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Heaven Can't Wait

A Survey of Alleged Trips to the Other Side

by William M. Alnor

from the Christian Research Journal, Spring 1993, page 24. The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is Elliot Miller.

Charismatic leader Roberts Liardon said that one afternoon in 1974 -- when he was eight years old -- he was caught up into heaven where he met Jesus face to face. Liardon, who now directs his own worldwide ministry based in Laguna Hills, California, said that Christ was "about six feet tall, with sandy-brown hair, not real short and not too long."[1] In his book I Saw Heaven, Liardon said Jesus escorted him through the gates of heaven where he saw golden streets, dazzling looking flowers, plenty of mansions, trees that "swayed back and forth, dancing and praising as we passed," and a "knee-deep...crystal clear" river of life.[2]

Upon walking to the river, Liardon recounts the first thing Jesus did to him: "He dunked me! I got back up and splashed Him, and we had a water fight. We splashed each other and laughed."[3]

Later, Liardon claims, when Jesus walked him to the heavenly throne room of God, he noticed "three storage houses 500 to 600 yards" away. He explains:

We walked into the first. As Jesus shut the front door behind us, I looked around the interior in shock!

On one side of the building were exterior parts of the body. Legs hung from the wall, but the scene looked natural, not grotesque. On the other side of the building were shelves filled with eyes, green ones, brown ones, blue ones, and so forth.

The building contained all of the parts of the human body that people on earth need, but Christians have not realized these blessings are waiting in heaven. There is no place else in the universe for these parts to go except right here on earth; no one else needs them.

Jesus said to me, "These are the unclaimed blessings. This building should not be full. It should be emptied. You should come in here with faith and get the needed parts for you, and the people you will come in contact with that day."

The unclaimed blessings are there in those storehouses -- all of the parts of the body people might need: hundreds of new eyes, legs, skin, hair, eardrums -- they are all there. All you have to do is go in and get what you need by the arm of faith, because it is there.[4]

Later during the visit, Jesus allegedly ordained Liardon to the ministry. Jesus told him, "Roberts, I am calling you to a great work. I am ordaining you to a great work. You will have to run like no one else and preach like no one else. You will have to be different from everyone else."[5]

As strange as Liardon's story might seem, it is not unusual these days. In fact, many leaders from within the Pentecostal and charismatic movements (including the Word-Faith camp) claim that they too were taken to heaven (and sometimes hell) to consult with Jesus or deceased saints. Besides witnessing incredible sights, most of them claim (like Liardon) that they were commissioned for their ministries there, often by Jesus Himself.

During the past several months I have examined many of the most popular "I went to heaven" stories circulating through the church. As a result of my inquiry, I am throwing up a bright red flag -- urging extreme caution over believing any of the current heaven or hell visitation stories. To begin, the stories are mystical and unverifiable -- there's no way to be certain that a particular story is true. And there are several additional concerns which I will raise below.


Before proceeding further, I need to make an important clarification. The types of experiences I am dealing with are related to near-death experiences (NDEs), but they aren't the same thing. In the Spring and Summer 1992 issues of this journal, researcher J. Isamu Yamamoto examined NDEs, which became popular following the publication of Dr. Raymond Moody's book Life after Life in 1976. In a typical NDE, a hospital patient who has been near death (e.g., the patient temporarily stopped breathing, or experienced a severe heart attack or trauma that caused the heart to stop beating) testifies -- upon awakening from the trauma -- that he (or she) experienced hovering above his body in the hospital, then propelling through a dark tunnel toward a bright light on the other side. This light turns out to be a being of unconditional love, and in his presence the patient reviews his entire life before being sent back to his body.

The "I went to heaven and hell" experiences are different first of all because those who claim to have experienced them are not necessarily near death when the event occurs. Often those who claim to have been to the other side were not sure if they were actually there or if they experienced a vision. The accounts are also more detailed than the typical NDE, often involving not just an encounter with a heavenly entity but a tour of the world beyond.

Second, these experiences are predominantly Christian in orientation, with a strong apocalyptic flavor (i.e., many of the images are straight out of the Book of Revelation and other biblical texts). They seem to be closely related to the continuing search for supernatural "signs and wonders" presently sweeping through the charismatic and Pentecostal movements. NDEs, on the other hand, are not necessarily Christian-based; they don't typically reflect a world view that portrays the Godhead (represented by the Holy Trinity) on one side and the Devil and his hoards on the other. In fact, they often have New Age overtones.


A historical survey of these types of mystical stories indicates that such alleged experiences are nothing new. According to Heaven: A History, by religious historians Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang, visionaries throughout the centuries have claimed to have been caught up to the other side. McDannell and Lang note that visionaries' pictures of paradise tend to differ depending on the era in which they were recorded.

Throughout the book they recount various stories -- some of them every bit as outlandish as today's stories -- from people who claimed to have been caught up into heaven. They state that images of heaven have generally fallen under three categories: (1) "the compensatory paradise," which was a view favored by early church father Irenaeus that pictured the new world as a paradise restored, where "the human body will be placed in an ideal environment," and where women will bear many children in a plentiful, abundant earth;[6] (2) "the ascetic afterlife," favored by the early Augustine in which he indicated that heaven would be based on continuous contemplation on God in ecstatic rapture;[7] and (3) the "ecclesiastical model" in which there would be remembrance of families, fellowship of the saints, and a new God-based society.[8] Visions of heaven throughout the centuries have been significantly conditioned by whichever view of the afterlife prevailed at the time.


Of course, it is possible for God's children to be caught up into heaven. No biblical passage expressly denies the possibility. But we need to be wary of leaders who claim an exclusive vision or experience in order to verify their ministries.

Christian leaders should point others to Christ and what He has done on the cross instead of to their own personal experiences. Most of the people claiming heavenly visitations seem to have a much different attitude than the apostle Paul when he discussed his trip (whether out of the body or in a vision) to the "third heaven" (2 Cor. 12:1-5). In the verses leading up to his account of heaven, Paul was clearly reluctant to discuss his experience because he thought he might be perceived as "boasting" about it.


Paul Yonggi Cho

Some of the biggest names in the charismatic movement claim to have been to the other side and back. Among them is Paul Yonggi [David] Cho -- controversial pastor of the largest church in the world (with more than 500,000 members) in Seoul, Korea. He said he met a blue-skinned, deceased missionary to Korea there who commissioned him to reach his country-folk for Christ.[9]

Cho has also stated that one of his assistant pastors at the Yoido Full Gospel Church died and came back to life after three days. During that time period, according to an interview Cho gave to Mary Stewart Relfe, he was reunited with his wife in heaven where he saw God and was able to meet various biblical figures -- including Abraham, Stephen, and David.[10]

Kenneth Hagin

Another big name who claims to have been to heaven and hell is prominent radio evangelist Kenneth E. Hagin, founder of the RHEMA Bible Training Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In his book I Believe in Visions, Hagin claims that as a young man in 1933, suffering from a deformed heart and an incurable blood disease, his heart stopped beating and his "inner man rushed out of my body...[and]...I went down, down, down until the lights of the earth faded away....And the farther down I went, the hotter and more stifling it became. Finally, far below me, I could see lights flickering on the walls of the caverns of the damned....I came to the entrance of hell."[11] Hagin stated that a voice from above, Christ's voice, rescued him from hell during this occasion (as well as two later occasions when his heart also stopped beating) as he lay deathly ill.

Hagin has also stated that during a 1950 tent revival meeting in Rockwall, Texas, Jesus appeared to him, standing in the air near the top of the tent. "Come up hither," Jesus allegedly commanded him. Hagin claims he then sailed through the air with Christ and was shown visions of both heaven and hell.[12]

Morris Cerullo

Well-known Pentecostal evangelist Morris Cerullo, like Hagin, claims to have been caught up into heaven during a service. Cerullo says the incident was a "vision" that later evolved into his "spirit lift[ing] from this earth and [being] taken right into the heavens."[13] There he saw a six-foot tall "manifestation of the Godhead" that didn't look human at all:

He called the entity "the Presence of God, for this light was not just the glory of Jesus but it was the glory of the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." The entity then showed him the fires of hell in which "were multitudes of lost souls,"[15] and it spoke these words to him in 1611 King James English: "My son, arise, shine, for thy light is come and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. Thou shalt not be afraid for thou shall not stand in thine own strength, neither shall you stand in thine own place but you shall stand in the place I have made for thee and My strength shall uphold and guard thee."[16]

Lesser-Known Travelers

Many lesser-known people claim to have visited the other side. Two who have each written a handful of books mentioning their experiences are Dr. Richard Eby of California and Betty Malz of Florida. Both authors have been the focus of enormous attention from the Christian media. Eby, author of the best seller Caught Up into Paradise (Fleming H. Revell), and its sequel Tell Them I Am Coming, has benefited greatly from the notoriety he has received as a frequent guest on Paul and Jan Crouch's Praise the Lord show on the Trinity Broadcasting Network.

Malz, however, has recently been on the negative side of attention from the Christian media. Her first book, My Glimpse of Eternity (Fleming H. Revell, 1977), has sold around one million copies and has been printed in 11 languages. She has since written five other books, all of which mention her alleged trip to heaven during a death experience on July 31, 1959 at an Indiana hospital.[17] But in the June 11 issue of the Canadian publication Christian Week, reporter Lorna Dueck, who had investigated Malz's story, reported it to be flatly false.

Malz claims that after she had been in a coma for 44 days in the hospital, her heart stopped beating for 28 minutes, during which she went to heaven and witnessed many marvels. But she was allegedly sent back to earth when her father uttered a one-word prayer. Dueck retraced Malz's steps and interviewed officials at the Union Hospital in Terre Haute, Indiana, who told her that Malz never died during her hospital stay for a ruptured appendix. "Clark Boyd, the doctor for Malz referred to in the book, said he was surprised no reporters questioned him on Malz's story before. 'I didn't happen,' Boyd said."[18] The controversy over Malz's story was publicized worldwide in the news sections of numerous publications, including Christianity Today, but it did not result in Chosen Books, a division of Fleming H. Revell publishers, recalling the books.

Richard Eby's alleged trips to heaven and hell also deserve careful scrutiny. The problem with Eby is that there is evidence that he has added previously unrevealed (and highly suspect) details about his experiences years later. In Caught Up into Paradise Eby claims that after a two-story fall on his head in 1972 he briefly died and was ushered into heaven where he had a "fantastic cloud-like body!...I was clothed in a translucent flowing gown, pure white, but transparent to my gaze. In amazement I could see through my body and note the gorgeously white flowers behind and beneath me."[19] He claims he later came back to earth in a hospital room where Jesus assured him that he would be healed.

Later, the book relates, during a 1977 Trinity Broadcasting Network tour of Israel when Eby was visiting Lazarus's tomb in Bethany, the lights went out and Jesus took him to hell: "In the twinkling of an eye Jesus was standing beside me....I heard the same wonderful Voice that had spoken to me from the cloud in my hospital room five years before: 'My son; I showed you heaven, now I show you hell. You must know about them both...'"[20]

"Praise the Lord for only two minutes of hell!" Eby wrote. "Even so, it was too long....With terror came anger: hell-inspired curses flowed out in silence. My lips were silenced! Hate, wrath, cruelty, and insane rage rolled back and forth through me. Despite the utter silence I heard demons taunt me."[21] Eby then contradicted almost every other modern visionary claiming to have visited hell by stating that it is not a place of fire and flames: "And then I noticed the cold. The kind that sickens and chills every cell just enough to ache but not get numb. There was no way ever to get warm, not in that dank pit! And the smell! Horrid, nasty, stale, fetid, rotten, evil...mixed together and concentrated. Somehow I knew instantly that these were the odors of my Pit-mates. Stinking, crawling, demons seen mentally delighting in making me wretched."[22]

Actually, in Caught Up into Paradise Eby didn't devote much space to his heaven and hell visitations. In subsequent books and speaking engagements, however, he has added many new details. He even went on to claim that Jesus personally promised him that he would not die -- he would be raptured with the church; His return was that close. (Eby is now eighty years old.)

More recently Eby diverged from his original testimony of hell, claiming on the Trinity Broadcasting Network that during his visit he heard music and witnessed demons there gyrating to heavy metal rock n' roll "punk" music.


Now, having said all this, it is critical to note that there's nothing wrong with Christians dwelling on the afterlife. In fact, God's Word tells us, "Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God" (Col. 3:2-3). We are to live as "aliens and strangers in the world" (1 Pet. 2:11) because "our citizenship is in heaven" (Phil. 3:20). It is healthy, then, for Christians to contemplate their future home in heaven instead of laying their treasures in this world (Matt. 6:19-20). Jesus, in fact, comforted His disciples by assuring them that He was preparing a place for them in heaven (John 14:1-4).

From a personal perspective, an unexpected benefit in completing this article was that after reading so many "I went to heaven" stories, I found myself dwelling on the topic more, wondering what heaven is really like. Others, too, seem to have derived the same benefit from books like these. But, because they all contradict one another, if there is any validity to some of these visions they must be understood as symbolic and not literal depictions of what the afterlife is like.


Whatever debatable value may be derived from these books, however, is clearly canceled out when they contradict God's revealed Word. Furthermore, even if a doctrinal contradiction is not apparent, these "special revelations" supposedly given to Christian leaders in heaven must never serve as a source or corroboration for doctrine, or they will undermine the authority of Scripture.

Roberts Liardon, for example, uses his heavenly revelations to promote the false "name it and claim it" prosperity doctrines. In talking about his "heavenly warehouse" visit, Liardon notes:

The End-Time Handmaidens -- a Jasper, Arkansas-based charismatic ministry headed by Gwen Shaw -- have published several contradictory books about trips to heaven which shoot wide of Scripture in significant areas.

In reprinting and distributing Intra Muros ("Within the Gates"), which was originally published in 1898, the Handmaidens became culpable in spreading false doctrine because the book supports the Mormon doctrine of eternal marriage between men and women in heaven.[24] Intra Muros is based on the 19th century vision of heaven by Methodist Rebecca Springer (1832-1904).[25] Contrary to Intra Muros, God's Word tells us -- in fact, Jesus Himself stated -- that there will be no marriage in heaven, and people will be "like the angels" (Matt. 22:30). Intra Muros also strays from Scripture in numerous other areas, including the advocacy of works righteousness as a way of attaining heaven, and the assertion that many in heaven will not be in a perfected state.[26] It also states that the saints in heaven can become "ministering spirits" to those on earth.[27]

Another book reprinted by the End-Time Handmaidens in 1984 (first published around the turn of the century) is Elwood Scott's Paradise: The Holy City and the Glory of the Throne. This account is hard to take seriously due to its fanciful portrait of heaven as being a domain of flying horseless chariots (resembling futuristic "Jetsons"-type cars) that are flown about by angels and the saints; its accounts of each saint being given a harp to play; and the ludicrous, worldly, and even racist thinking that permeates the book.

For example, the book asserts that all black people on earth will become white in heaven. The main character in the book, Seneca Sodi, who claims to have spent 40 days in heaven, gives an account of how he observed a group of singers in the distance and was told that "they were all colored people of America."[28] Drawing closer, Sodi asks one of the singers, "Are there no black faces in heaven?" He is told: "We are all white here and in de perfect image of de Lord....There's multitudes of dem here and dey sing in de choir wid de odder people and their voices are often de loudest."[29]

The End-Time Handmaidens also published a more respectable 13-page testimonial booklet by Aline Baxley of California who claims that after an automobile accident, "the Death Angel carried me out to that outer darkness. I found myself in Hell, screaming, hollering, gnashing my teeth, begging the Death Angel not to leave me in Hell. Souls were around me by the hundreds and thousands, screaming and gnashing their teeth, just trying to die."[30] After God also showed her the lake of fire, she woke up from a coma she'd been in for several days, so terrified that she asked Christ to save her from her sins.

There are other tales circulating through the church, some of which are more fanciful than others. For example, Howard O. Pittman speaks of the heavenly realm and the realm of demons in his books, Placebo (which is based on his alleged near-death experience in 1979) and Demons: An Eyewitness Account. In Demons (The Philadelphia Publishing House, 1982) Pittman includes line drawings of the many different types of demons he was shown by the angels as they escorted him through the spirit world. Some appeared like frogs, he reported, while others looked like soldiers, mythological creatures, and other forms.

In her book A Divine Revelation of Hell, Mary K. Baxter claims that Jesus took her on a 40-day personal tour of hell and later heaven in 1976. She claims hell is a place in the bowels of the earth where snakes slither and rats scurry about.[31] She adds that hell is where people are burning but cannot die, even though worms are crawling through their ignited corpses. She also pictures hell as being structured in the shape of a human: it has a left and right leg, belly, heart, right and left arm, and a jaw -- with each section constituting a slightly different torture chamber pocketed with many fiery pits.

Like many other modern-day visionaries, Baxter diverges from Scripture by portraying hell in terms of The Divine Comedy by Dante (A.D. 1265-1321). Thus demons and Satan himself function as supervisors in hell, responsible for inflicting pain (beyond the pain already inflicted by hell itself) on people under their charge.[32] In one scene demons are portrayed as dancing around a coffin "chanting and laughing" as they keep thrusting spears into a human victim.[33] The Bible, however, teaches that the Devil himself will be thrown into "the lake of fire" to face eternal punishment (Rev. 20:7-10). And Jesus added that "the eternal fire" will be specifically created for "the devil and his angels" (Matt. 25:41).

Perhaps the most plausible book I read involved the visions of Marietta Davis who fell into a nine-day trance in the summer of 1848 at her home in Berlin, New York. During this time, she said upon awakening, she had been in heaven and had also been shown hell. Although her story was first published in 1856, it has since gone into at least 36 editions, including a recent edition published by Christ for the Nations of Dallas, Texas, and edited by that organization's late founder, Gordon Lindsay. According to this edition, called Scenes Beyond the Grave, when Davis returned to consciousness she accurately predicted the day of her death based on her otherworldly revelations.[34] In her vision Jesus was adorned with a crown of pure light and had golden hair.[35] She also stated that in heaven the angels educate and instruct earthly infants and young children who've died before reaching an age of reason. But she too paints a picture of hell as a domain of not only fire, but of demonic revelry and laughter.[36]

Heavenly Mansions?

Although these heaven and hell stories generally don't match each other in significant ways, almost all mention seeing large mansions -- often resembling multiroomed Victorian castle-like houses -- being constructed for God's people in heaven. This might appear to be justified on the basis of John 14:2 (in which Jesus tells His disciples in the King James Version that in His father's house are "many mansions...I go to prepare a place for you."). But a careful reading of the Greek wording in the passage reveals that there is little warrant for translators using the term mansions, which denotes a worldly picture of a lavish house.

According to Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, the Greek word mone is primarily a staying, or abiding, and it "denotes an abode." The same Greek word is translated as abode in verse 23. Vine's says "there is nothing in the word to indicate separate compartments in Heaven; neither does it suggest temporary resting-places on the road."[37] Modern translations tend to render the passage in a manner similar to the New International Version: "In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you."

More Biblical Objections

Those who would unreservedly accept any of the "I went to heaven or hell" stories need to further consider additional scriptural factors. In my opinion, the most obvious problem with the "I went to hell" accounts that I've examined -- including the above-mentioned vision of Marietta Davis -- is that they confuse the biblical distinction between hades, a temporary holding-place of punishment where the lost go after death (see Luke 16:22-26) and gehenna or the lake of fire, the final and eternal abode of the damned (see Matt. 25:41). These modern-day visions of hell typically see the lost presently in gehenna.

The most obvious problem with the "I went to heaven" stories is the clear biblical affirmations that heaven is a place beyond our ability to describe. Paul, who was "caught up to the third heaven," "heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell" (2 Cor. 12:2, 4, NIV). With this in mind, then, the problems inherent with all the "I went to heaven" stories are: (1) If Christian leaders today have been caught up to paradise, why are they permitted to tell the world about it when the apostle Paul wasn't? (2) In mentioning his trip, Paul stated that what he heard was inexpressible. Why then are the sights and sounds of today's heavenly trips not only expressible for a growing number of charismatic leaders, but they are expressed in vivid detail, down to the color of heavenly grapes, grass, trees, and mansions -- and even to the color of Christ's hair?

I have deliberately mentioned the perceived hair color of Christ in this article to underscore another point about contradictions among these stories. We've heard about golden locks, brown hair, and dark hair -- but none of them have described seeing Jesus the same way the apostle John did when he received his vision on the Isle of Patmos. "His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire" (Rev. 1:14). When one reads the rest of John's description of Christ, the picture becomes almost -- as Paul put it -- inexpressible.

When considering these stories, we need to be aware of the possibility that they may only trivialize and demean the real heaven that will someday be the believer's home. Remember that heaven is the dwelling place of God, the Creator of the universe. Since we cannot fathom the wonders of our own world, much less determine the size of our own universe, how can we pretend to picture the next world?

Perhaps the symbol-laden picture the apostle John portrays in the Book of Revelation is as much of heaven as we are meant to see in this life. For if the apostle Paul, who was authorized to explain to us the fullness of God's riches in Christ, dared not describe what he saw in heaven, why is it that the Kenneth Hagins and Morris Cerullos of today feel called to do so?


1 Roberts Liardon, I Saw Heaven (Tulsa: Harrison House, 1991), 25.
2 Ibid., 32, 38.
3 Ibid., 38.
4 Ibid., 42-43.
5 Ibid., 47.
6 Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang, Heaven: A History (New York: Vantage, 1990), 270.
7 Ibid., 48, 55.
8 Ibid., 48.
9 Cho discusses this experience in his book, Leap of Faith (South Plainfield, NJ: Bridge Publishing, 1984).
10 "Interview with Dr. Paul Cho," Mary S. Relfe, League of Prayer (P.O. Box 4038, Montgomery, AL, 36104), n.d.
11 Kenneth Hagin, I Believe in Visions, 2d ed. (Tulsa: Faith Library Publications, 1984), 5.
12 Ibid., 44-45.
13 Morris Cerullo, From Judaism to Christianity (San Diego: World Evangelism, 1962), 64.
14 Ibid., 66.
15 Ibid., 66-67.
16 Ibid., 69.
17 Lorna Dueck, "Dream Turned Fact Launches Best Selling Author," Christian Week, 11 June 1991, 8.
18 William M. Alnor, "In Brief...," Christian Research Journal, Fall 1991, 34.
19 Richard Eby, Caught Up into Paradise (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, n.d.), 203.
20 Ibid., 228-29.
21 Ibid., 229-30.
22 Ibid., 230.
23 Liardon, 43-44.
24 Rebecca Ruter Springer, Intra Muros (Jasper, AR: Engeltal Press, n.d.), 138, 158-59, 163.
25 McDannell and Lang, 48, 52.
26 Springer, 25.
27 Ibid., 46-47.
28 Elwood Scott, Paradise: The Holy City and the Glory of the Throne (Jasper, AR: Engeltal Press, 1984), 89.
29 Ibid., 89, 91.
30 Aline Baxley, I Walked in Hell and There Is Life after Death (Jasper, AR: End-Time Handmaidens, n.d.), 3.
31 Mary K. Baxter, A Divine Revelation of Hell (Washington, D.C.: National Press, n.d.), 17-20.
32 Ibid., 29-31, 42.
33 Ibid., 51.
34 Gordon Lindsey, ed., Scenes Beyond the Grave, 36th ed. (Dallas: Christ for the Nations, n.d.), 9.
35 Ibid., 24.
36 Ibid., 62.
37 W. E. Vine, "Mansions," An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1966), 39, 40.

End of document, CRJ0124A.TXT (original CRI file name),
"Heaven Can't Wait: A Survey of Alleged Trips to the Other Side"
release A, June 30, 1994
R. Poll, CRI

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Copyright 1994 by the Christian Research Institute.

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