Is Heaven for real?
This age-old question has been debated for centuries. Of late, the subject has been tacked in theological circles and has been extensively covered by mainstream media. Many who have had near-death experiences regularly describe the images they saw after purportedly crossing into the after-life. Who can forget Colton Burpo's story? The young boy claims to have ascended into heaven during a near-death experience back in 2003. His story inevitably made its way into a popular book called, "Heaven Is for Real." But Burpo isn't alone.
There have been similar experiences told in popular media. The latest tale comes from Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon who, ironically, never really believed in near-death experiences before falling into a coma. In the October 15 issue of Newsweek, though, Alexander details his purported ascent to heaven and his subsequent change-of-heart.
With a firm understanding of the human brain, Alexander had previously dismissed purported journeys outside of the earthly realm as a byproduct of what happens to human beings in the throes of trauma. However, that changed once he found himself heaven-bound. The neurosurgeon explains:
In the fall of 2008...after seven days in a coma during which the human part of my brain, the neocortex, was inactivated, I experienced something so profound that it gave me a scientific reason to believe in consciousness after death. [...]
Very early one morning four years ago, I awoke with an extremely intense headache. Within hours, my entire cortex—the part of the brain that controls thought and emotion and that in essence makes us human—had shut down. Doctors at Lynchburg General Hospital in Virginia, a hospital where I myself worked as a neurosurgeon, determined that I had somehow contracted a very rare bacterial meningitis that mostly attacks newborns. E. coli bacteria had penetrated my cerebrospinal fluid and were eating my brain.
When I entered the emergency room that morning, my chances of survival in anything beyond a vegetative state were already low. They soon sank to near nonexistent. For seven days I lay in a deep coma, my body unresponsive, my higher-order brain functions totally offline.
Then, on the morning of my seventh day in the hospital, as my doctors weighed whether to discontinue treatment, my eyes popped open.
While that's the recap of what was going on with Alexander's body on the outside, what was occurring within, he claims, was supernatural. Rather than consciousness ending once earthly awareness came to a close, the neurosurgeon said that he discovered that "consciousness exists beyond the body." In the Newsweek article, he describes his journey in detail.
First, he saw white-pink clouds against a blue-black backdrop (purportedly the sky). Above the clouds, he claims to have observed "flocks of transparent, shimmering beings arced across the sky." While he isn't able to define exactly what he observed, he called them advanced, higher forms of being. The creatures were so content and overjoyed, Alexander recalls, that they created a "glorious chant" as they moved.
He also stressed the interconnectedness of everything he observed, writing, "Everything was distinct, yet everything was also a part of everything else, like the rich and intermingled designs on a Persian carpet ... or a butterfly’s wing."
On this journey, Alexander said a woman was with him and that she delivered to him very pointed messages. While she didn't speak in the traditional sense, Alexander was able to understand her every word. The general messages were: “You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever," "You have nothing to fear" and "There is nothing you can do wrong.”
The woman also told him that she (and others) would show him many things in this new world, but that he would inevitably return to earth. These are only a few of the elements that he described seeing. Just as surprising as what he observed is the change-of-heart that Alexander has had as a result of the experience:
I know full well how extraordinary, how frankly unbelievable, all this sounds. Had someone—even a doctor—told me a story like this in the old days, I would have been quite certain that they were under the spell of some delusion. But what happened to me was, far from being delusional, as real or more real than any event in my life. That includes my wedding day and the birth of my two sons. [...]
Before my experience these ideas were abstractions. Today they are realities. Not only is the universe defined by unity, it is also—I now know—defined by love. The universe as I experienced it in my coma is—I have come to see with both shock and joy—the same one that both Einstein and Jesus were speaking of in their (very) different ways.
I’ve spent decades as a neurosurgeon at some of the most prestigious medical institutions in our country. I know that many of my peers hold—as I myself did—to the theory that the brain, and in particular the cortex, generates consciousness and that we live in a universe devoid of any kind of emotion, much less the unconditional love that I now know God and the universe have toward us. But that belief, that theory, now lies broken at our feet. What happened to me destroyed it, and I intend to spend the rest of my life investigating the true nature of consciousness and making the fact that we are more, much more, than our physical brains as clear as I can, both to my fellow scientists and to people at large.
Unlike other scientists and skeptics, he no longer believes that the "living spiritual truths of religion" have lost their power. Church, for Alexander, now has an entirely different meaning, as does the notion that there is a God that has an intense and overwhelming love for humanity. Though he still considers himself a man of science and a doctor, he is in touch with the spiritual realm and he believes that his perspective will never be the same. He concludes that "heaven is real."