“I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the Earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how a man could look up into the heavens and say there is no God.”
One of my favorite parts of our many trips to Baja over the years was spending an entire day on the beach watching the ebb and flow of the tide. There is nothing like it for absolute rest and relaxation. San Felipe, Mexico is one of the more glorious spots for this leisurely activity. It has one of the most significant tidal flows in the world, which can expose up to a kilometer of bare sand at low tide due in part to the Colorado River delta to the north.
We would take our beach chairs out to the water’s edge at the bottom of the low tide and then sit and soak in the warm Baja sun as the ripples of the incoming tide slowly crept back in. The goal was to test the elements of nature to see how long we could stay seated in our beach chairs until the incoming waves finally pushed us over. Of course, the cold beer helped us stay hydrated amid this taxing ordeal.
The tidal chart for surfers
For most of my life, I have studied the tides at my favorite surf spots in search of good waves to ride. Aside from the size of the incoming swell, nothing impacts the quality of the surf as much as the tide. The tidal charts (or tide tables) act as a surfer’s compass for locating good surf.
To briefly explain, there are four tidal flows every twenty-four hours (two “high” tides and two “low” tides) due to the rotation of the Earth. These four tidal conditions can have a startling impact on the quality of the waves. For example, Steamer Lane (Santa Cruz) in winter is often best when the tide is coming back in following a “low” tide. Even better if that incoming tide follows a “minus” low tide, which is when the low tide dips below 0.0 feet (like the example above at 8:27 am, -0.4 ft.).
However, at San Onofre (San Clemente), it is all about the south swells that sweep up the coast in the summer at a high tide. Classic San Onofre peaks roll in at Old Man’s that allow you to go left or right on either the incoming or outgoing side of that high tide (from 2 pm to 6 pm above).
The Miracle of the Tides
One of the innumerable examples God has given us to authenticate the wonder of his creation is the daily rhythm of our tides. It is astonishing to contemplate how it all works. Our tides are a demonstration of the miracle of God’s intelligent creation.
With 71% of planet Earth covered in water, we know that high and low tides are caused by the gravitational pull between the Earth and the moon. Yet, this becomes insanely complex when you consider the impact of a rotating planet, gravity, the pull of the sun, the effect of weather, and the orchestration of tidal flows around our seven continents.
Considering our moon alone makes it hard to argue against a miracle. Earth is the only planet in our solar system that has a single moon that happens to be the largest moon by far (relative to Earth’s size). Our moon is the perfect size and distance from Earth (and the sun) to enable the tidal flow to work.
Eric Metaxes sums it up well in his book Miracles:
“The moon’s considerable gravity gives our oceans their ebbing and flowing tides. If the moon were slightly bigger, it would cause our tides to be much more extreme since a larger moon would exert that much more gravitational pull. With one-hundred-foot tides, there could be no coastal cities or towns or villages. If the moon were slightly smaller and had less gravitational pull, the tides would be insufficient to cleanse coastal seawater and replenish its nutrients. If the moon were any size other than its size, life as we know it wouldn’t exist.”(1)
As Abraham Lincoln acknowledged, it all points a finger to God.
If you ask a Christian to provide evidence beyond the tides that there is a God (and, thereby, heaven), they will likely point you to Jesus and the miraculous powers he demonstrated in his brief life on Earth. That could include the substantiation of his resurrection from the dead. They might also argue that the Old Testament prophets told of his coming hundreds of years before his birth. They could even point to the proof of lives that have been dramatically changed by Jesus. To me, that is the most powerful of all—to see how Jesus can change a human heart. I’ve got a friend whose life has been changed enormously by getting to know who Jesus is. He went from jail to Jesus and has never looked back!
I want to address a different kind of evidence that does not get attention. There is an abundance of published books available today about people who claim to have experienced a journey to heaven and back, possibly offering a glimpse of what God has in store for us.
Clearly, we are stepping outside the Bible by looking at these stories. I have read most books published on this subject.(2) Some of my favorites I have read multiple times. A few popular books have been released as major motion pictures. There are several of these books that I don’t recommend. Only God can truly judge the authenticity of what these people have written about heaven.
I view these stories as fiction, like reading a novel where you can let your mind go about what might be possible. In each one, the author is adamant they did catch a glimpse of heaven. There is no way to authenticate these experiences, although many of them do not stray far from what Scripture says about heaven. They all speak to a world beyond our most incredulous thoughts of what heaven might be like. In almost every story, the author felt such an overwhelming sense of love and peace and joy (and more!) in heaven, that they did not want to return to their Earthly home. What they experienced was far more significant. They were home, and they wanted to stay there.
I want to review a couple of these stories to open our eyes to what might be possible. Let your imagination run with this. The point is to envision what eternity might be like.
For me, each story has been a page-burner to find out what kind of experience the author had and how it impacted the life they were now living on Earth. All of them were dramatically changed as a result of their experience. It was as if they were allowed to see “the end” and start over with a renewed perspective. The experience turned their bucket list upside down. Reading each personal account has changed me. It is God’s mystery that these experiences happen to a select few.
90 Minutes in Heaven(3) was the first book (also a movie) that I stumbled across during a family vacation at the beach. It is the story of Don Piper, a Texas pastor, who died in a horrific car crash on January 18, 1989. Paramedics immediately arrived on the scene, found no pulse, and declared him dead. Piper wrote a powerful account of the next 90 minutes he spent in heaven before returning to Earth.
His description of heaven impacted me so profoundly that I immediately had Marla and our two kids read it while we were all together on vacation. It was the first time I had read anything with such incredible detail about the experience in heaven. It gave me goosebumps as the author described a “welcoming party” of people he had known and loved on Earth, including his grandfather, great-grandmother, and high school classmates.
Piper admitted that words could not do justice to the experience. It took him years before he spoke in public about the experience. In his words, “I considered it a sacred secret.”
That story started a passion in me to find more. I found it fascinating and encouraging to read stories of people who had these experiences that changed them forever. All of them spoke about experiencing a love far exceeding anything they had ever known. It was as if they had tasted the truth of their real purpose in life.
A personal favorite is Intra Muros,(3) written by Rebecca Springer in 1898. Rebecca captured a unique atmosphere of life in heaven like no other book I have come across. Published 120 years ago, Springer writes of an experience she had of going to heaven while seriously ill in a care home in Kentville, Illinois.
The author describes in detail the experiences she was given over an extensive period before her return. She never quantifies how long she was there, but I would liken it to 90 days in heaven rather than 90 minutes. In her book, she describes her inability to chronicle the depth and wonder of the experience (unedited):
“I am painfully aware of the fact that I can never paint for others the scenes as they appeared to me during those wonderful days. If I can only dimly show the close linking of the two lives – the mortal with the divine – as they then appeared to me, I may be able to partly tear the veil from the death we so dread and show it to be only an open door into a new and beautiful phase of the life we now live.”
Especially captivating to me was her description later in the book of immersing her body into the water in heaven. Finally, I had an account of people getting wet in heaven! Rebecca constructed an inconceivable image of what it would be like to experience heavenly water and waves. Here is one excerpt where she describes the movement of the waves:
“… as they came and went in ceaseless motion, caught up this sparkling sand and carried it on their crests, like the phosphorescence we sometimes see in the wake of a vessel in mid-ocean.”
This boggled my mind as I imagined how surfing in heaven could go well beyond what reverie my imagination could fabricate. She described the water “in both temperature and density, [as] almost identical with the air.” When going under the water, she quickly realized with a laugh that nothing had changed,
“I could not only breathe, but laugh and talk, see and hear, as naturally under the water as above it.”
And best of all, no toweling off after exiting the water:
“… the moment the air struck my face and hair I realized that I would need no towel or brush. My flesh, my hair, and even my beautiful garments, were soft and dry before as before the water touched them.”
This book sits on my bedstand, and I often read a page at night to let the words sink into my soul before falling asleep. It is a treasure.
Not all of these books are written by Christian authors. I find it even more interesting to hear people voice their experiences without including their knowledge of the Bible. Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife(4) is one example. Eben Alexander, a Jewish faculty member at Harvard Medical School, writes about his near-death experience in a meningitis-induced coma for seven days in 2008. He was so enthralled by the incident that he used his vast experience as a neurosurgeon to scientifically prove he could not have dreamed of the experience he had going to heaven.
He set out to validate that what happened to him over those seven days was not merely a fabrication of the brain. He concluded that, “… the death of the body and the brain are not the end of consciousness; the human experience continues beyond the grave.” Alexander claimed that the place he went to was so real that it made the life we are living here on Earth like a dream in comparison.
One last book I’ll mention I found when our family was on vacation in Portland, Oregon, spending most of the day at Powell’s bookstore (the largest independent bookstore in the world). At Powell’s you can pick your favorite subject and lose an entire day going through the selection, including many books not available online. After doing my due diligence in the “surfing” section, I wandered over to a section on “heaven” and was overwhelmed by the books to choose from.
“When Will The Heaven Begin?”
I soon was tearing through a book that I could not put down, When Will the Heaven Begin?: This Is Ben Breedlove’s Story by Ally Breedlove.(5) Ally wrote this book about her older brother, Ben Breedlove, who had lived his entire life on the precipice of death due to a heart condition he was born with. Ben died at eighteen on Christmas evening after enjoying a remarkable day with his entire family. He knew exactly where he was going.
In this book, Ally speaks to a video Ben had posted on Youtube to chronicle his attraction to heaven. I gathered my family to watch the video in stunned amazement on the cold cement floor in Powell’s. Ben tells his story with flip cards, of how he had been waiting for heaven to begin. On four separate occasions, Ben experienced a cardiac arrest and sampled heaven’s perfect peace.
Ally discovered the video while rummaging through his stuff on Christmas night after his passing. Watch that video now, and you will see what I mean (~7 minutes). Ben’s story is one to behold no matter what your beliefs on heaven. As a vibrant eighteen-year-old boy with a full life, including a girlfriend and loving family, Ben realized what was awaiting him in heaven was even better than the life he had here on Earth. He left the video to comfort his family in case he departed.
These stories paint a striking and consistent picture of heaven as a physical place of indescribable beauty where our bodies are transformed into perfect selves. Any suffering we experience here, no matter how intense, is completely canceled out by the love that awaits us. Those who have tasted it say they no longer fear death—they would rather be there than anywhere else.
Interestingly, each person’s experience of heaven seems to be different, as if God had individually prepared a place for each of them (6). They all pondered why God had chosen them to have the experience and what to do with it after returning to life on planet Earth. Most who have written books believe that God gave them these experiences to spread the joy and hope for what awaits us in heaven.
For those who have placed their trust in God, an amazing new place awaits us. As I continue along my path in Silicon Valley, Roger Williams’ words of wisdom at Mount Hermon Family Camp on Lake Tahoe have echoed in my heart about changing the way I live today—for heaven:
“It’s not the end— it’s … the beginning.”
I have lived long enough to realize that suffering in this life is inevitable. There is no avoiding it. Yet, despite our troubles, the Bible teaches that all of it will be forgotten in heaven.
“There will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” –Revelation 21:3-5 (NIV)
Having this great certainty gives me the courage to face the valleys ahead. Ben Breedlove had his share of valleys with his heart condition. Seeing a glimpse of what awaited him gave him the courage to tell the world that he was ready to go.
We must think about heaven now; it will dramatically impact our lives here on Earth. Heaven should be our first and most important priority. It is urgent! We are built for it—it is God’s plan for our life. Staying focused on heaven can transform our life here on Earth. To think otherwise is to take a very short-term view of our existence.
“The heavens declare the glory of God.” -Psalm 19:1 (NIV)
Monitoring the incoming tide in San Felipe, Mexico (circa 1988)
- Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, And How They Can Change Your Life by Eric Mataxas
- “Contact Mike” at surfingforbalance.com if you would like me to send you a list of books I recommend on heaven.
- 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death & Life by Don Piper
- Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander
- When Will the Heaven Begin?: This Is Ben Breedlove’s Story by Ally Breedlove
John 14:2-3 (TLB):
“There are many homes up there where my Father lives, and I am going to prepare them for your coming. When everything is ready, then I will come and get you, so that you can always be with me where I am. “
There will be a brief pause before chapter 18 as my son Matthew and I will be on a bicycle tour along the continental divide for the next month or so.