The Pen

Heaven Tourism: The Saga Continues

Editors Note. This article was originally written and posted at RC Blog and is being reprinted here with permission.

In the wake of Alex Malarkey’s courageous confession that he lied about his trip to Heaven as a young boy in his book, The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven, it appeared as the whole Heaven Tourism issue was beginning to lose ground. The massive outcry by #The15 against Lifeway bookstores, in conjunction with Alex’s recantation of his story, prompted Lifeway to remove all Heaven Tourism books from the stores shelves, though they won’t admit that as the reason.

The recantation of Alex’s story also caused many to doubt Colton Burpo’s story as well, regarding his story of visiting Heaven in his book and upcoming movie Heaven is for Real. Burpo then felt he needed to come out and make a statement— one where he unabashedly claimed that he stands by his story. Just when it seems like all of this doubt being cast upon the subject was causing people to rethink their beliefs on these fictional stories, the publicity of a new miracle tale is refueling the old fire.

Enter Annabel.

Annabel Beam, a nine-year old Burleson, TX girl, claims she visited Heaven while unconscious after falling 30 feet head-first inside of a hollow tree. Her mother, Christy, and father, Kevin, stand by her story and believe that what she claims she witnessed is real. In face, Christy tells the story in her new book which was just released, Miracles from Heaven. During her ordeal she claims that as she fell inside of the tree and was knocked unconscious. While unconscious, she was ‘transported’ to Heaven and entered through the gates which were made of gold.  She then proceeded to come in contact with Jesus, who looks like Santa Claus, and sit on his lap. This Santa Jesus then tells her that he is going to cure her of her lifelong disease.

She also sees her recently passed Grandmother in her alleged experience and claims that she knows she is in Heaven because of this. (Note, she doesn’t claim she knows she’s in heaven because of Jesus, but because of her Grandmother.) Upon beginning to wake up from her unconscious state, God tells her it isn’t her time and sends a small angel, the size of a fairy, to stay with her until she is rescued by the crew who is pulling her from the tree.

As if her story doesn’t sound outlandish enough to anyone who knows anything about the Bible, I find the timing absolutely astonishingly perfect for the release of this new book. It’s as if the Heaven Tourism industry planned it this way in order to keep the industry alive. The public response and comments to this story are mind-boggling. It’s amazing how many people will buy into this and discount anyone who tries to approach it with any semblance of reason. Some of the comments posted below the Fox News video are:

Juanita Elgin I believe this! I died many years ago, and you can see, feel, and speak. It was not my time. Jesus is real, and He is the Son of God, and He is coming back very soon for His Children.

— and —

Tanya Newland It always amazes me that people can’t seem to wrap their heads around a miracle. I see them everyday! God does exist, ya know. 

First off, we don’t necessarily discount miracles from God. We believe that God is absolutely sovereign over all things, so if this girl’s life was spared, and her disease is cured, there is no doubt that God is behind it. What we do discount, however, is her fictional story of visiting heaven and sitting on Jesus’ lap. For one thing she didn’t die, she was unconscious, so if she really did have some experience it was in her mind. Children are very imaginative and the story she tells sounds more like a fairy tale cartoon she’d recently seen on TV than a biblical description of Heaven. Sadly, people are going to believe what they want to believe anyways.

Secondly, and I’m no doctor or medical expert here, but it’s not uncommon for the body to spontaneously cure itself of a disease. It happens all the time. In fact, the Journal of Pediatric Surgery states that in her disease, Pseudo-obstruction, surgery is recommended to be avoided because the disease often resolves itself spontaneously. The Star Telegram says the following regarding the spontaneous curing of her disease:

Annabel’s Boston-based gastroenterologist, Dr. Samuel Nurko, didn’t call it a miracle, but he did release the girl from his care last November, noting that she “is completely asymptomatic, is leading a normal life and is not requiring any therapies.”

This sounds to me like he too is surprised by the condition of her disease. Again, I’m not discounting the fact that God is behind the healing of any disease, but I don’t believe for one second Jesus told her that.

The problem with these Heaven Tourism tales isn’t really the fact that their experience was real or not, but the fact that one needs a source outside of God’s Word in order to give them hope. People who read these books and follow these stories ultimately find the Word of God insufficient or untrustworthy and this is very dangerous. When you start placing your trust into the fallible experiences of men (and women) instead of solely on the shed blood of Jesus Christ, you run the risk losing yourself to sin and not knowing Christ.

I feel especially sorry for the children who are being taken advantage of in these cases as they don’t have parents who are willing or able to guide them to the Truth of Scripture, with the exception of Alex Malarkey, who’s mother has fearlessly and shamelessly spoken out against the book from the beginning. Praise God for that. But this industry doesn’t appear as though it’s going to die any time soon. I think Paul’s commentary covers this topic best where he says in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,  so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

[Contributed by Landon Chapman]