Is Heaven really that far away? For an Orthodox Christian it can feel so distant, leading us to a frequent sense of guilt and despair, never feeling we have done or can do “enough.”
In a sense Heaven is both far and near. On the one hand we are baptized and bear God inside us, becoming adopted heirs and children of God’s kingdom (Gal 3:26-29), being transformed into heavenly citizens (Phil 3:20) and are ambassadors of Heaven (2 Cor 5:20); also we walk into church and worship among the angels (Rev 7:11) and touch the body and the blood of Christ (John 6:32-70). But on the other hand we read ominous warnings throughout Scripture that tell us plainly of what awaits sinners (Gal 5:19-21); and on top of that, when we talk about people “who made it to heaven” in the Orthodox Church (“the cloud of witnesses“), we almost exclusively hear about only the loftiest of saints as being certain of their eternal place, and rarely hear about “regular people” in Heaven.
While the requirement to strive to enter Heaven and pursue holiness will never go away, from my surveying the afterlife experiences of “regular people,” and looking into Scripture and the Fathers, I think Heaven is a lot closer than we tend to think.
There’s been a sudden eruption in purported afterlife accounts produced by major publishers, and they have been making millions. Some people wonder if all these accounts are true, and many have had their suspicions as they’ve noticed discrepancies between those stories and Scripture. It is rare to see someone, especially a young child, have the courage years later to admit that one such experience was actually something they fabricated. Yet that’s exactly what happened for the book, “The boy who came back from heaven—a true story,” published by Tyndale House. The boy in the story is named Alex, and he and his father Keven Malarkey are named as co-authors. Ironically, the word “malarkey” means “meaningless talk” or “nonsense,” which Alex admitted his fictitious account turned out to be. You can read all about it in a variety of news outlets (see further below for more info). Not only was there a book, but as is becoming more common these days, even a movie was made about this now debunked story. Here is how Alex broke the news:
15 years ago, before the afterlife became mainstream fanfare with books and movies about heaven and the like, my journey to understand what has been taught and experienced by Orthodox Christians for the last 2,000 years about life beyond was just beginning.
During my college years (as my friends can attest) I was living a very sinful life away from God. Think of the typical, worldly college experience: that was me. My eternal future didn’t matter because I was enjoying satisfying my present.