “to imitate the detestable things of those nations (Emphasis added, NASB)” (Deuteronomy 18: 9). As Leviticus commanded the Israelites, “Do not turn to mediums or spiritists; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:31). God forbade them to engage in Old Age Spirituality, to imitate the secret arts in any way. Old Testament scholar and commentator J.G. McConville notes of the covenant between God and His people that,
Would Israel be faithful to Yahweh, or would they adopt the Old Age Spirituality of the Canaanites? Unfortunately, in choosing to imitate the wicked and occult arts of their neighbors, the Israelites entered into “relationships” with gods in addition to the One they had covenanted with. Old Testament history chronicles how the Hebrew people imitated the seductive spiritual practices of the Canaanite as they refused to wait in faith for the coming of The Prophet whom God promised would more fully explain the mystery of the afterlife and “whatever’s out there” to them (Deuteronomy 18:15). As curiosity got the better of them, the Hebrew people, via the machinations and manipulations of the occult arts, chose to explore the afterlife on their own.
For their unfaithfulness to Him, the Lord punished the Israelites; first by allowing the Northern Kingdom (Israel) to be taken captive by the Assyrians (B.C. 722), and then by allowing the Southern Kingdom (Judah) to be conquered by the Babylonians (B.C. 586).
Christians know Jesus Christ is The Prophet who, with His words and by His death, burial and resurrection, explained the postmortem reality all persons face. Therefore, from the example of Old Testament history (1 Corinthians 10:11), a great question arises for Christians living in this culture: will we trust the word of The Prophet regarding the afterlife, or will we attempt, by whatever means, to explore it for ourselves?
Christians and the Conflict
The Surrounding Culture-the New Canaanites
Amongst the New Age/New Spiritualists-to whom the realities of earth and heaven are merging, where what’s up there is blending with what’s down here-truth is evolving in an ever emerging dialectic. Opposites like heaven and earth no longer exist. Therefore, it is not unnatural to believe that in handling the grief of life, the dead (those out of their bodies) can communicate with the living (those in their bodies).
In his new novel, The Twelfth Insight, New Age leader and writer James Redfield chronicles the search by two characters, Hero and Will, for “The Document,” a compilation of writings from various spiritualities that will aid its readers in experiencing “Synchronistic Flow” (a.k.a. “the Zone, Heightened Perception”). This synchronistic consciousness Hero defines as,
a sudden elevation in one’s experience, wherein we transcend the ordinary and find a higher meaning in the flow of events. This Synchronistic perception “centers” us in some way and feels beyond what could be expected from pure chance-as though a higher “destiny” is unfolding.
Upon entering The Flow, Rachel, another character in The Twelfth Insight, explains that,
The Document says we can begin to communicate with those in the Afterlife and clear all our resentments and issues with them. All we have to do is use more of our power to tune in and have a conversation. It’s never too late. And there is so much more they want to communicate to us.
Dr. Oz provides another cultural indicator. Only two months after helping Rick Warren launch his Daniel Plan, Dr. Oz featured well known medium and psychic John Edward on his TV program, Indicating sympathy for spiritualism, Oz’s program was titled, Psychic Mediums: Are They the New Therapists? Based upon that program which featured Edward with Dr. Oz, the website Dr Oz Fans asks:
Do you believe you can talk to the dead? And if you can, does it help you get over the death of a person?… Could talking to the dead be the best medicine for grief?
This is our culture-one fascinated by the possibility of talking to the dead, by soul travel between earth and heaven, by the potential of transhumanism (i.e., that man can realize divinity), and by the possible existence of parallel universes. Fascination with the paranormal has become epidemic in our society for reason of the publicity the media and Hollywood give it (i.e., Harry Potter, Star Wars, White Noise, etc., ad nauseam). As such, one can expect that Christian personalities will desire to “get in on the action” and tap into the paranormal world people claim to be experiencing, despite the Bible’s warning against doing so (Deuteronomy 18:9-14).
The “Canaanization” of the Church
The religions of the ancient nations-the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Canaanites, etc.-all shared an occult connection (Exodus 7:11; Isaiah 47:12-13; Deuteronomy 18:1). If there was a state religion among the ancients, it was the occult. And in that day, the Lord called upon His people to separate themselves from that spirituality. But as indicated by the prophets, Israel ignored God’s Word and absorbed the secret arts into her national religious life. Jeremiah told Judah, “Do not let your prophets who are in your midst and your diviners deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams which they dream” (Jeremiah 29:8). Christians must beware that what happened to God’s people in that day might also be happening among those naming the name of Christ today.
New Testament Scripture warns against it. Paul admonished the Corinthians: “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you” (2 Corinthians 6:17). In this verse, Paul quoted the prophet Isaiah when, after seventy years of exile, the Jews were preparing to leave Babylon and return to the Promised Land (Isaiah 52:11). The Lord warned Israel against taking the idols and secret arts of Babylonian religion with them back to their homeland (See Daniel 2:2, 10; 5:7.). Upon exiting Babylon, they were not even to “touch the unclean thing.” Touching upon the realm of the demonic (Zechariah 13:1-2; Matthew 10:1), the word “unclean” (Hebrew, tame’; Greek, akathartos) means to be contaminated by physical, moral, ritual and/or spiritual impurity thereby making people, animals, objects or activities unfit for worshipping the Holy One of Israel.
The Prophet Jesus denied that Heaven and earth are one-i.e., “as above, so below”. He declared the realities of Heaven and earth to be separate and not equal. He told the religious leaders of His day: “Whither I go, ye cannot come… Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world” (John 8:22-23). Nevertheless, contemporary Christians, never wanting to be “left behind” by the culture, never content with letting the Christian faith be the Christian faith, are seeking to “connect” Heaven and earth-some by claiming to have visited Heaven, others by claiming to have experienced visits from Heaven. Yet despite Old and New Testament prohibitions, New Age Religion is subtly influencing how many Christians view their spirituality these days. They are being seduced by the New Spirituality. They are touching the “unclean thing.” They are becoming “Canaanized.”
As the religion of the Canaanites tested Israel’s fidelity to Jehovah, so the New Age Religion of our culture-which in its spirituality merges the realities of earth and heaven (As above, so below) and blends what’s up there with what’s down here-tests the faith commitment of today’s Christians to the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the last days, the time period between Christ’s first and second comings, Paul describes that apostasy will occur in the church because people will follow “seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils” (1 Timothy 4:1). This is exactly why John commanded Christians, “believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). As Jesus did in His temptation (“it is written,” Matthew 4:4, 6, 7, 10), Christians are to discern the spirits by the Word of God only. The potential of apostatizing from the faith is the spiritual reality of the evil age in which we live, and it will remain so until Jesus comes again and binds the Deceiver for one thousand years (Ephesians 6:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:3; Revelation 20:1-3).
(2 Kings 23:24, NASB)
Part 3) Do the Dead Communicate with the Living?
Via dreams and visions, God communicated His word to true prophets (Jeremiah 23:28). But the dreams of false prophets originated in their own subconscious (“they speak a vision of their own imagination,” Jeremiah 23:16, NASB) or were inspired by false gods and spirits (“they prophesied by Baal,” Jeremiah 23:13, NASB). Based upon dreams and visions, the measure between a true and false prophet was this: false prophets told rebellious people, “You will have peace” (Jeremiah 23:17, NASB); but the word of true prophets fell “like a hammer which shatters a rock” upon the rebels (Jeremiah 23:29, NASB). As a rule of thumb, false dreams comfort while true dreams convict.
In the aftermath of Josiah’s accident, the Bergers received e-mails from other parents who dealt with a similar tragedy, emails containing questions like, “Can my son hear me when I talk to him? Is he always around me, and can he see me? Is there any good way to communicate with him? Will he come to visit me? Or do you believe in us getting signs?” (HH, 43) In the next five chapters of their book, the authors promise they “will give answers to these and many other questions.” (HH, 43)
The Bergers’ book Have Heart recounts people’s dreams around the time their son Josiah died. Right after the accident, a friend reported he saw the hospital room with his friend lying there. He saw Jesus calmly enter the room and whisper something in Josiah’s ear. The friend then asked Jesus what He told Josiah. Jesus replied, “That’s just between Siah [Josiah] and Me.” “The dream ended” reports the friend, “with Josiah getting up and walking out with Jesus.” (HH, 13)
Another lady, whom the Bergers did not personally know, also saw a vision that “aligned” with the friend’s-a dream in which Josiah turned to the lady and said, “Tell Mom and Dad that I love them.” (HH, 15) Another friend of the family in Idaho, suddenly and intuitively became aware of the life and death decisions the Bergers were making in the organ donor process. (Unbeknownst to them and in the eventuality of his death, Josiah had committed to be an organ donor.)
In the midst of making those important decisions, and meanwhile admitting the idea is without biblical precedent, the Bergers state their belief that Josiah “decided” to leave earth and go to Heaven. (HH, 15) His “decision” resulted in his being “alive in Heaven” and for reason of donating his organs to others, of also being “alive on earth”. (HH, 15) As the first chapter’s title indicates, Josiah was “ready to be outta here!” This raises an obvious question.
Though persons might decide when to die (euthanasia, suicide), does it lie with human providence to decide whether or not one shall die? Though for a time life may be a choice, in the end it is not. Death is an appointment everyone will keep (Genesis 3:19; Job 14:14; Hebrews 9:27). Ultimately, God controls birth, life and death (Ecclesiastes 3:2).
Despite the best medical care, health foods, exercise regimen and lifestyle habits, the time will come for all of us when life will move beyond our limited control. Excepting the translation generation which will be living when Jesus returns, we shall all die (1 Corinthians 15:51-54). So isn’t it wonderful that by faith we can yield control of our lives to Jesus Christ? For He stated and promised:
The Bergers state that their son’s ministry and legacy did not end with his death, but lives on. In addition to having donated his organs and an orphanage having been established in his name in the Dominican Republic, “People all around us have enjoyed wonderful experiences and dreams involving Josiah,” the Bergers relate. Then the authors explain that these encouraging paranormal experiences-whether involving a dream or a sensation stimulated by a picture or a painting-are what they call “God Nods.” (HH, 20) A God Nod is a term they coin to describe God’s so-called “spontaneous sovereignty” in which He directs people to “pay attention and look deeper… It’s God saying, ‘Check this out’.” (HH, 21) These various visions of and encounters with Josiah seemed to occur at key moments when people’s grief made them emotionally vulnerable. People reported that it was as if Josiah saying to them, “I am here; you just can’t see me.” (HH, 22)
By helping people see “the blessings of God in the midst of… pain and suffering,” the Bergers claim these “God Nods” are an effectual antidote against “bitterness, unknowing, or doubt,” and counteract the development of a “victim mentality.” (HH, 22) Based upon the Holy Spirit bringing to life the power of Scripture amidst the agony of tragedy, they say “we will not listen to the doubt and negativity that Satan whispers in our ears” and our “mourning” will be turned “into dancing”. (HH, 32-33)
It should be noted that the timing of these “God Nods” can illustrate the New Age belief in and experience of synchronicity (referred to previously in Part 2)-the teaching that a confluence of coincidences can shift a person’s perspective into a new awareness and cosmic-spiritual consciousness. As hospice chaplain and psychotherapist, Diane Arcangel (whose book, Afterlife Encounters, the Bergers refer to and endorse in part, HH, 94), states:
Simply believing in the hereafter is life enhancing. Experiencing an afterlife encounter (AE) is a significant element for transcending loss. It, furthermore, offers a leap toward enlightenment.
Spoiling the Celebration
People beset by tragedy should avoid cultivating a “victim mentality,” say the Bergers. (HH, 37) In the aftermath of bad situations, people can choose not to be healed of their grief by nursing a grudge against life. In the opinion of the Bergers, the paralyzed man by the pool of Bethesda cultivated a “victim mentality” (John 5:1-9). For thirty-eight years he laid by the pool waters, popularly believed to provide healing when stirred by an angel. In words suggesting a name-it-claim-it belief, the Bergers state, “It’s our opinion that this fellow didn’t want to be made well.” (HH, 37)
Beside the fact that we don’t always get what we want out of life, this aberrant opinion begs the question, why then did the paralytic stay by the pool so long? For all that time, was he only seeking sympathy as he wallowed in his self-pity? Yet the paralytic told Jesus, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me” (John 5:7). John’s record of this miracle does not indicate a “victim mentality” on the part of the man. More to the point, the incident indicates indifference toward the man’s plight on the part of the crowd around him as well as their selfishness when they cut in line ahead of the paralytic to get healed. He was a victim all right-not of himself, but of others!
Regardless of whether people are victims in life or death, it does not mean that the grieving manifests an unspiritual “victim mentality.” Painful as it might be, grieving is a process which involves accepting the death and loss of a loved one. Yes, Christians grieve, but not “as others which have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). To suggest otherwise is unrealistic regarding people’s emotions, whether they are Christians or not.
Furthermore, a question remains: Does it lie within people’s power to reverse every grievous disadvantage of life? Remember the words of Eliphaz to Job: “Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). For example, do children or their parents choose autism or Down’s syndrome? What about soldiers who bear in their bodies and souls continuing injuries of war? While the false teaching that healing is a choice may be popular among Word of Faith teachers and their audiences (the name-it-claim-it crowd), introducing such teaching (the paralytic didn’t want to be made well) in a book about the tragedy of death and grief exacerbates agonizing questions about God’s providence, questions that will remain unresolved this side of Heaven. The just shall live by faith, even though life’s circumstances might cause the disadvantaged or wounded in life to doubt God’s providence and goodness amidst the agony they feel in their hearts.
Visions-Isaiah and Uzziah
In their chapter “Heaven Revealed,” the Bergers cite Isaiah’s vision of Heaven in the year when King Uzziah died (circa 740 BC), when the prophet saw “the Lord sitting upon a throne” (Isaiah 6:1-8). In that nobody can see God (John 1:18), the Apostle John interpreted that Isaiah saw the pre-incarnate Christ (John 12:41). But, when speaking of the significance of Uzziah’s death, the Bergers teach that, “Sometimes it takes the passing of a loved one for us to clearly see heavenly things.” (HH, 46) In the words of the authors, “The passing of King Uzziah triggered a bigger event. It gave Isaiah answers and a vision of Heaven.” (HH, 46) But is this true?
First of all, in the historical reality, it is doubtful Uzziah was a “loved one” of the prophet. After his fifty-two year reign, the king’s death signaled that, “the times were a’ changing.” But before the Lord called Isaiah to prophetic ministry, He had disqualified Uzziah from worshipping in His house by smiting him with leprosy because the king had transgressed into the priestly office (2 Chronicles 26:16-21). The prophet’s dating of his vision of the Lord to have occurred “in the year that king Uzziah died” served historical notice of when God called Isaiah to the prophetic ministry (Compare Isaiah 14:28, “In the year that king Ahaz died . . .”). The death of a so-called “loved one” did not stimulate Isaiah’s vision of the heavenly reality.
Nevertheless, the Bergers suggest that Isaiah, for reason of going public with his claim to have seen the Lord, risked being mocked by his contemporaries as being “delusional, hysterical, or worse, heretical.” (HH, 46) But, “Like Isaiah,” they say, “we’re willing to share our ongoing experience, risking the potential ridicule of some in order to bring hope to the hurting.” (HH, 46-47) This unorthodox reading of Isaiah’s heavenly vision provides the “biblical” license for the Bergers to go public with their “discoveries” about Heaven, the implication being that those who might not believe the reports of their “ongoing experience” might be deriding them.
Because those who die in the Lord go immediately to Heaven (Luke 23:43), Scripture marks the dead in Christ to be “alive, active, and aware” with the Lord. Combining the Bible and their “sanctified imagination,” the authors of Have Heart describe Heaven and explore what it means to be absent in the body and present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8).
Correctly, the Bergers claim that the dead in Christ are more alive in Heaven than they ever were on earth. (HH, 59) They suggest a new vocabulary is needed when speaking of deceased persons, words that reflect biblical truth. “We need to replace ‘dead’ and ‘was’ with ‘living’ and ‘is’.” (HH, 60)
In citing John 14:3 (“I go to prepare a place for you.”), the Bergers ask: What is Jesus “preparing? Is it an estate? Is it a house with an ocean view?” (HH, 62) Then they answer, “Maybe, but it is also most definitely a new body…. We will get amazingly new spiritual bodies that are just like the resurrected body Jesus has.” (HH, 62) From their equating place with “new spiritual bodies,” serious theological questions arise. When will those who have died in Christ receive their amazing new bodies? What will these bodies be like? Will they be essentially spiritual or essentially material?
As to when, the Bergers state that the dead in Christ are “raised in glory, living gloriously right now with God.” (Emphasis added, HH, 63, 64) As to what these bodies will be like, the authors state they will be just like Jesus’ (1 Corinthians 15:48-49; Philippians 3:2-21; 1 John 3:2). As whether these bodies are spiritual or physical, the authors opt that both are true. They note that Jesus’ appearing to the disciples on the road to Emmaus indicates “the tangible nature of the body of the resurrected Lord,” that He “has flesh and bones, and thus He is no vapor-like spirit/ghost.” (HH, 65) Their son Josiah’s embodiment in Heaven, as evidenced by dreams and apparitions, comforted Steve Berger for in the aftermath of donating his son’s vital organs to others, Josiah’s physical body was cremated.
Regarding Heaven’s activities, the authors note “that our God is the God of the Living and not the God of the dead.” (HH, 92) In Heaven, they are “forever is.” (HH, 59) The activities of the “is-in-Christ” include praying (Revelation 5:8; 6:9-10; 8:3), worshipping (Revelation 5:13; 7:9-12), rejoicing (Luke 15:10) and serving (Revelation 22:3). (HH, 73-92) But the Bergers take serving a step further claiming that saints in Heaven make mission “trips to earth for the Master.” (HH, 89)
That those in Heaven travel to earth, the Bergers base primarily upon a book My Dream of Heaven by Rebecca Ruter Springer, written at about the time of the Civil War, a book they claim Billy Graham endorsed. (HH, 89-90) To buttress the argument that people in Heaven “go on invisible missions to earth,” the Bergers also refer to dreams and experiences people have had with their dead son Josiah, as well as the biblical appearance of Moses and Elijah at Jesus’ Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13). From this eclectic mix of dreams, experiences and one biblical incident, the authors conclude that those in Heaven “know things” happening on earth, and that “They surround us.” (HH, 92) As the next chapter tells readers, “They are aware and present.” (HH, 93-104) [DTW Emphasis added]
“Aware and Present”
To validate the claim that persons in Heaven are aware of and present with what’s happening on earth, the Bergers again draw upon an eclectic mixture of clinical, experiential and biblical data. They refer to Diane Arcangel’s book Afterlife Encounters: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Experiences, in which the former director of the KÃ¼bler-Ross Center, hospice chaplain and psychotherapist reports her clients’ “tangible experiences with their loved ones, such as dreams or symbols or sounds.” (HH, 94) To further support the idea of the awareness and presence of the dead, the Bergers then cite Samuel’s visit to Saul when the king attended a sÃ©ance conducted by the witch at Endor (1 Samuel 28:15-19). (HH, 95-96) They also retell a story in the book Heaven and the Afterlife, by Christian authors James (Jim) Garlow and Keith Wall. (HH, 96-98)
All this then, forms the context in which the Bergers report their son’s visit with “Mr. Jim” that evening in the church sanctuary. This smorgasbord of evidence (eclectically derived from a spectrum of sources ranging from fundamentalist-Christian like John R. Rice to New Age like Diane Arcangel) supposedly supports the assertion that the dead can become present to the living. But how does one know whether such presences are authentic, fanatic or demonic?
Tests for Discerners
Acknowledging the sovereignty of God and that He can do whatever He wills, the Bergers propose that presences (appearances) of the deceased must pass two evidentiary tests: Scripture and spontaneity. They propose that experiences with the dead in Christ must
- “line up with Scripture,” and
- be unsolicited (spontaneous). (HH, 94, 101-103)
“It’s the spontaneity . . .” they write “that makes the difference from condemned by God to orchestrated by God.” (HH, 102) In this manner the Bergers say they’re “not talking about channeling, sÃ©ances, or mediums trying to connect with the dead,” activities Scripture forbids (Deuteronomy 18:10). (HH, 94, 101-103)
They propose that because these presences are spontaneous, they do not qualify to be works of the flesh (i.e., witchcraft and sorcery), activities which the apostle Paul condemned (“they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” Galatians 5:20-21). (HH, 102) Their message thus becomes: if this experience just happens to you, and you didn’t ask for it, you are absolved from the charge of necromancy. Yet, the “spontaneity” test they invent does not thereby exempt the experiencer of an apparition from God’s prohibition.
The Nature of Scripture
Notice that the Bergers’ spontaneity test resembles how many postmodern evangelical leaders approach the Scriptures as they teach exciting new doctrines. By employing a method that starts with a Scripture and then mixes in something else-be it an experience, a dream, a revelation or a new understanding-these teachers go beyond plain biblical truth and expand the meaning of the Gospel (Contra Galatians 1:6-9.). Regarding any knowledge “out there,” Diane Arcangel states her premise for knowing: “Experience is stronger than faith, and faith is the gift the following experiencers [the cases of people recorded in her book] offer you.”
Common among many new evangelicals is a belief that Scripture does not possess a propositional and objective reality outside the human heart, but that the Bible is a compilation of individual narratives that record people’s personal and subjective experiences with God, and that in a contemporary way, as people experience God, they too contribute to a grand narrative, an ongoing and developing story of the religious experiences of all people. Through your personal experiences, you become a participatory part of the Story. In accord with this conception of the Bible, the Bergers precariously advise their readers to look outside of Scripture for an experiential confirmation of the Truth! They suggest: “If Satan is attacking one of God’s promises in your own heart, ask Him to confirm the truth in your spirit by whatever means He deems best. It may be through a dream, or He may use some other method to deliver His message.” (HH, 71)
Happenings from Heaven
Because presences just “happen”-as when C.S. Lewis experienced “supernatural visitations from his wife” after she died (citing someone’s experience) or as when Jesus appeared to his disciples after His death and resurrection (citing Scripture, Luke 24:36-43)-they are legitimate, say the Bergers. [DTW Emphasis added]
However, this disclaimer rings hollow in light of the Bergers account of Josiah’s visit to “Mr. Jim” during a mid-week service. Previous to the visit, the guest worship leader prayed that Josiah would come! (HH, 99-101) Neither does the biblical example they employ pass the spontaneity test. By visiting the witch at Endor, Saul solicited Samuel’s presence! On this point, any reader of Have Heart must struggle with the spontaneity test invented by the Bergers. In two of the authors’ examples, one experiential and the other biblical, neither Josiah nor Samuel just showed up. Those who saw them desired their presence. Indeed, many apparitions occur as a consequence of “wishful thinking.” On the downside, Have Heart might conceivably tempt readers to desire contact with a loved one who has passed on, and if that would be the case, then any apparition would flunk the spontaneity test. Because a coming of a dead person just happens does not exempt it from what God’s Law forbids (Deuteronomy 18:9-14).
Though people can court contact with the dead via sÃ©ances with mediums, similar “communications” can also spontaneously happen. After his son’s suicide, Bishop James A. Pike (1913-1969) experienced unsolicited visitations. Strange phenomena, which Pike grew to believe were interactions from his dead son, began to occur in the apartment they once occupied together-objects moved (telekinesis), the bangs of a sleeping secretary were singed off in a straight line, fingernails cut, etc. When these phenomena began to happen, the Anglican Bishop did not even believe in the afterlife! As regards the phenomena for psi (the Greek letter Y which refers to all extrasensory perception (ESP) and psychokinetic movements) as well as poltergeists and hauntings, Dr. Dean Radin, Director of Consciousness Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, notes that most of those experiences are “spontaneous.” [DTW Emphasis added]
So at this juncture the biblical Christian should realize that even though they be spontaneous, apparitional comings of dead persons can be altogether differently sourced-“earthly, sensual, devilish” (James 3:15). Because they just happen does not authenticate them as being from Heaven. In fact, quite the opposite might be the case. As the case of Bishop Pike demonstrates, they could be from Hell. In 1970, Victor Ernest, once himself a spiritualist, warned: “A familiar spirit in the service of Satan knows human beings so well that he can disguise himself as those people . . .” And herein lays a very serious and sober warning to any believer who might be flirting with divination: Satan’s method is ever one of deception through disguise (John 8:44; 2 Cor. 11:14). He will employ any method to perpetuate The Lie-surely you will not die.
Interpretation by Imagination
Part 4) Do the Dead Communicate with the Living?
“Our minds need to be stretched to the other side. I coined a term to illustrate the need to break out of the box and allow God to maximize our view of Heaven: ‘sanctified imagination within the confines of biblical truth’.”(Steve Berger, Have Heart, p. xxii)
Resembling the Roman Catholic teaching on “the communion of the saints,” the Bergers’ premise that the dead-in-Christ can communicate with the living-in-Christ is based upon their being in union one with another. The Bergers find precedent for such “connectivity” between living and dead in Christ in several biblical texts which they twist together, including Hebrews 12:1 (“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses”), Ephesians 3:15 (“Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named”), and Romans 12:5 (“So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.”). To the authors of Have Heart: bridging the gulf between Heaven and earth, these Bible verses indicate, “There is one family, one name, one body, and we’re all eternally connected on both sides of the veil.” (Emphasis added, HH, 109) Because the dead and living “in Christ” share this connection, they conclude, “Our loved ones may show up in dreams or visits or other ways (who can limit God’s imagination?)….” (HH, 110)
The Bergers call such visitation phenomena, “God Nods.” (HH, 113-121) The “nods” they record include the apparition of their son Josiah coming via dreams to a friend and his sister, a visit to another sister, and Pastor Berger’s sight of “a huge white crane” which visited the family pond one morning. A few days after his son’s death, Pastor Steve had prayed for a sign. Then, for the first time since moving to their home, a magnificent white crane appeared in the pond. Later, Steve learned that Josiah had been learning a type of martial arts called White Crane from his Children’s Pastor. (HH, 115-121) We turn now to some of the biblical passages the Bergers employ to demonstrate that the dead can be aware of and present with the living.
Shock and Awe!-Saul, the Witch and Samuel
To support the dead appearing to the living, Have Heart employs the incident when, in violation of both God’s (Deuteronomy 18:10-11) and his own law (1 Samuel 28:3, 9), Saul visited a witch at the town of Endor (1 Samuel 28:3-25). (HH, 95-96) Upon that visit, and to both his and the witch’s shock, Samuel appeared. “It was Samuel coming from Heaven… Samuel showed up,” they write. (HH, 96) As Saul’s biographer in 1 Samuel indicates, this incident confirms and caps the earlier words Samuel uttered to the disobedient king, “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft” (1 Samuel 15:23).
Yet, as the chapter title indicates, the Bergers employ this incident to show of deceased saints that, “They are Aware and Present.” (HH, 93-104) That dead persons, both saved and unsaved, are alive is not in question (See Luke 23:43.). Neither are the issues of whether they are active (See Revelation 7:9-12.) or aware (See Luke 16:19-31; John 8:58.). As the book points out, the state of the dead in Heaven involves all of the aforementioned. (HH, 51, 54, 92, 95, 98, 102) But, as will be shown, whether the dead are aware of and present among the living is a matter of an altogether different sort.
Earlier in the book, the authors opine that Christians commonly “imagine” the saints in heaven to be “resting in peace instead of participating in God’s kingdom work.” (HH, 92) Apparently, their view of “kingdom work” includes the dead not only being active in Heaven but also active and taking mission trips to earth. The Bergers support this theory from Samuel’s manifested presence to Saul; this despite the prophet’s expressed annoyance with the king, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” (1 Samuel 28:15). Samuel, it appears from his rebuke of Saul, was more at rest and not as “present” as Have Heart supposes.
To substantiate their belief in manifested presences of the dead like that which Samuel made to Saul, the authors refer to the research of hospice chaplain and psychotherapist Dianne Arcangel and her book, Afterlife Encounters: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Experiences (mentioned previously in this review). (HH, 94) They state their agreement with the research in her book which they think agrees with the Bible. In affirming their belief in continuing presences of the dead, the Bergers protest that they’re “not talking about channeling, sÃ©ances, or mediums trying to contact the dead,” and that “Deuteronomy 18:10 forbids seeking those types of encounters.” (HH, 94-95) Yet inconsistently, perhaps disingenuously, they illustrate their belief in ongoing presences of the dead by referring to Saul’s unlawful visit to a witch!
By any Old or New Testament standard, Samuel’s coming from the dead to Saul was exceptional, not normal. In the prophet’s coming, it can be noted that the protocol of a sÃ©ance was not followed. Samuel did not communicate with Saul through the witch. In a sÃ©ance-turned-sermon, Samuel addressed the king directly. God’s prophets do not employ mediums! In contrast to the comfort sought by those seeking to contact those who have entered the afterlife, and in the face of Saul’s wanton disobedience, Samuel offered no comfort or hope for Saul. Rather, Samuel announced to Saul that the Lord had departed from him, that he was being dethroned by David, that his armies would be defeated by the Philistines, and that both he and his sons would die the next day-not exactly consoling news for the king (1 Samuel 28:16-19). This contrasts to Arcangel’s statement in which she tells people, “Qualified mediums can benefit the bereaved population. They provide evidence for survival of bodily death, which reduces anxiety.”
Neither did Samuel share anything specific about the afterlife with the king. In fact, Samuel’s message is way out of sync with what many believe postmortem presences of the dead have to offer the living, namely, that of communicating to and comforting them about the afterlife. As the French theologian Dr. RenÃ© Pache (1904-1979) observed from Scripture: “None of those raised in either Old Testament or New Testament times recounted a thing, as far as we know, about the experience of going through death into the abode of the dead.”
No matter how much we might wish it were otherwise, Samuel’s unique appearance to Saul gives no biblical precedent for imagining the dead are present with the living. Indeed, as the Preacher in Ecclesiastes informs us, the dead “no longer have a share in all that is done under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 9:6, NASB).
The Crowd in the Clouds
In the chapter “Connected” (HH, 105-112), and to establish that the dead remain present with the living, Have Heart employs the opening line of Hebrews 12: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses…” (Hebrews 12:1). The Bergers interpret these “witnesses” as those who are deceased, and therefore are “universal companions” with saints alive on earth. (HH, 107) The Bergers say that these witnesses are “alive, active, and aware,” and that those in Heaven become “onlookers” of those on earth. (HH, 107) Earth below becomes theater above as these heavenly inhabitants watch how the lives of their loved ones are playing out on earth. But based upon Hebrews 12, this scenario is implausible.
First, the conjunction “wherefore” ought to be noted. The inferential conjunction connects chapter 12 to chapter 11. The “witnesses” therefore refer to those Old Testament persons who exemplified what it means to live by faith in chapter 11 (This chapter might be called “The Hall of Faith” chapter.). Faith is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Emphasis added, Hebrews 11:1). By drawing upon the example of these “witnesses,” the author of Hebrews encourages his readers to be faithful to the Lord, no matter what the cost. The heavenly faithful serve as models to, not spectators of, believers on earth.
Second, the word “witnesses” means martyrs (Greek, martus). Had the author of Hebrews meant the dead are spectating our lives, he might have stated that we are surrounded by a great cloud of eyewitnesses (Greek, epoptes), as for example, when Peter and two other apostles personally witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration (2 Peter 1:16; See Luke 1:2); or that we are surrounded by a great cloud of onlookers (Greek, blemma), as when Lot lived amongst the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah and saw and heard the “the filthy conversation of the wicked” (2 Peter 2:7-8); or that we are surrounded by a great cloud of spectators (a nominal form of Greek verb, theoreo, from which the English word theater derives), as when Peter observed the grave clothes of the resurrected Christ in the empty tomb (John 20:6). But instead, the author uses the word “martus.”
Third, the phrase in Hebrews reads: we are surrounded by “a great cloud of witnesses.” We note the plural witnesses. Though they are many, they are corporate. Together, they form a singular cloud-crowd.
Fourth, there’s a world of difference between those in heaven having visage of brethren on earth and making visits to them. Even if it is conceded that saints in heaven might be able to observe their brethren on earth, the crowd of “spectators” would be limited to the names in chapter 11. That they are “witnesses” does not suggest that individuals might separate themselves from the grandstand above to visit the playing field below. Based upon the context of the passage in which “witnesses” occurs, theologian W.H. Griffith Thomas (1861-1924) cautioned,
It has been tempting to many writers to speak of our race being run in an arena surrounded by spectators, as though those who have passed on before are still interested in our welfare. But, however attractive the idea, it is impossible to derive it from this passage.
Missions for the Master
Scripture records how Moses and Elijah appeared to the disciples and talked with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13). In the sixth chapter of their book about the dead (“They are active”), the Bergers ask, “So do saints in Heaven go on invisible missions to earth?” (HH, 90) Yes, they do, say the authors as they employ the dreams and reports of others along with Matthew’s record of Moses and Elijah’s appearing in support. But reports and dreams are what they claim to be-personal experiences and, absent confirmation by two or three witnesses, are not verifiable. Note in the Gospel record that three disciples-Peter, James and John-witnessed Moses and Elijah’s coming to Jesus (2 Corinthians 13:1, “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.”).
While Moses and Elijah “appeared” to the three disciples, they came and spoke only to Jesus (Matthew 17:3, “And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him,” NASB). Their stay on the mount was not prolonged (Matthew 17:8, “And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.”). Furthermore, Moses and Elijah never appeared to the disciples or spoke to Jesus again. For this reason, Christians need to be careful of making a rule out of an exception, of setting a spiritual precedent out of a single biblical incident.
By their coming, Moses (the typical representative of the Law) and Elijah (the eschatological representative of the Prophets) glorified Jesus Christ! Their appearing bore witness to Jesus’ coming resurrection (Matthew 17:9) even as it gave the disciples a foretaste of their coming glorification (John 17:24). While in some respects the appearing of Moses and Elijah might have been for the disciples, it was to the Lord. Jesus was the center attraction. If the Lord of Glory had not been present, then Moses and Elijah would not have come (See Malachi 4:4-6; Matthew 17:10.).
Did Abraham Watch Jesus?
Much of what the Bergers say in the Introduction and first six chapters of Have Heart peaks in chapter seven. Of the dead in Christ, the chapter title tells readers, They are aware and present. (HH, 93-104) To support this chapter’s message, the authors preface it with Jesus’ statement to Jewish leaders who resisted Him even as they gloried in their descent from Abraham. Jesus told His enemies, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to [in order that he that he might, NASB margin] see my day: and he saw it, and was glad” (John 8:56). (HH, 93) From this biblical verse, the Bergers deduce that just as Abraham observed Jesus’ ministry on earth, so also others in Heaven are aware of and present with their loved ones on earth. But what does the biblical record actually say?
Among the Pharisees, controversy erupted over Jesus’ statement, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). For making such a bold assertion, Jesus’ enemies charged Him perjury, denied His heavenly origin, slandered Him as a Samaritan, accused Him of demon possession, and wanted to stone Him (John 8:13-14, 23, 41, 48, 59). To refute the charge that He bore false witness, Jesus verified He was “the light of the world” by calling upon two witnesses: His Father and Abraham. If Abraham had rejoiced that he might see Jesus’ day, then why didn’t they?
But according to John’s Gospel, Abraham was not an ongoing spectator of Jesus’ life. If Abraham had been, we might have expected John’s record of Jesus’ statement to read, Abraham rejoices to see my day; he sees it and is glad (present tense), or Abraham was rejoicing to see my day; he was seeing it and was glad (imperfect tense). But John records the verbs in the aorist tense (rejoiced… saw… was glad…). As time markers, the aorist tense is “like taking a snapshot of the action while the imperfect [tense] (like the present [tense]) takes a motion picture, portraying the action as it unfolds.” What Abraham saw and rejoiced in was completed when in his lifetime he saw it. Respected scholar D.A. Carson comments that, “Some scholars… propose that John 8:56 means Abraham was already in paradise, seeing Jesus in his ministry….” But he adds, “There is no biblical sanction for this perspective….” Furthermore, it can be noted that the Jews understood Jesus’ claim to be that He saw Abraham, and not vice versa (John 8:57-58).
So the question arises, what was involved in Abraham seeing and rejoicing in the day of Jesus Christ? Hebrews states that, along with other Patriarchs of the faith, Abraham saw the promise of Christ from a distance before he died (Hebrews 11:13). Their faith looked forward. At the time Abraham saw and rejoiced in Christ, it was not up close and personal, but foreshadowing. Abraham’s sight of and rejoicing in Jesus’ day was premised upon God’s promise of a seed (Genesis 12:3, “in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed”) and a son, that even though both he and Sarah were beyond their child bearing years, their progeny would some day bless to the world (Genesis 17:16; 18:10; Romans 4:19-25). Perhaps Abraham’s sight of and rejoicing in Jesus’ day culminated when, as he was prepared to sacrifice Isaac, God intervened and provided a lamb in his son’s stead (Genesis 22:13-18). But in all of this, Jesus’ statement about Abraham does not support the idea that in some ever-present way he was spectating and rejoicing over Jesus’ life.
A Great Gulf Fixed
As is perhaps being alluded to in Have Heart’s subtitle (bridging the gulf between Heaven and earth) (Emphasis added), in His revelation of The Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), Jesus mentions “a great gulf” which separated Hades and Heaven in the afterlife. The Old Testament deceased lived in parallel, but separate realities. The gulf Jesus revealed between the existences of Hades and Heaven was impassible, was “locked down.” But as the book’s subtitle implies, the gulf is not “fixed” between earth and Heaven. The Bergers believe that souls located in Heaven can visit loved ones and friends on earth; that a spiritual freeway runs between the two realities, one above and the other below.
It can be noted that the New Spiritualists of the New Age believe that there are no separate existences of Heaven on the one hand and creation on the other, that the reality of “whatever is” is one and therefore, that God and humanity are not distinct, but integrated. But according to the Bible, this is not so! Throughout the Gospel of John as well as the rest of Scripture, the two realities of Heaven above and creation below are disintegrated and find integration only in the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:3; 3:31; 8:23; 19:11).
Thus, one key aspect of Jesus’ teaching must be reckoned with by those who believe that the gulf between Heaven and earth can be bridged by the Christian dead possessing “visitation rights” to loved ones on earth. Would Father Abraham allow Lazarus to leave Paradise to visit the Rich Man’s five brothers on earth and warn them of the peril awaiting them in the reality of the afterlife? Read the answer: “They [the Rich Man’s five brothers] have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.”(Luke 16:25). Then the Rich Man remonstrates to Abraham: “Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent,” to which Abraham then finalizes his verdict that a visit will not be allowed by Lazarus to the Rich Man’s five brothers. He said to the Rich Man: “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (Luke 16:27-31). From this dialog, what is to be learned from Jesus’ revelation about the afterlife?
First, the alive in Heaven do not make “up close and personal” visitations to earth. Lazarus was not allowed to make such a visit, even with the peril of the destiny of the Rich Man’s brothers weighing in the balance. Of this incident, Ron Rhodes writes: “The dead and the living could not contact each other. A visitation to earth (in this case to warn five brothers) was not an option.”
Second, only the Word of God, the Scriptures and the Savior, bridge the gulf between the realities of Heaven and earth. In matters of life and death, either we take God at His Word or we do not. Abraham told the Rich Man: “They [your five brothers] have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them….” (Luke 16:29). In matters regarding the afterlife, either God’s Word is sufficient or it is not. Isaiah framed the issue like this:
“And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (Isaiah 8:19-20)
Third, if in His revelation regarding the afterlife Abraham had visited the Rich Man’s five brothers, Jesus would have opened a Pandora’s Box for the cult of spiritualism to flourish (Contra Deuteronomy 18:9-14.). Satan and his hosts want the box open. But in this revelation about the afterlife, Jesus Christ made sure the box stayed shut. In His revelation regarding the afterlife, Jesus didn’t break out of the box, did He?
Fourth, the Bergers’ book may imply a kind of universalism. Only Jesus Christ bridges the gulf between Heaven and earth. A “medium” cannot become the Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5). Only Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Anticipation of visitations from “beyond” by any other person is a sideshow and distracts people from the One who is the only true Bridge. To hope the deceased, whether saved or unsaved or in whatever form, whether material or ethereal, will visit us is an anticipation that is fraught with spiritual peril.
“None of those raised in either Old Testament or New Testament times recounted a thing, as far as we know, about the experience of going through death into the abode of the dead. Our curiosity could well make us want to question them about it, but God has not permitted this. In the whole realm of the future life, the Scriptures, in their sober restraint, have to satisfy us.”Dr. RenÃ© Pache
Spiritualism’s Slippery Slope
Part 5) Do the Dead Communicate with the Living?
In addition to misusing particular texts of Scripture while ignoring others, Have Heart contains an obvious eschatological (eschatology deals with events which are future) problem. As the Bergers propose, to be able to make “supernatural visitations” to the living-in-Christ requires that the dead-in-Christ possess “supernatural bodies” now, that their soul-spirits reside in a glorified materiality in which they can make trips from Heaven to earth and back (the Bergers call these trips missions). But as the New Testament explains, the bodies of dead-in-Christ have not yet been raised unto glory. Their bodies remain asleep in the grave. Nevertheless, to demonstrate that the dead-in-Christ possess the materiality to manifest themselves to the living-in-Christ, the authors propose an eschatology for the resurrection which departs from the New Testament.
When the Resurrection Body?
If the living in heaven could make “supernatural visitations” to their loved ones on earth, it would require two things: that they possess the supernatural “materiality” and familial “connectivity” to do so. If that were the case, then just as Jesus appeared in His glorified body to His disciples and loved ones after His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:5-8), so in like manner the “dead in Christ” could visit their family and friends. In these resurrected and glorified bodies, the souls of the dead-in-Christ in Heaven would possess “the technological transport” to make their presence known to the living-in-Christ on earth.
Because of Supernatural Materiality
Have Heart proposes that because the dead-in-Christ possess bodies “characterized by glory and honor and power and supernatural abilities,” they have the capacity to appear to loved ones and friends on earth. (HH, 62-65) The Bergers state:
This is so radically important for us to understand as we go through the grieving process: you will be raised to Heaven with this new and better body, and all the believers who have gone before you already have theirs. They are raised in glory, living gloriously right now with God. (Emphasis added, HH, 63)
Again, the book states:
When you think about Christ’s resurrected body, with all of its unique abilities-including miraculously appearing (John 20:26), instantly disappearing (Luke 24:31), and flying (Acts 1:9)-its pretty exciting to think we’ll have the same kind of body and that our loved ones who are with Jesus have one right now. (Emphasis added, HH, 64)
In the aftermath of the death of a loved one, the Bergers believe the grief-stricken on earth may find comfort when in their “supernatural” bodies, the deceased make their “presence” known to them, as when their son Josiah appeared that evening to Mr. Jim in Grace Chapel’s sanctuary. That the dead in Christ can make such appearances is premised upon Jesus’ appearances to His disciples after His resurrection, but the Bergers also employ diverse experiences to back up their revised interpretation of Scripture.
Because of Familial Connectivity
For the Christian dead to make “supernatural visitations” to loved ones on earth also depends upon their being “connected” to those living on earth. The Bergers derive this connectedness from Paul’s rich theological expression (used scores of times by the apostle) that Christians are together “in Christ.” (HH, 108-109) “We are one body,” write the Bergers, “connected in Heaven, and connected between Heaven and earth.” (Emphasis added, HH, 110) Because all “are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5, NASB), the Bergers then leap to infer that the in-Christ-in-Heaven have “visitation rights” with the in-Christ-on-earth. Whether by dreams, visions or visitations, those in Heaven can supposedly manifest themselves to their family and friends on earth. We are family!
Resembling the Roman Catholic doctrine of the “communion of the saints,” this connectivity is the “maximum” view of what Heaven is like, they say. If Christians do not accept this “connectivity scenario,” their view of heaven is “minimalist,” and in today’s consciousness-expanding world, what Christian wants to be thought of as narrow-minded? But not surprisingly, the New Testament does not support such a view of Heaven. According to God’s Word, the resurrection, the reception of a glorified body by all those in Christ, has not yet happened (See 2 Timothy 2:16-18.). It’s future.
Resurrection “Not Yet”
It may surprise those fascinated by this enticing resurrection scenario created by the Bergers that according to the Bible “the dead in Christ” do not possess “supernatural bodies” with “supernatural abilities” at this point in human history. They have not yet been physically resurrected. Jesus said this will occur at “the last day” (John 6:40), at a time coordinate with His Second Coming, also known as His Parousia or Second Presence. About the timing of the resurrection of believers and their reception of a glorified body, the New Testament is unequivocal. Paul coordinates the timing of the resurrection and translation of all those “in Christ” with the Parousia. Read the Apostle’s words to the Corinthians:
Note two things stated in this timing text: first, in the “firstfruits” analogy, Paul states that the type of resurrection body believers are to receive will be like Christ’s; second, as to time, these resurrection bodies will be created by God at Christ’s coming (i.e., His Parousia).
The Apostle also times the resurrection of “the dead in Christ” to be contemporaneous with the translation of the living-in-Christ (a.k.a. the Rapture of the Church). Paul states the simultaneous translation of the living-in-Christ and the dead-in-Christ at Jesus’ Parousia as follows:
Furthermore, when all those who were, are or will be “in Christ” appear “with Christ,” then their true identity will be revealed. In that moment of truth, their physicality will reveal their spirituality. Every observer will be aware of a Christian’s true identity in Christ. As Paul states, “the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19, NASB). As he told the church at Colossae, “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear [Greek, phaneroo], then shall ye also appear [Greek, phaneroo, “to make visible what has been hidden or unknown”] with him in glory” (Colossians 3:4). In a similar vein, John wrote:
So in light of the coming manifestation of the “sons of God,” John exhorted believers against hypocrisy. He told them:
The point of this whole discussion is this: departed Christians can’t visit loved ones on earth in glorified bodies because they do not yet possess them. Currently, their bodies are “asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:6, 18; 1 Thessalonians 4:13, 15). Christ’s appearing will be our unveiling, and all those “in Christ” from all ages will be glorified together, and not before the time the Lord has determined.
Why “Not Yet”?
Scripture pictures the bodies of believers, no matter how they might have been lost at the end of this life-cremation, incineration, cannibalized, lost at sea, etc.-to be asleep awaiting resurrection at Christ’s Second Coming. Though from earth’s perspective their bodies are asleep (not consciously present on earth), they are, as the Bergers and the Bible point out, alive, active and aware (consciously present in Heaven). I think the apostle Paul pictures “the dead in Christ” as asleep for at least two reasons.
First, though Christians rightly sorrow at the sting of death, they do not sorrow as those who have no hope. Their loved ones who died in Christ are merely taking their beauty rest. When Christ returns, their bodies will wake up!
Second, Paul describes the bodies of the dead in Christ to be asleep so that there will be no confusion as to their activity, whether ethereal or material, on earth. They do not appear and make visits to loved ones and friends. They are asleep. That the bodies of the dead in Christ are asleep insulates the Bible against endorsing apparitions in any form, period. Why? Because Christians live by faith, and the death of Jesus on the Cross for their sins and His resurrection for their justification is sufficient cause for them to believe. That’s the Gospel!
Then, when Jesus comes again, all glory and honor will be accorded to Him when at the end of time, He brings the bodies of all the dead in Christ back to life “together.” (2 Peter 3:9-13.). But until that day, the day of Jesus’ Parousia, the dead in Christ are not present and active on earth. This may not be how Have Heart imagines the afterlife, but it is as the Bible illumines it. In the meantime, we need to let the dead alone and let them sleep. As Samuel rebuked Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” (1 Samuel 28:15).
What is Heaven like Now?
All that is known about the state of a person’s soul after it is separated from the body (death is the separation of the pneuma from the soma, James 2:26, “the body without the spirit is dead”), is what God has revealed to us. As Dr. RenÃ© Pache (1904-1979) informs:
We are informed little about the afterlife because we live by faith, and “faith is… the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). In our present state of being, we only “see through a glass, darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Though I am aware many theologies represent the dead in Christ to be alive in a “disembodied state” in Heaven now, there is biblical evidence that may not be the case. For instance, Jesus revealed the state of Lazarus and the Rich Man to be “bodied” (Lazarus had a “finger,” and Dives [the rich man] had a “tongue,” Luke 16:19-31.); Matthew refers to the appearance of Moses and Elijah at the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:3-8); Moses and the historian refer to the translations of Enoch and Elijah respectively (Genesis 5:24; 2 Kings 2:11); Jude tells of the contest between Michael and the devil over Moses’ remains (Jude 9); and John sees that deceased believers are dressed in “white robes” (Revelation 6:11; 7:9, 13, 14). It’s difficult to see how robes (materiality) hang on souls (immateriality).
Further, Paul tells us “that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). Obviously, if the “tabernacle” refers to believers’ earthly bodies, then “building” may correspond to their heavenly bodies.
Because of this biblical evidence, some Bible teachers postulate that, short of the glorified materiality that will be given their bodies at their resurrection at Christ’s Parousia, saints who die “in Christ” and are in Heaven possess an intermediate and temporary body. If that is the case, then in contrast to a dualistic belief which holds that matter is evil and spirit is good, possession of some intermediate materiality in the afterlife would highlight that God views the union between matter and soul-spirit to be “good” because He created it so!
When facing the death of a loved one, the relief for grief is belief, belief in God and in the Lord Jesus Christ, who by His resurrection conquered death. With the prospect of His death at hand, Jesus told His disciples in the Upper Room, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me” (Emphasis added, John 14:1). Based upon Jesus’ words to His disciples, Anglican Bishop J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) offers this compelling counsel:
Faith in the Lord Jesus is the only sure medicine for troubled hearts…. To believe more thoroughly, trust more entirely, rest more unreservedly, lay hold more firmly, lean back more completely-this is the prescription which our Master urges on the attention of all His disciples. No doubt that little band which sat round the table at the last supper had believed already…. Yet what does their Lord say to them here? Once more He presses on them the old lesson with which they first began: ‘Believe! Believe more! Believe on Me!'
After Lazarus’ death, Jesus told Martha: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (Emphasis added, John 11:25-26).
Why does the Lord place so great an emphasis upon belief amidst grief? Because, “The just shall live by faith” (Emphasis added, Romans 1:17) and “faith is… the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith deals with the unseen, with those things not entered into by direct physical experience. The Christian expectation regarding the afterlife rests upon Jesus Christ’s resurrection and His promised coming again. The retrospect of His resurrection and the prospect of His return are our assurances “of things hoped for” (Hebrews 11:1, NASB). Reported visitations to and from Heaven both distract and subtract the believer’s attention from the “blessed hope… the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
When David’s young son dies (a child born out of his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba), he, after mourning, praying and fasting that the boy’s life might be preserved, states:
We observe David’s words of faith: I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me. David knew his son would neither visit nor appear to him after he died. But David believed that when he died, he would go to be with his son.
I fear, with the growing emphasis on reports of Christians visiting Heaven, or of receiving visits from Heaven, whether solicited or not, that the evangelical church is stepping onto the “slippery slope” leading to spiritualism and spiritism, something practiced by the Canaanites and forbidden by God’s Law (Deuteronomy 18:9-15; Leviticus 19:31; 20:6.). In 1970, Victor Ernest offered these cautionary words:
Spiritualism is very attractive because it promises knowledge of the future and communication with dead loved ones. Many people will be influenced by demonic spirits in this way without realizing it.
This explains why John told early Christians, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1). Ernest further noted: “God has forbidden humans to try to communicate with the departed dead; such attempts result in communication with deceitful spirits, known a ‘familiar’ spirits….” The spirits are called “familiar” because people think they know them from life! There is an intimate disguise to the spirits’ guise, “And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel [messenger] of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).
Read Part 1: Normalizing Necromancy
Read Part 2: The “Canaanization” of the Church
Read Part 3: Spontaneous Spiritualism
Read Part 4: Interpretation by Imagination