Can you experience hell and come back?

Email Received:
A friend was reading “23 Minutes in Hell” by Bill Wiese. The book was described the book by saying the author was allowed by God to be in Hell for 23 minutes and to witness the agony of those condemned there and was later ‘saved’ by Jesus Christ. Based on an Amazon search, this does not seem to be the only book that claims actual visits to either Hell or Heaven.

My first reaction was skepticism about an actual journey to Hell or Heaven that ultimately was temporary. Primarily these smacks of ‘prophetic’ actions where God shows a chosen person certain things that
are later revealed to the general (and ignorant) public. But I guess
I’m unsure of this since you don’t hear about it very much – but then
again is that confirmation that certain things will pass away (speaking
tongues and prophecy) or post-modern denial? Moreover, I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’s words to his apostles about being divided. As long as this guy’s message is the redeeming resurrection of Jesus Christ then why should I object?

Just curious about your thoughts.

My Response:
Great question. Interesting book. Without having read the book, it strikes me as well as a bit strange and a little off. In general, I tend to hope that people make a decision of faith so that they will live for something rather than avoiding something. Tasting and seeing that the Lord is good seems to me to be a healthier response that avoiding hell. Certainly though as you point out there may be something to be said for someone who is helping people have a relationship with Christ and point to the resurrection as our hope as Christians. I am a bit skeptical and would not likely recommend the book to someone based on a brief look at the Amazon page. Thanks for pointing it out…

What do you think?

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5 thoughts on “Can you experience hell and come back?

  1. I’ve been pondering over this post the last few days. Normally, I’d be extremely skeptical about something like this, and perhaps with good reason. However, the thought I had tended more towards one’s motivation for following or serving God.

    While I would probably instinctively agree that serving God from an attitude of gratitude and love is probably preferable to that of fear or dread of punishment, I am struck by a number of things.

    Firstly, Jesus’ message often had the ‘negative’ undertone of ‘repent for the kingdom is at hand’; ‘repent, or you will die in your sins’; ‘the wrath of God abides on those who don’t believe.’ Paul as well opens up Romans with the argument that God’s wrath is being revealed against ungodliness, and often offers rather stern warnings against falling away.

    Secondly, I sometimes wonder if the ‘positive’ approach we often favor is somewhat mitigated by our cultural perspective. For instance, in college I had a professor who worked among a tribe in Papau New Guinea for 15-20 years, learning their language, immersing himself in their society and culture, etc. Well, he told me that they did not have the words or thought structures in their language or worldview to speak of things abstractly. Thus, concepts that we take for granted like love, hope, etc., couldn’t be communicated abstractly. He went on to relate the story of one of the village chiefs who had become a Christian. His village was at war with another village, but he had tried to work out a cease-fire of sorts. Unfortunately, this chief was ambushed one day, and was shot by some arrows and pierced with some spears. As he lay dying, he told his companions ‘not to take revenge.’ (to avenge such a killing was a foregone conclusion.) Anyway, my professor told me that in that story he was finally able to find a way to translate ‘love’ as it was found in the scriptures in a way that they understood.

    I guess my point of that story and the allusions to Jesus’ and Paul’s words is that as I have been pondering this, it seems that we are probably not all in a place where we can all respond to God in the kind of positive way that we often ideally envisage. Even as I think about fearing a consequence, that doesn’t necessarily render such fear as illegitimate or even opposed to love. For instance, there are a variety of ways in which I can hurt those whom I love. While I am hopefully doing ‘positive’ things to express that love, that love is equally expressed ‘negatively’ as I refrain from doing things that would harm them. My fear of hurting them or harming the relationship is as much an expression of love as doing things to build the relationship.

    I think that our nature is such that sometimes the ‘negative’ aspect of love is all that we have to give, for whatever reason. Sometimes fear of loss can compel us to an action that a promise of benefit could never do. Like when we discipline children- the negative aspect of them wanting to avoid punishment is not unhealthy, but rather hopefully opens up their eyes to see that certain actions have negative consequences that can and should be avoided by all means possible. To offer a cookie doesn’t necessarily teach them that they shouldn’t touch a hot stove, but can teach them that certain actions can have positive consequences.

    So anyway, I personally think that God can use the fear of pain and loss and separation from him to help people along to faith. Whether or not this book is an example of such is certainly open to debate.

    That’s all I’ve got. time for bed!

  2. Nicely said Monk,

    I think ultimately both you Andrew and Monk have it exactly correct that first and foremost we want to encourage people for good choices, but to stop calling for repentance is leaving out something important about what we do in the ministry as well.

    It’s something that I struggle with quite a bit, because it is so strongly associated in my mind with a “brand” of theology that doesn’t resonate with me. I’m not really a fire and brimstone sort of person, and I frankly start off pretty skeptical of anyone who says they’ve “visited” heaven or hell.

    I take that skepticism from the Gospel of Luke: “No, Father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

    On to repentance: If I learned anything from Lazarus and the Rich Man it’s that Jesus is concerned with how we treat each other. If justice and mercy are indeed at the very core of Christ’s message of how we should live our lives then there will always be a need not only to call back, but to inspire towards greater obedience.

    Calling someone to repent usually take the form of positive punishment (meaning something is applied or given): “if you keep sinning, you will go to hell”.

    Alternatively some people choose to reframe the statement as reward[reinforcement] (either positive or negative): “do good works and avoid the fires of hell” (negative reinforcement), or “do good works and go to heaven” (Positive reinforcement). To me these skip pretty close to the line of works righteousness so they don’t really appeal to me either.

    It’s too early in the morning yet to gaze through the fog towards a clear answer, but my tendency is to want to suggest that the since we are covered by grace that the rewards or punishments that are most salient might be ones not related to our deaths at all.

    Give up your smug self-righteousness and fear and learn what it means to learn your neighbor’s name…

    Lay your pride and excuses at the foot of the cross and discover what it means to serve in humility and love…

    Then you are tasked with the job of connecting the reward not to the warm fuzzy feelings they’ll experience – but to the joy of living in line with what Jesus taught us life is all about.

    /goes in search of caffeine

  3. Great responses – The only additional comment i’ll make is that we have to remember that the whole concept of Hell was one initiated primarily by Jesus. Being Cast out into eternal fire where men weep and nash their teeth, comes from the same lips that taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. We cant eliminate one of message and highlight another without doing essential damage to his overall Kingdom Agenda.

    Also, fear of hell has most often been a motivating factor not for non-Christians – but for Christians who really do see a danger for their friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances. It is our love for them, connected with our confidence in the importance of the decision to follow God or not, that motivates our evangelistic zeal. I would venture to guess you could map a theological conviction that hell is real, to level of evangelistic energy output if there was an effective instrument to measure such things.

  4. I realize this is an old discussion, but just wanted to add that as to the topic of the post, I feel certain that whatever this guy “saw” or wherever he “was,” it was NOT hell. I think Revelation 20:10-15. In verse 13-14 it uses the word hell (at least in the KJV), but the word is “Hades,” traditionally the place where the dead not in Christ go. Then what happens? God casts ALL of it into the “Lake of FIre.” He says “This is the second death.” So the final, eternal hell is not until after the final judgment according to that. So wherever this guy says he went, it wasn’t a place that hasn’t happened yet. I’m very skeptical that it was anything at all but his imagination.

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