Review: “Imagine Heaven” by John Burke

Imagine Heaven: Near-Death Experiences, God's Promises, and the Exhilarating Future That Awaits YouImagine Heaven: Near-Death Experiences, God’s Promises, and the Exhilarating Future That Awaits You by John Burke. Baker Books, 2015

This book is not what I thought it would be. It is not the story of one child who thought he saw Jesus. Rather, it describes studies of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people who, often in hospital settings, underwent medically verified death for minutes or hours, before reviving. What they report of their lived experience after physical death–what they saw and heard, the choices they were given–is remarkably consistent across ages, cultures, and belief systems, including no belief or active atheism. 

Most of these people reported seeing a Being of Light, who radiated unconditional Love, and visiting a beautiful place, also suffused with light, of remarkable colors. They did not wish to leave either this Person or this place, because the sadness and sins of their lives were looked upon with such overwhelming love and forgiveness. The joy and love they themselves felt, in being there and in being reunited with loved ones and friends, was beyond anything they had imagined. The mercy of this Being, who was recognized as God or Jesus by people of diverse cultures, was so great that even the slightest turning to Him, with the smallest, weakest prayer, was enough to send Him rushing to meet them where they were. This was true even of those who professed to be atheists at the time of their near-death encounter.

Besides recounting a host of fascinating case studies, Burke compares the “eyewitness” reports of those having near-death experiences with relevant descriptions from scripture: from the Gospels, from visions (of St. John in Revelation), and from prophecy (e.g., Isaiah). Burke is clear that the testimony of the Bible is always to be preferred, if an NDE report is inconsistent with it, but when the two sources are in harmony, he finds the NDE reports very illuminating and encouraging, and as a reader, I would agree!