Eben Alexander’s Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife (New York: Simon & Schuster, c. 2012) is a fascinating, persuasive personal “life-after-life” account given credibility by the author’s medical training and cogent presentation. After receiving his M.D. from Duke University Medical School, he pursued post-doctoral study and taught for 15 years at Harvard Medical School, operating on “countless patients” and becoming quite expert in dealing with brain injuries. Though nominally religious (attending an Episcopal church at Christmas and Easter), he’d struggled with some personal issues and doubted the basics of the Christian faith, including the reality of “God and Heaven and an afterlife” (p. 34). Believing, with Albert Einstein, that “a man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be,” he takes a scientific stance, determined to deal with the realities he encountered as a result of a “near-death” experience which forever“ changed his mind” regarding heaven.
In 2008, at the age of 54, Alexander fell ill with bacterial meningitis—“arguably the best disease one could find if one were seeking to mimic human death without actually bringing it about” (p. 133)—and lapsed into a deep coma for seven days. While his brain shut down completely—“it wasn’t working at all” (p. 8)—he encountered “the reality of a world of consciousness that existed completely free of the limitations of my physical brain” (p. 9). Consequently, he concluded: “My experience showed me that the death of the body and the brain are not the end of consciousness, that human experience continues beyond the grave. More important, it continues under the gaze of a God who loves and cares about each one of us and about where the universe itself and all the beings within it are ultimately going.” He now knows: “The place I went was real. Real in a way that makes the life we’re living here and now completely dreamlike by comparison” (p. 9). Having encountered Ultimate Reality, he asserts: “What I have to tell you is as important as anything anyone will ever tell you, and it’s true’ (p. 10).
While Alexander was in the coma, doctors ran all the sophisticated tests modern science prescribes, preserving graphs and images of his damaged brain. Though his brain showed no activity, he journeyed first into a dark “underworld filled with repulsive creatures and foul smells. Then a light descended into the darkness and he heard “a living sound, like the richest, most complex, most beautiful piece of music you’ve ever heard” (p. 38). Suddenly he was ushered into a beautiful new world—“The strangest, most beautiful world I’d ever seen” (p. 38). “Below me was countryside. It was green, lush, and earthlike. It was earth . . . but at the same time it wasn’t” (p. 38). He’d entered a really Real world! A beautiful young “Girl on the butterfly Wing” joined him, giving him a “look that, if you saw it for a few moments, would make your whole life up to that point worth living, no matter what had happened in it so far” (p. 40). (After he recovered, he received a picture of one of his deceased biological sisters—whom he’d never seen, even in a picture—and realized the “Girl” looked exactly like her!) Without speaking she gave him a wonderful message: “’You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever.’ ‘You have nothing to fear.’ ‘There is nothing you can do wrong’” (p. 40). At that moment, Alexander felt “a vast and crazy sensation of relief. It was like being handed the rules to a game I’d been playing all my life without fully understanding it” (p. 40). He found his deepest questions answered, but not with words. “Thoughts entered me directly” (p. 46). He also felt himself immersed in the Reality of God. Indeed, “there seemed to be no distance at all between God and myself. Yet at the same time I could sense the infinite vastness of the Creator, could see how completely minuscule I was by comparison” (p. 47).
Still more, he understood: “The world of time and space in which we move in this terrestrial realm is tightly and intricately meshed within these higher worlds. In other words, these worlds aren’t totally apart from us, because all worlds are part of the same overarching divine Reality” (p. 48). Because of his illness, he’d taken a remarkable out-of-body “tour—some kind of grand overview of the invisible spiritual side of existence” (p. 69). And, above all, he’d learned a priceless truth: he—and we—are loved. Every one of us! “Love is, without a doubt, the basis of everything” (p. 71). This truth is as certain to Alexander as any of the scientific truths necessary for his vocation as a surgeon. “The unconditional love and acceptance that I experienced on my journey is the single most important discovery I have ever made, or will ever make, and as hard as I know it’s going to be to unpack the other lessons I learned while there, I also know in my heart that sharing this very basic message—one so simple that most children readily accept it—is the most important task I have” (p. 73).
Applying his scientific understanding of the human brain—and the mind/brain/lconsciousness questions that have forever fascinated philosophers—Alexander tries to explain how the physical brain serves as a “kind of reducing valve or filter, shifting the larger, nonphysical consciousness that we possess in the nonphysical worlds down into a more limited capacity for the duration of our mortal lives” (p. 80). We are, spiritually, in touch with an Ultimate Reality that we rarely sense because our brains too easily restrict our consciousness to material realities. But there is a vast, mysterious universe that is purposeful and spiritual. Indeed: “The physical side of the universe is as a speck of dust compared to the invisible and spiritual part” (p. 82). We are primarily spiritual beings, designed and destined for eternal life with God. “This other, vastly grander universe isn’t ‘far away’ at all. In fact, it’s right here . . . . It’s not far away physically, but simply exists on a different frequency. It’s right here, right now, but we’re unaware of it because we are for the most part closed to those frequencies on which it manifests” (p. 156).
When, after seven days, Alexander emerged from his coma, his family observed him smiling. “‘All is well,’ I said, radiating that blissful message as much as speaking the words. I looked at each of them, deeply, acknowledging the divine miracle of our very existence” (p. 113). He was, miraculously, well! “In fact—though at this point only I knew this—I was completely and truly ‘well’ for the first time in my entire life” (p. 123). With each passing day his neuroscientist’s knowledge returned. And so did his “memories of what had happened during that week out of my body . . . with astonishing boldness and clarity. What had happened outside the earthly realm had everything to do with the wild happiness I’d awakened with, and the bliss that continued to stick with me” (p. 124). Still more: he was “also happy because—to state the matter as plainly as I can—I understood for the first time who I really was, and what kind of a world we inhabit” (p. 124).
Above all, he’d encountered what’s really Real! “What I’d experienced was more real than the house I sat in, more real than the logs burning in the fireplace. Yet there was no room for that reality in the medically trained scientific worldview that I’d spent years acquiring” (p. 130). His own experience led him to led to plunge “into the ocean of NDE [Near Death Experience] literature” (p. 131). He found his experience amply confirmed by others! Years earlier he’d heard about Raymond Moody’s Life After Life, but he’d neither read it nor considered its evidence. Now he read it carefully and affirmed its contents. But Alexander also realized that (compared with many other NDEs) his “was a technically near-impeccable near-death experience, perhaps one of the most convincing such cases in modern history. What really mattered about my case was not what happened to me personally, but the sheer, flat-out impossibility of arguing, from a medical standpoint, that it was all fantasy” (p. 135).
After a lengthy convalescence, Alexander made his way to church. To his amazement, the music and architecture which had left him unmoved before his NDE now touched him deeply. “At last, I understood what religion was really all about. I didn’t just believe in God; I knew God. As I hobbled to the altar to take Communion, tears streamed down my cheeks” (p. 149). That heavenly realm he’d visited while in a coma was, in fact, the same realm celebrated in Christian worship. Opening our minds to God in meditation and prayer ushers us into that eternal realm wherein we can directly communicate with God, knowing Him as He Is.
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Mark Twain once quipped: “The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.” As he indicates in his book’s subtitle in Life After Heaven: How My Time in Heaven Can Transform Your Life on Earth (New York: WaterBrook, c. 2017), Steven R. Musick is less concerned with his own Near Death Experience than with encouraging us to live in the light of truths he discerned therein. Musick begins by detailing his early life—growing up in Denver, accepting Jesus as his Savior at the age of seven, devoutly attending an Episcopal church. Financially unable to finish his studies at the University of Colorado, he enlisted in the Navy and was sent to the Great Lakes Naval Station in Chicago in 1975. He fully embraced and enjoyed the military life and managed to qualify for both the Naval Academy and the SEAL training school. The prospects of a military career seemed bright. But then he was given a routine flu inoculation that adversely affected him; when he didn’t recover he was given a “lethal dose” aminophylline, to which he was unknowingly allergic. He fell into a five-week period of unresponsive unconsciousness.
Losing consciousness, he suddenly was weightless, flying through a white tunnel, transported to another realm of reality—“That Place.” He stood (mysteriously in his own “body”) in a “rolling green meadow, immersed in indescribable light. “I barely know how to describe the vibrancy of it all. It’s like super high-definition television on steroids. Everything is crystal clear” (p. 38). It was a world of sheer beauty filled with wondrous music and pure joy. “It is a perfect paradox of heaven: I feel absolutely held and absolutely free. I am physically feeling God’s security. The safest place imaginable is in the arms of the Father. Once you’ve felt that, it’s all you want. Nothing else, from that day to this, satisfies. It is the overwhelming, wonderfully sensation of being held” (p. 39). He felt utterly at home, being where he was designed to be. He also saw Jesus. “He’s a person. Not a shadowy figure, no figment of my imagination, not translucent or some floating being. A person. Solid” (p. 41). As they talked about the author’s life, Jesus’ “words reveal there is purpose behind it all, a plan woven through my life. It gives meaning to every moment of it. And it is okay” (p. 42). Consequently, “I begin to see my life from the perspective of heaven. And how different it looks” (p. 43).
Though he didn’t want to leave heaven, he awakened from his coma and spent many weeks convalescing in the naval hospital. He struggled to breathe, since his illness reduced to one-third his lung capacity. Thus disabled, he was discharged from the Navy, moved back to Denver, married his sweetheart, and went back to school. Unable to find employers willing to hire an obviously unwell employee with a compromised immune system, he began his own business as a financial adviser, becoming modestly successful in time. Though he constantly remembered his visit to “That Place,” he said nothing to anyone about it because he couldn’t make sense of it. He did become deeply religious, however, spending much time in Bible study and prayer. Various experiences reminded him of God’s abiding presence, but he was resigned to living with his infirmity, unable to do many of the daily things most of us take for granted.
He and his wife attended various churches for many years but never found a permanently home. Then, in 1984, they discovered Denver Vineyard, a “classic Vineyard” congregation that prayed for and believed in miracles. He thought, for a couple of years, that miracles surely happened—but not that he might experience one! Then one night, struggling with his disability, he felt impressed to attend a service. “The worship was so powerful that night. I don’t remember the message at all, just a growing sense of God’s presence, the knowledge that we were in a holy place.” At the end of the service, the pastor invited people who wanted to pray to come forward. Musick remained seated, but the pastor said: “‘Wait a minute. Someone here has been dealing with a malady for years. A decade.’” He then added: “‘You’ve been sick all week. Sick sick. I think you have a respiratory thing’” (p. 102).
Musick was astounded, as he’d told no one in the church about his illness. He felt prompted to get up and walk to the front of the sanctuary. He made it half-way. An associate pastor met him there and put his hand on his chest. “It felt like electricity went through my body. I fell to the ground” (p. 103). He found himself re-entering heaven— “That Place” he’d explored a decade earlier—seeing the “same sights, smell, and sounds” (p. 103). Again he met and talked with Jesus. Then he awakened “on the floor of the Denver Vineyard church.” Getting to his feet, he took “a full breath of air” for the first time in ten years. He’d been dramatically, miraculously healed in an instant! Driving home, he talked with God, enjoying an intense intimacy with the Father. For the first time he shared with his wife details concerning his earlier entrance to heaven, enabling her to better understand and rejoice with him. His skeptical doctor took out his stethoscope and discovered that his lungs sounded “clear and healthy.”
Subsequently, Musick intensified his life of prayer, study, and worship. He and his wife joined a “team that prayed for people” in the church, and they witnessed wonderful healings. Though he testified regarding his own healing, he didn’t feel inclined to share his heavenly visit resulting from his Near Death Experience. Then, in 2011 he felt impelled to bear witness to what happened to him. More importantly, however, he wanted to use his experience as a vehicle with which to tell us that “Heaven is a lot closer than you think.” And if we pay attention to the little “bubbles of heaven” that frequently occur we can live more joyously and productively in Christ’s Kingdom. “God intends for all his people to experience and to encourage heaven to come to earth. He wants his presence and power to impact our everyday lives. He wants his love to characterize our lives” (p. 121).
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Chauncey Crandall graduated from the Yale School of Medicine, a skilled cardiologist who fervently believes the Christian message. He lives and works on Palm Beach Island in Florida, where “Business moguls, celebrities, major media personalities, music artists, bestselling authors, and athletes either get their daily mail . . . or have their second or third homes” At the age of 19, working as a hospital orderly, he encountered death for the first time and “decided I hated death and would devote myself to fighting it with everything I could muster” (p. 2). Pondering the spiritual as well as physical aspects of dying, he became a Christian, though for a number of years his scientific training kept him from diligently practicing his faith. “Little did I know, I needed a major dose of God (and more specifically, of His Son, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit) to be able to operate at full capacity in my faith” (p. 33).
In Touching Heaven: A Cardiologist’s Encounters with Death and Living Proof of an Afterlife (New York: FaithWords, c. 2015), Crandall urges us to live better lives by living attuned to heaven. As a physician, he routinely sees “evidences of the next realm all the time, in my work and ministry; every day, this life gives us glimpses of the next. These snapshots—from my patient’s besides and my personal experiences—are what I want to share with you” (p. 4). The physical and spiritual realms interpenetrate. “Both realms are real, just as surely as God is real. And because of these realities, I now know that life doesn’t end here” (p. 5). Still more: he believes “the Lord can make available to us everything here on earth that is available in the kingdom of heaven” (p. 93).
As he began his medical practice, Crandall talked with people who’d had “out-of-body” experiences. Some described being suspended above the surgical bed watching doctors work frantically trying to save them. A classmate in medical school described Jesus sitting in his room when he was deathly ill. Often he heard of angels appearing and effectively helping people. But it was only when (in 2000) his own son Chad became sick with leukemia that he seriously began to attend to spiritual realities. Until then he’d “balked at any intimations that I might need or want more of God” (p. 31). He’d become an expert at “looking” at patients, noting their symptoms and seeking to heal them. But by “looking” he could only see material realities. Then he learned to “see”—to discern deeper and higher realms of reality wherein miracles occur. “God surrounds every one of us with His kingdom at every turn—with messages and messengers, signs and gifts—and He has given it all to us so that we would turn our eyes and hearts toward Him. Some people don’t notice because they doubt that He cares. Many more, though, are missing daily hints of Him simply because they’re not paying attention” (p. 22). Enabled to see clearly, he beheld “a universe crafted by an Artist who longs to express who He is and deeply connect with all He has created, but who is particularly focused on the ones He fashioned in His image” (p. 23).
Once Crandall’s son became ill, he began “testing the universe,” fervently seeking to fully know God. “Having a son diagnosed with leukemia activated my faith like nothing else had—making me vividly aware of the reality and presence of heaven. It accelerated my spiritual growth” (p. 54). He and his wife began visiting various churches, looking for revivals at home and abroad, thinking more deeply about the Bible and Christian theology. From nominally attending a Presbyterian church he moved into Pentecostal circles. He attended services were people were instantly healed, where the bread and wine for a communion service mysteriously multiplied to supply an unexpectedly large congregation, where 500 youngsters were fed with only 200 prepared meals. He began to understand the true greatness of God who is very much with us and working miracles for us. “As time went on, I thought, if He is this big in the world, then He can be even bigger in my medical practice, which opened me up to praying for every patient who would let me (nearly every one of them, as it turns out)” (p. 39). Seeing some 150 patients a week, he has found his own “mission field.” “The more I have invited heaven into the operating and exam room, the more healing power I have seen at work—and the more others have recognized the hand of God” (p. 73). Having personally seen prayers answered for patients who were in comas (even for one man definitively pronounced dead) he confidently attests to the reality of Near Death Experiences validating the reality of heaven—the “really real world.”
While witnessing many miracles, however, Crandall had to watch his own son fail in his struggle with leukemia. Even though his “miracle research” prompted him to believe “Chad could be healed, and that prayer was a means to it” (p. 55) his son died. Trusting medical science as well as prayer, he and his wife secured the best care possible, including a bone marrow transplant from his twin brother. They tried everything! In the midst of many dark hours, they sensed God’s presence, though when Chad died Crandall “see-sawed between numbness and anger” (p. 151)—inevitable, human feelings. In the end: “Chad’s battle was over. We as a family had fought our fight with everything we had, and while the enemy may have been rejoicing, thinking that cancer had won, we knew the truth: Chad was now in heaven’s care—now fully healed” p. 157).
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