I haven’t been one to pay a lot of attention to the recent “Heaven is Real” parade. Not that I don’t believe heaven is real. It’s just that I’m not too sure how the books written in the last couple of years line up with Biblical teaching on death and heaven. Can’t say that I’ve read them . . . or plan to . . . just that, as I’ve read about them, something in me is uneasy. Uneasy with some of the claims I understand they make and, maybe more importantly, uneasy with the celebrity status these books are making of some of those who have “gone and come back.” That’s what came to mind as I was reading 2Corinthians 12 this morning.
There I read of another man . . . a man “in Christ,” one who bowed the knee to Jesus on earth . . . who had some sort of out of body experience. He was caught up to “the third heaven” . . . caught up to “paradise.” Not because he was near death, but because he was to be a steward of the words of life. And, as he recalls the experience, he’s not sure whether he was “in the body of out of the body.” All he knew for sure was that “he heard many things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2Cor. 12:2-4).
He was a student at Paradise U. A graduate of an intense “Master’s” program. And, though he had some stuff to talk about . . . a good story to tell . . . he refrained “so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me” (12:6). Having returned, instead of talking about his experience, he boasts of his weakness.
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2Corinthians 12:7-9 ESV)
Seems like kind of an unexpected “reward” for making it to heaven and back . . . a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, something so debilitating that this man would plead three times for its removal. But that’s what he was given to balance out his out of body experience. Otherwise, he says, he might have become over impressed with himself.
The NKJV translates “conceited” more literally . . . “lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations.” The man was given a thorn in the flesh so that he would not be raised up . . . so that he would not get caught up in his own press clippings . . . so that he would not consider himself a somebody. But, having been beyond and back, he is weakened in the flesh so that any power he might display would the power of Christ in and through him.
The revelation was for his preparation. Being caught up to the third heaven wasn’t for his glory, but for his gifting. What he experienced in that time–“whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows”–was to be expressed in dependence upon the all sufficient grace of the living Christ.
I don’t know enough about these books to be critical . . . not my intent. And I can’t claim to having any experience with the third heaven and Paradise U. But I do have a little experience, though not as some others, of knowing weakness and asking for it to be removed. And more importantly, the reality of the power of Christ manifest in His all sufficient grace. And in that, I too know that heaven is real . . . and that He alone is to be exalted.
I will boast in my weakness . . . because of His grace . . . and for His glory.