Since the beginning of time, there have been reports of visions and encounters with the divine. Christian texts would have us test these claims with the Word of God and alongside the community of faith. But, what happens when these stories are taken for granted and promoted for profit? Our fear of being duped can discourage us to have an imagination for faith. To keep a Christian perception, we must continue to invent ways to capture the Kingdom of God in the present world and the one to come.
Recently, there have been several articles going around about the book, and movie, The boy who came back from heaven. This book was acclaimed to be a true story of, Alex Malarkey, a boy who was victim to a tragic accident. While he was recuperating, he reportedly had encounters with Jesus and saw glimpses of his Kingdom.
Unfortunately, Alex has renounced these visions and such accounts. As so, his story truly lived up to his last name, Malarkey. This has been yet another case of Christians and publishers profiting off of a professed revelation. But, what lessons should this give us as a Christian community and how does it shape our feelings towards writing about the afterlife?
Christians must test experiences and revelations
Not much more can be said about the importance of correct teaching and guidance than what Paul has already laid out (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus). Christians must bring their experiences to the Word of God and his people. Together, we test and approve what God’s will is. Truth is not found in one’s eyes, or in a personal silo. Rather, it is shared among many people and their individual perspectives.
Christians must have an imagination for capturing the Kingdom of God in the present world and the one to come
Another unfortunate consequence of this Malarkey is that it extinguishes the light from Christians’ imagination about the afterlife. My fear is that dubious accounts like this will make us shy away from thinking up ways that heaven may look. Our creativity in thinking about what happens to us after we die has dropped significantly since the enlightenment. We have traded creativity for the scientific method. Great writers from Origen of Alexandria to C. S. Lewis have all dreamed about these wonders and given us fanciful depictions of what this might look like. Here are some great texts that take some liberty in painting that picture for us:
- The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis
- Little Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
- The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
- Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
- Or any other great piece of media
Obviously, these texts should not be taken as scripture or at face value. Any truths obtained from them should be in reference to the Word of God, but we must continue to imagine how God can work in this world and the next. As Christians, we must be rooted in the Word but continue to use our imaginations to bring it to life.
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