Why Do People Go to Heaven?

Notice that I didn’t say how they get there, I mean why they have traveled there and then returned to tell us all about it. For the past few decades, people have dived into writing up their experiences of heaven – and a few times, of hell – published bestselling books and hit movies.

For my part I am highly doubtful about books on “afterlife tourism”.

One prominent title features The Boy Who Came Back from
content (1) Heaven: A Remarkable Account of Miracles, Angels, and Life beyond This World
. It is marketed as “A true story”. Yet last week that bestseller was unceremoniously yanked off the shelves when Alex Malarkey, the “boy” of this title, publicly announced that the story of his journey was untrue. In fact, he had been trying to get a hearing for his confession for two years, but that was hard to do when books kept flying off the shelves – it has sold over a million copies and been made into a TV movie. [1] Thanks Alex, for owning up and bucking the authority of the grownups in your life.

What does the Bible say about these trips? One prominent piece of information is that the apostle Paul alludes to a vision that he, “a man in Christ”, had of the “third heaven” in 2 Cor 12. But he was forbidden to speak of what he had seen:

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know – God knows. – And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows – was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. (2 Cor 12:2-4)

To apply Paul’s point to today: I went to heaven, but no one is permitted to tell of such matters, and so I won’t elevate myself by telling you all the cool things I saw. I won’t go on a book tour, I won’t make it into a movie.

I wouldn’t say the Bible rules out any and all visions of heaven, but it doesn’t give us much hope.

So – why DO people “go to heaven”?

Because there is ___ to be made (you may fill in the blank)

The Malarkeys say they haven’t made any money at all from their book and movie. If this is the case, they have been robbed, because the numbers indicate that a lot of money must have been made by someone.

90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death & Life, Don Piper, has sold 6 million copies.

Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back. The book sold 10 million copies, the movie grossed $91 million. The traveler to heaven, Colton Burpo, has just gone on the record to say that it doesn’t matter what “the other boy” just confessed, the story he told was still literally true [2]

Because the stories “help people”, so it doesn’t matter if it’s literally true or false, only that people will be comforted or challenged by its message

I disagree. Lying about God’s truth is not only a sin, it is a wicked class of sin, since it involves taking God’s name in vain = saying something is true, “God help me”, when it isn’t. [3] It doesn’t matter how much it supposedly helps people, a comforting lie is still a lie.

Because people want to have greater authority

“Listen to Romans 8:1,” says a preacher, “and hear how God will not condemn us if we are in Christ!”


“God told me in a dream just last night that his people shouldn’t be afraid of hell, because he won’t send believers there!”

Which is catchier? Which will get you a larger audience?

Because there is an agenda to be taught

I teach a course on the Background of the New Testament, and that might give me some insight to heavenly tourism. One topic we touch on is Jewish Apocalyptic Literature. These are books such as 1 Enoch or the Assumption of Moses which were written after the close of the writing of the Old Testament and which expressed the theological agenda of the (technically) anonymous authors. I say anonymous, because these books were not written by Enoch or Moses. Then, lo and behold, they dealt with the issues of the actual authors’ time and expressed their theological agenda. [4]

As I tell my class: “Let’s say that I, Gary Shogren, want to teach the church today that it is wrong to have salsa style music in church, it being worldly. [5] Now, what are my options? I can write a book titled, Salsa – The Devil’s Condiment, by Gary Shogren. I might sell 50 copies. OR I can write a book and put the name of the prophet Elijah on it, rough up the paper so that it looks old, and then circulate it around as something written 2800 years ago by the real prophet! And surprise, surprise, in my new book The Elijah Chronicles, he predicts that “in the latter days, false prophets will sing with a 4/4 rhythm, backed by trumpets and drums. It will be the Devil’s sauce.” And I sell thousands of copies and I spread my message.

Are you with me so far?

My impression with some of the heaven and hell books, is that they are communicating the agenda of the supposed traveler of today, by faking a trip to heaven, and bringing back the message that God is in agreement with the author. It makes the teaching so much more magnetic than a simple Bible lesson!

Angélica Zambrano, "dead for 23 hours"
Angélica Zambrano, “dead for 23 hours”

An excellent example of this is Angélica Zambrano, a teen-aged girl from Ecuador, who supposedly was dead for 23 hours and visited heaven and hell, and has since returned ther several times more. Among the things she has brought back from hell were: demons “dance” like Michael Jackson, so anyone who has listened to his music goes straight to hell; kids who played with Pokemon are tormented by demons who look like them and other cartoon figures; people who didn’t tithe are in hell for robbing God; a young man is in hell because he used Christian rap to bring young people to church. Oh and, Jesus believes in a pretribulational rapture, so apparently we don’t need to search the Scriptures on that topic.

What is her agenda? And I’m going out on a limb here, but my guess is that she already believed that Michael Jackson, Pokemon, and rap music were of the devil, and that tithing was necessary to be saved, before she had an experience, or more likely, said that she had one. But because she could footnote her beliefs with a supernatural revelation, she now has massive leverage to persuade others.

Whether people are making their stories up, or really did have some experience, the result is that their script contains few surprises. For example, Protestants “visit” a Protestant heaven, Catholics see the Virgin Mary, etc.

One example is the book My Journey to Heaven: What I Saw and How It Changed My Life, by Marvin J. Besteman. He had previously read many books on the subject of Near Death Experiences, and so he “knew” what to expect. And sure enough it came out like he thought it would, even to the point that he met St. Peter at the gate.

When we say that we follow the Bible, we are saying that we believe that it is sufficient. Let’s look to the Bible, first and foremost, for our information about heaven, hell, or any spiritual subject; and refuse to soak up additional information that what the Lord has already told us is enough.


[1] http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2015/january/boy-who-came-back-from-heaven-retraction.html?paging=off

[2] http://www.christianpost.com/news/colton-burpo-says-his-heaven-is-for-real-story-is-true-132739/

[3] https://openoureyeslord.com/2012/02/15/are-preachers-allowed-to-stretch-the-truth-part-i-so-i-once-knew-a-guy-who/

[4] Our working definition of “apocalypse” is “a genre of revelatory literature within a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisions eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar it involves, another, supernatural world.” J. J. Collins, Semeia 14, from the SBL Apocalypse Group of the Society of Biblical Literature.

[5] Here’s an example of Christian salsa – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TzXF9j8dbUc

“Why Do People Go to Heaven?” by Gary S. Shogren, Ph. D, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

26 thoughts on “Why Do People Go to Heaven?

  1. Glad I’m not the only one who looks at these with much skepticism. Someone defended these with the line in the bible that states your sons and daughters will prophesy. Yet none of what these people say match up well in the bible because God wouldn’t send Lazarus as a prophet to warn of the afterlife, why would he send anyone else? He said himself we needed to listen to te prophets like Moses.
    What do you think about that, and connecting it to the sons and daughters prophesising Gary?

    1. The same texts in Deuteronomy say that any prophet who is less than 100% correct must be stoned as a false prophet. To apply it to today, I would say reject these things and refuse to buy their books.

      The thing is that everyone who goes to heaven comes back bringing a different story. This means that most cannot be true, and probably none are.

      The Bible can be purchased more cheaply than any of these “revelations” or read free online, and it will tell us everything we need to know about the hereafter.

      Blessings Kathy!

      1. That was a very well thought answer honestly. A lot of people buy into these so quick. If you watch these on youtube and read the comments, half of them say it’s nonsense and the other half basically worship every word each one of these people say. But people will back these stories up as if they are from the bible themselves!

  2. Thanks for that Gary!
    I have been curious, what is your take I this generations wannabe ‘illuminati’ club, and their ‘proof’ on how everything is evil? The most bizarre thing I’ve heart was the ice bucket challenge being a forced soul sell to satan xD

  3. I had a really interesting “debate” with my youth minister over this yesterday, which brought up some interesting topics. Like he partially believes john hagees blood moon thing. And he believes we are in the end times souly because of war in the Middle East. He also thinks these stories are true.

    I asked him about the last 2000 years of war the Middle East has been facing and his reply was “this is different, I can feel it”
    He feels it…he told me this HAS to be te generation that sees the end, because all points indicate it. So I argued with “what about the last 3 generations that said the same? ”
    He replied ” like I said, I feel this. ”
    I had no clue what to say lol… I just said well ok and walked off. I don’t think I’ll be getting into any more religious debates with him.

    1. Hi Missy!

      Man, if I had a nickel for every time I heard some version of “this is different, I can feel it”, I would have, well, a whole lot of nickels.

      Are you familiar with the term “exceptionalism”? That’s sort of what this is.

        1. “Exceptionalism” is a word used in two ways, often about American national self-consciousness.

          One definition, the one I agree with, is that America is a wonderful country, the best ever.

          The other is that, “We’re America, so the rules don’t apply to us, we don’t have to follow international law or listen to the UN.”

          In the case of eschatology, the second definition would apply: “I know the Bible says not to give a date for the second coming, but…BUT…this time things are different.”

          1. Hah oh wow I never looked at it like that!
            Very smart Gary, very smart!
            Sometimes I don’t know how to approach people who shout end of the world because 1. They make themselves targets… And 2. Sometimes it’s just so easy to argue their ‘facts’ that it becomes funny
            Or sad. Very sad.
            His logic continued with “look at the war look at Israel look at this look at that”
            Instead of him looking BACK at the way those places have ALWAYS been.
            I blame a lot of the hype on media making things appear more twisted then they actually are.

          2. A good 50% of the problem, Missy, imo, is that people do not know their history. Studying the history of the church, or just Western history is an excellent context for studying eschatology.

    2. Hi Missy. I agree with you. Don’t waste your time people like your youth minister who are following rabbit trails… They will always “feel” this or that and all of it is a waste of time. We all, myself included, need to be about doing the Lord’s work. Jim.

      1. Thanks for that Gary, and you too Jim!
        My fiancé and I are working to build a youth ministry and while it’s hard due to work and time constraints we are doing all we can to be able to bring younger kids to The Lord. While I feel it’s ok to talk about I feel things like this ministers talk probably scare the younger ones away and make them fear Jesus. I’ve dealt first hand with kids who are afraid after listening to some crazy lolo on the internet. Fear really is the way they want to bring you in today.
        I have a 13 year old in my group who was told he was gonna go to hell if he ever sinned after being saved because he would be lukewarm and jesus would spit him out. I felt so deeply for this poor boy but got the chance to explain to him that nothing can pluck us from the lords hand, that we all struggle, and the key to it is having The Lord, who died for us, in our hearts.
        He’s still afraid alittle but he doesn’t listen to anything like that anymore.
        This world needs to stop scaring people with religion and rather preach all the love god is because he is not fear, and he’s not merciless.

        Woah I ranted there haha.

  4. I’m so glad you wrote on this! I have a little 8 year old brother Gary and he loves pokemon and Mario and cartoons like any other child, but he absolutely loves Jesus too! My mom was worried he would go to hell because of what that girl said.
    My moms argument was “well how do you know it isn’t real?”
    I just told her to read the bible, THAT is real. Why would jesus use fear in that way when he loves us so much? He doesn’t want is to be scared into faith he wants it to be about love! I don’t like when people pervert the gospel like that. God would not do that. Especially not to a child!!
    Why I myself like video games and I know God isn’t going to send me to hell because I play them. I know jesus word rules over all of my heart, a video game can’t take that spot!
    The tithings thing came up between a friend of mine. She was worried she would go to hell for not having money to give away to the church, because she really does have nearly no money at all.
    That’s what people like them do. Scare tactics to make you give money and buy into it and it’s fear mongering and I don’t think Jesus would be ok with it.

      1. It’s comforting knowing your opinion because I look up to you Gary! I’ll not lie I was deceived by that girl who went to hell and worried I would because I like games and such. I’m glad I know better now. Thank you for opening my eyes, and reminding me that I am secure through The Lord 🙂

  5. Gary, thanks. If it’s okay, I would like to link this to our church’s Facebook page. I used this Malarkey situation this past Sunday when discussing Eph. 4.14 in my message.

  6. Gary, thanks. If it’s okay with you I would like to link this on our church’s Facebook page. I used the Malarkey situation as an illustration when discussing Eph. 4.14 in my message this past Sunday.

  7. I was beginning to believe that I was the only one who dismissed this going to heaven and/or hell stuff as lies people told to make money and gain fame. Thank God I’m not alone. Now I know there are 2 of us.! Thanks Gary for this post.

  8. Thanks, Gary, for aptly expressing what many of us have thought since this story broke a few days ago. The American fascination with afterlife tourism reminds me of the old saying about those who are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good! Not to mention God’s clear intent to redeem and restore this world he created (and not to send us to some disembodied ethereal existence in the clouds). “…Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them” (Rev 21:3).

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