Lee Strobel believes there’s no better time than the present to talk about heaven because COVID-19 has forced so many people to think seriously about death.
The New York Times bestselling author has just released a new book on the timely topic: The Case for Heaven.
He explained why this is a book for the present moment: “Twenty-nine percent of Americans have had either a family member or someone they know who has died of COVID. My older brother died at the beginning of the pandemic. I think it has sharpened people’s awareness of these issues.”
He gives an example from a recent experience he and his wife, Leslie, had at a restaurant.
“The waitress was about 18 years old, and we’re talking to her, she started to cry, and we said, ‘What’s wrong?’ And she said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. I almost didn’t come into work today. We lost a family member to COVID.’ I thought, here’s a young woman, about 18 years old. Probably never thought about death before.
“The waitress went on to say to me and my wife that she never thought about heaven until death came knocking on her family’s door. And now she’s asking questions. Now she wants to know what happens when we close our eyes for the last time in this world.”
This also is personal for Strobel for another reason.
“I almost died. Ten years ago, my wife found me unconscious. I would later open my eyes in the emergency room and the doctor said you’re one step away from a coma, and two steps away from dying. I was hovering between life and death for quite a while there. And so that’s a very clarifying experience — even though as a Christian, I had confidence that I’d be with God forever.”
As he has done for previous books — including The Case for Christ and The Case for a Creator — Strobel uses the investigative skills he honed as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune to research his topic. This time, he spent 18 months interviewing people and digging through a broad array of research.
He spent 18 months interviewing people and digging through a broad array of research.
His conclusion is that heaven is real and people shouldn’t shy away from that fact.
“Because of my journalism background, I just find the world’s leading experts in the field. Then I read everything they’ve written on the topic, what opponents have written on the topic. And then I sit down with them for interviews, bringing together what they’re saying for the reader to understand.”
He also spent time with people who experienced a taste of the afterlife, in what are commonly called “near-death experiences.”
“I really had a lot of reservations and skepticism about near-death experiences,” he explained. “I thought they were new agey. I thought they were mystical. I thought they were probably misunderstood. I thought maybe they could probably be under oxygen deprivation and brain hallucinations. I’m telling you, I got turned around 180 degrees by the evidence. The reason being is there’ve been more than 900 scholarly articles about near-death experiences over the last 40 years in scientific and medical journals. This is a very highly studied subject. “
Armed with all this research, “two things really struck me,” he continued. “First of all, corroboration, that we actually have corroboration that a person’s soul or spirit did separate from their body because they see things or experience things that can be verified and that they could not have seen or heard if they had not separated from their body.
“So, for instance, one of the people I interviewed died in an operating room and describes how her spirit separated from her body. She watched the resuscitation efforts, and her spirit went all the way through the hospital and out the top of the hospital. And then she returned to her body, and she said, by the way, there’s a man’s tennis shoe, a left-footed man’s tennis shoe, on the third story ledge to the hospital and it’s got a little wear mark over the little toe and the shoelaces tucked under the heel. When the hospital officials checked it out, the story was true.”
Strobel found one researcher who studied 93 cases where people made verifiable observations of the out-of-body experiences. “They looked at 93 cases and they found that 92% of those observations were absolutely correct. Another 6% were almost perfectly correct. So, this is an incredible phenomenon.”
The pastor and author realizes many people are skeptical about heaven. As a former atheist, he once was too.
“I think a lot of people harbor a secret fear of death.”
“I think a lot of people harbor a secret fear of death, and they’d rather not think about it, and so they deny that they’re going to die,” he said. “They try to delay their death; they try to accomplish great things so they’ll be remembered somehow and that their name will live on. But really, it’s fruitless. I think people just have this secret fear of dying.”
He cites Hebrews chapter two where the Bible “says that some people become slaves to the fear of dying. So, they’re literally enslaved by this fear. And yet that verse says it’s Jesus that releases us from that fear, that really a robust belief in Jesus is what chases away that fear of death.”
Now, as a believer, Strobel harbors his own hope of heaven.
“I want to fall at the feet of Jesus for rescuing me from this lifetime of purposelessness and sin and depravity and showering me with this undeserved grace. That’s the first thing I want to do. Second thing I want to do is track down Luke, the author of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, because he was kind of a first century investigative reporter. Yeah, that’s what I want to do when I get to heaven.”
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