2 Corinthians 12: “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 (…) was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.”
On the risk of making myself look like an utter fool, I am going to share something deeply personal with the world that I have rarely shared with anyone at all. I doubt that even my wife knows this story:
I went to heaven.
I was only 13 at the time, in first grade of secondary school. The new school and friends lured me into secular lifestyle, and I generally became less interested in Christianity at the time. I was definitely still a Christian, just a bit lukewarm as they would say.
But I agreed to go to a Christian youth conference. One of the evening services there was called ‘Revival Night’, or more informally ‘crying night’ as usually about half the youth were crying their eyes out because of the convicting message of sin and salvation.
At some point there was the famous alter call. With soft music playing, the speaker asked us to come forward if we wanted to dedicate our lives to God. After a while I stood up, went forward, and closed my eyes.
Then the real presence of God hit me. The shells fell off my eyes, and I saw God, the Father, on the throne. He was about 10 meters high, quite a majestic sight. I felt horrified by this epiphany, because I felt deeply convicted, as a sinner. I actually looked down at my hands and I saw the blackest piece of black goo that I had ever seen. It scared me. It was my sin of the past and the future combined. Then I looked to my right, and I saw Jesus hanging on the cross, a live stream from 2000 years ago, at about 40 meters away. Under the cross was much more of this blacker-than-black sin, and with an overwhelming sense of relief I lumped mine on top of it.
Then I saw the Holy Spirit entering me like some barely visible wind gust, and I began to become totally transparent. The joy that I felt cannot be described with any pen (or keyboard for that matter). I felt like I was in complete harmony with the whole universe, I can remember I even saw bubbles running through my arms cleaning me everywhere. Then I heard a mighty voice say from the throne: “My Son”.
I felt a strong urge to become either a missionary or a doctor later in life. It was actually one of the driving forces to make me a missionary almost two decades later.
What Really Happened
The story above is what I have believed had actually happened over two decades ago. Up until a few years ago, this was my secret, my hidden confirmation that (almost) all that I believed in was right, and no matter the rational arguments of nonbelievers, I knew that God was real since I had seen Him!
Yet, was it really what happened?
Well… yes and no.
I can still remember that at the time I wasn’t shocked or blown away by the revelation in and of itself. Yes there were lots of feelings, but I wasn’t shocked by seeing another reality all of a sudden. Neither was the other reality as clear and detailed as everyday reality. So what was much more likely that happened, is that I imagined this kind of thing to happen, as I was in a very religious and emotional state at that time, and desperately wanted to see God. We were actually encouraged at that super-Christian getaway to picture God in our minds when we closed our eyes. So under the influence of all of those circumstances, plus puberty hormones, and a deep wish for providence, my teenage brain provided me with a vivid day dream which I conveniently labelled as an authentic trip to heaven.
I mean: black stuff in my hands, Jesus on a historically inaccurate T-shaped cross, Holy Spirit bubbles in my body… this is the imagination of a youngster, not a divine revelation from the Architect of the Universe.
However, since I also knew that the apostle Paul had said that we should not speak of such revelations, I kept it to myself. Which was nice, because nobody could scrutinize my highly personal story.
The Power of Testimony
On the other hand, many people do tell these sorts of stories. I have often heard that the best Christian witness in this ‘postmodern’ west is a testimony, since people can argue with you about facts (i.e. creation, the resurrection, trinity, Bible, etc.) but they can’t argue with your story. After all, you are the primary source, so you must either be right, or you must be like the growing nose of Pinocchio.
Powerful as they may seem to appear, does the greatest story of all times need to depend on little stories of people with their own testimonials? Where puberty daydreams become trips to heaven? And where a light and a voice convert a man to be Christianity’s most important writer? Where the voice can be heard by Paul’s companions in Acts 9, but cannot be heard by them in Acts 22?
I have learned my lesson. I rather have things that can be repeatedly shown to be true, instead of the heavily biased interpretations of people. Surely God knows that anecdotal stories are bad evidence, so why rely on them at all?
(ps sorry for the long break in blogging, I have moved places in the meantime! Stay tuned for more!)