Someone wrote to me this week asking me for my take on the Christians who claim to have taken trips to heaven and have come back to tell of the experience. Here is my response...
Hi .... , (name withheld)
Thanks for your question. Although I cannot find a scripture that specifically addresses the issue of whether or not people can take trips to heaven in their lifetime (in our day) I certainly see no scriptural basis for a desire for it. We are never told to desire a trip to heaven, except when we go to be with the Lord or He comes for us.
Though I would hesitate to make a complete blanket statement to say that God cannot do such a thing with a believer today, I am very much alarmed at the casual nature in which these experiences are usually refered to.... I have heard the experience spoken of in just the same way as you or I would of a trip to Walmart.. the awe of God and of the heavenly realms is very noticeably absent. Contrast this with the biblical descriptions of people who went to heaven or at least were allowed to see it.. Isaiah was "undone" (Isaiah 6) and the Apostle John fell at the feet of an angel and had to be told to get up and worship only Christ (Rev. 19:10). The inspiring awe John felt is very obvious.. So the question of "awe" is one I would raise..
Also I would simply ask each individual who has claimed such an experience... Ok.. what happened? What exactly did you see? What exactly were you told? Why do you think God gave you this experience? How is your life different as a result? and.. are you willing to have this experience tested by the scripture?
I would treat each individual claim in the spirit of 1 Thess 5:19-21. The test here mentions prophecy specifically but I think the application can be made about all claims to Divine revelation (which is what a trip to heaven is claiming - God has supposedly revealed something to a person through the experience).
1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.
Here the scripture tells us to test ALL things.. or to test EVERYTHING... so.. I would test what was said and each claim made against scripture.. holding fast to the good and abstaining from the evil (or non scriptural deception).
One of the things that troubles me about these recent trips to heaven I have heard about is the untestable nature of them.. if all that is revealed was that Abraham was wearing a certain colored robe and that he dictated the book of Hebrews to Paul.. (as someone has recently claimed) there are a number of things that bother me about it.
Firstly, it would throw out the need for study because.. well... brother so and so had a trip to heaven and got the insight we've always wanted to know..
Secondly, it very clearly promotes elitism in the body of Christ ("wow - so you have not had a trip to heaven... poor you")... dividing Christians into those who have taken a 'trip" and those who have not.
Thirdly, it draws attention to the person with the experience as a means of revelation (kind of like "stick with me and I will show you what others do not know").. all VERY dangerous. In the days of the early church it was the Gnostics who claimed similar type experiences and this was in view when Paul wrote in Colossians 2:18-19 "Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head..."
When Paul mentioned someone having a legitimate trip to heaven (the vast majority of scholars believe Paul was refering to his own experience here), he was very clear that there were certain things that were not to be divulged and there was a humility of spirit that I sense is missing in many of those who make such claims in our own day..
Here's what Paul wrote about this in 2 Corinthians 12:1-5: "I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven- whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise- whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows - and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses."
So fourthly, I would look to see if the experience has engendered humility in the person relating the experience.
That's my take on these "trips".. hopefully a balanced one. I repeat Paul's admonision in 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 as it once again proves to be a wonderful safeguard for us.. "Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil."