Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Glory of Heaven

The Truth about Heaven, Angels and Eternal Life
by John MacArthur
2013 / 224 pages

John MacArthur believes "You simply cannot gain a better understanding of Heaven than we are given in Scripture."

But if you check out your local Christian bookstore you'll find a handful of very popular books – million-copy sellers – that dispute MacArthur's claim. They are by people who claim to have visited Heaven and returned to tell us all about it. These authors say that if we really want to know what Heaven is like we should turn to them.

In his opening chapters and appendices, MacArthur shows that in most cases it would be simply ridiculous to turn to these books for any insight. They conflict with one another, and most include elements that clearly contradict what Scripture has to say. MacArthur lets these books rebut themselves by sharing with readers some of the stranger elements in them.

However the most popular book of what blogger Tim Challies has called the "heaven tourism genre" isn't as clearly ridiculous. Heaven is for Real is the most popular and the least peculiar. So what should we think of it?

MacArthur points out that even this book has a peculiarly man-centered description of heaven – this is an account of a three-year-old, who, when he arrives, is given his own little chair so he can sit in God's presence. But in the Bible, when we read of one of God's prophets getting a glimpse, their reaction is one of fear: John and Ezekiel both fall to the ground when they get a look, and Isaiah cries out, "Woe is me!" To get a glimpse of Heaven while still in our sinful state can't be anything other than fearful - this is where our Holy God dwells!

While I think this contrast is pretty telling, I wish MacArthur would have spent a bit more time addressing Heaven is for Real. There are seemingly miraculous events in it that make it compelling and warrant some extra attention. For example, after three-year-old Colton Burpo claims to have gone to Heaven he tells his mom he met a second sister up there, a baby who had died while still in his mom's tummy. His parents never told him about the miscarriage so how could he have known? His father concludes that the only possible way he could have known is if, in fact, he did go to Heaven. However, for anyone who believes in the spiritual realm there is another explanation. There are unseen beings around us all the time and not all of them are heavenly. Satan or his demons could easily have known about the miscarriage. And Satan is not called the Deceiver for nothing – we have been warned that he can appear as an angel of light. Now I'm not saying this is what must have happened. I am saying that there is another possible explanation for what this three-year-old saw that is equally possible.

And that brings us back to MacArthur's book. Rather than turn to any personal account of Heaven, we should turn to Scripture, which is our only source for reliable information.

MacArthur shares what Scripture has to say about Heaven in his book's second half. We learn what Heaven is like, what we will be like in Heaven, and what the Bible has to say about angels. It is all pretty fascinating stuff, and MacArthur wants to leave us with a lingering taste of Heaven. He wants to leave us wanting more, to be always heaven-focused so that, in any difficulties we face, we will be able to endure, knowing that our difficulties are temporary, and our time with God will be eternal.

While I'd say he does a pretty good job, I've also recently reviewed Randy Alcorn's book Heaven and I would recommend it as the better book for giving readers an anticipation of Heaven. MacArthur's strength is in rebutting the many personal accounts of Heaven – this is the book to read if you or someone you know has read or seen the movie Heaven is for Real. 

It is available at here

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