I have not read, “The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven” or “Heaven is for Real”, but when I was a teenager, I read a book on various people’s near-death experiences (There are many such books and I do not remember the exact title). The stories in this book each contained similar elements of at first being an observer of what was happening in the physical world (as if floating above it), the experience of moving towards a great light and a feeling of peace. I liked reading these stories because it gave me a sense that my faith in a life after death and the existence of my soul as eternal were not misplaced. I felt I had some “proof” for what I said I believed. I actually wanted that assurance because faith has never come easy to me. Anyone who knows me knows I have struggled with matters of faith. It would be so much easier for me if I had concrete evidence that all the stories of the Bible were factually true. So, I loved it when they found a boat high in the mountains of Turkey that could possibly be Noah’s Ark. There have been other such discoveries that give me hope that my faith is not misplaced.
However, since the period of scientific discovery known as the Enlightenment, there has been discovery after discovery that has raised questions about issues of faith. Some saw such discoveries and tried integrate them with their faith. The Deists saw that the world operated with certain natural laws and saw in that the hand of God. While this led them to question God’s direct intervention the daily lives of people, they had a way of understanding God at work within the framework of new scientific discovery. However, with the subsequent work of Charles Darwin to the relatively new discoveries in biblical archeology of various unknown gospels and alternative understandings of the person of Jesus, there are new questions being raised about matters of faith. As we have seen through history, this has caused great conflicts and hostility as some people of science dismiss ideas of faith because of these discoveries and people of faith deny the veracity of scientific discovery. There are those that continue to try to find a way to put these two schools of thought together in some way.
As a person who already lives in a place of questioning, I guess my way of integrating these things is to affirm that all truth is God’s truth and scientific discovery is not in competition with matters of faith, but are complementary to them. While there is definitely room for overlap, these two schools of thought are talking about various aspects of experiencing and understanding the world. Richard Rohr writes, “Religion knew the truth of metaphor and symbol for almost all of history until… [The Enlightenment]. Then we started confusing rational and provable with real. We actually regressed and went backward. In trying to defend its ground in the face of rationalism and scientism, religion tried to become ‘rational’ itself and lost its alternative consciousness…” (Immortal Diamond). Sometimes the historical, the factual, and the provable line up with the things that help me make meaning, but sometimes, I must make meaning separately (in a different way) than what is “scientifically provable”.
My own personal search for meaning is not grounded in the historicity of every single element of the biblical accounts, but is grounded in an experience with God – transformation. What I “know” for sure is that my life is different now because of an experience of unconditional love that I experienced as the love of God for me. What I see in the life of Jesus and read of the apostles resonates with my experience of love and meaning. That is “real” to me. Whether Jesus was born to a virgin or whether I will spend eternity are matters that I take on faith. Faith, for me is the place that bridges that which I can see with my own eyes and that which I have experienced in my heart. While I would like to believe that the “near-death” experiences of others proves the existence of an afterlife, my faith is not shaken because a boy now says his near-deathexperience was fabricated. The “truth” for me is that what happens after death is fundamentally unknowable from a scientific standpoint. There can be no scientific study on this because “near-death” is not actual death and once you are dead, you cannot report on your experience. Do I wish I knew for certain? Of course I do, but that which I know for certain ceases to be a matter of faith. Jesus said to Thomas in his time of doubt, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:29) After all, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is not he “Proof” of things not seen, it is an assurance and a conviction of that which we cannot see (prove).
So, I will continue on my path of seeking to follow Jesus as best I can, but my faith will not be shaken when something is disclosed or discovered that seems to raise questions about the historical or scientific basis of things because my faith was not based on that to begin with. The meaning that I make in my existence is based on relationship, love, and connection with God, myself, and with those around me. These things are intangible and invisible, but very “real”.