Sunday, June 17, 2012

Book Review: To Heaven and Back -- inspiring story and life perspective

Author: Mary C. Neal. MD, 201. (Waterbrook Press)

Mary Neal is an orthopedic surgeon and a self-described skeptic. So when she died in a kayak accident and experienced the peace of God in the afterlife and came back to tell about it, her story is not to be easily dismissed. Indeed, this is a compelling and remarkable story of a person who has experienced life's lows and life's highs, a person who is by nature very private, but a person who was given personal revelation from God.

The drowning in a Chilean river occurred in 1999 but it took Dr. Neal a decade to pen these words, and when she did they flowed quickly and easily. The book itself is an easy read, at a mere 200 pages. One disappointment is that the out-of-body journey is not described in more length. Yet, Dr. Neal strives to put this in context of her overall life, integrating what she learned from this into her daily living. And as such, this can be an inspiring story that enriches the faith of her readers.

Along with her own death, she relates the deaths of several close relatives including her father and step-father as well as one of her children. She recounts what she calls miracles, messages from God via angels or events, that pushed her to make decisions that ultimately encouraged and uplifted her and her family, even in these tough times.

As a surgeon, she is clearly educated and describes her injuries in detail. But as a theologian, she is uneducated. But then again, she does not write this as a theological treatise. There are a couple of theological points I felt uncomfortable with, that seem to contradict the message of the Bible.

In chapter 12 ("Going Home" page 73) she describes a hall, an entry of pure radiance and love: "It was clear that this hall is the place where each of us is given the opportunity to review our lives and our choices, and where we are given a final opportunity to choose God or to turn away -- for eternity."  Later, in chapter 22 ("Inspiration to Others" page 140), she describes a Mormon patient who, after death, got permission from the Father to come back to his wife with a message for Dr. Neal. The Bible never indicates we are given a second chance to choose Jesus and God after death. Rather, it underscores the need to choose to live a life of faith in Christ in this life, with final judgment, not final preference waiting on the other side (cf. Rev 20:11-15). Moreover, Jesus says "I am the way and the truth and the life" (Jn. 14:6) and this way is narrow, like a narrow gate. There is no way for the Jesus of the Mormon gospel to be the same Jesus from the Christian New Testament. They simply have different messages. So, here Dr. Neal's theology seems errant. But I don't want to impugn her experience, only question her theological interpretation.

On the other hand, chapter 17 ("Conversing with an Angel" page 100ff), in which she recounts her subsequent conversations with Jesus, address an age-old question "why do bad things happen to good people" and present valuable insight in a down-to-earth fashion. "Even the most terrible circumstances and events can stimulate great change in individuals and/or societies. Without observing cruelty, we would not be moved to compassion. Without personal trials, we would note develop patience or faithfulness." She concludes, "My point is this: interpreting something that happens as being inherently 'good' or 'bad' is entirely a matter of perspective." And she takes great pains, throughout the development of the book, to point out that her enlightened perspective is that God's will is constantly being done, and that there is no such thing as accidental circumstance. He is overseeing all, as indicated by Rom. 8:28-30.

Despite any minor misgivings on a theological front, this is a book that inspires faith in Jesus and encourages living a life in the present, taking nothing for granted. Dr. Neal leaves us with three key verses from Paul's message to the Thessalonian church, verses that God supernaturally inscribed on her soul. "Rejoice always" (1 Thess. 5:16); "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5;17); and "Give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thess. 5:18). We could do well to live life centered on these three imperatives!

Note: I received a free copy from Waterbrook Publishing but was not influenced to provide a positive review.

No comments:

Post a Comment