Mary Neal claims in her bestselling To Heaven and Back that during a kayaking accident in Chile, she died, spoke with angels, went to the entryway of heaven, and was sent back because she still had tasks to complete on earth, including sharing her story. The latter has resulted so far in two bestsellers, numerous high-profile interviews, and being one of the featured people in the film, After Death.
Neal describes a full immersion baptism as a teenager, after which she “felt light as a feather,” surmising from this that it must have been the Holy Spirit and that she was “cleansed and reborn.” She appears to base this entirely on “feeling light.” She makes many references to being a Christian, trying to live a “Christ-centered life,” and reading the Bible. Neal is a member of a Reformed church. This claim to Christianity makes her ideas revealed later in the book all the more perplexing to the reader.
It would be hard to find anyone, in the Bible or outside of it, who has experienced more miracles than those claimed by Neal. It would be a huge task just to list them. Naturally, her rescue from the river when kayaking is presented as supremely miraculous, and miracles purportedly surrounded this event. A rock appeared so men trying to help her could reach her, but later, the rock allegedly was not there. The people rescuing her felt a “presence.”
There were many more seemingly supernatural events in Neal’s account of her rescue that naturallly raise the question of why it was apparently so significant and necessary that she be rescued. This question becomes even more vital when we discover Neal’s odd beliefs.
Neal also claims several miracles later after the rescue, and states that miracles are around everyone every day (she is referring to the supernatural aspects of it, not just using the word in an emotional way). Of course, if this were true, a “miracle” would lose any real meaning if it were so common.
Some of these alleged miracles have not been shown to be such because one cannot rule out natural explanations for them, or that they are coincidences. Others I don’t think were true miracles because of the content of the book. (Keep reading).
With God Before Birth
Many times in the book, Neal writes that dying is “returning to God,” and categorically contends that young children “are still quite connected to God’s world.” This view sounds like the Mormon idea that all of us are spirit children of God born in heaven who take on bodies when we come to earth. It is also similar to New Age thinking that all of us came from God prior to birth. Despite her quotes of the Bible and her claims to be reading it, Neal apparently has not been learning it well, or agreeing with it.
However, only Jesus came to earth from God the Father in heaven. Jesus himself said:
Jesus said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.” John 8:23
Spirits, Angels, and The Dead
Neal conflates spirits, the dead, angels, and messengers. She seems to not know at times that “angel” means “messenger.”
When she was dying, Neal claims a group of dead people came for her. She refers to this being the “great cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 12:1. But the “cloud of witnesses” in that passage refers to those in the previous chapter of Hebrews (chapter 11) whose faith is being offered as an example for the readers. It has nothing to do with dead people or people watching those on earth. It is about those who were witnesses to God’s promises and had faith in God for them.
A large owl that hung around Neal’s home for awhile is recognized eventually by her as an angel (supposedly) watching over her after the death of a family member. She writes that angels “help us, nudge us, and guide us” and “come in forms that we can and will accept.” Although the Bible verifies the existence of angels and their role, there is no evidence for the idea that angels come “in forms that we can and will accept.”
Neal writes that angels in the Bible “appear as creatures, events, and humans” and “orchestrate” what we think are “coincidences” in our lives.
Of course, nowhere in scripture does an angel appear as an “event” (which is illogical in any case). As for a “creature,” we have the Ezekiel and Revelation descriptions of unusual beings around God’s throne but they are not creatures in the sense of animals. These figures probably depict a type of angelic being.
Angels are not our guides. Angels bring messages from God. Sometimes, God uses them for a specific purpose, such as when God released Peter from jail (Acts 12). This was to enable Peter to continue to preach the gospel. But no one is to look to angels for guidance or teaching since angels serve God and act only on his command and will. It is not their role to guide or teach humans. The attention on angels is a distressing over-emphasis in this book.
Second Chance After Death
Neal alleges that she was taken to the entrance of a hall after dying, and states that this is where those who have died have a chance “to review their lives and choices,” and are given “a final opportunity to choose God or turn away” from Him. This is another Mormon belief as well as a wrong view in many cultic teachings, that one has a second chance after death to choose God.
There is no second chance after death.
Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment…Hebrews 9:27
Nowhere in God’s word is there any hint of another chance to believe in Jesus after death. It is quite clear throughout the Bible that it is only during life on earth that people have that opportunity.
Hearing from God
Not surprisingly, Neal agrees with her pastor whom she quotes as saying that “we must tune our soul to the ‘right frequency’ in order to hear the messages being sent to us from God.”
The messages from God are in the Bible. We can’t “tune our soul” to some kind of unknown frequency nor is there is any support for this in the scriptures. This reminded me of what mediums say, that hearing the dead is difficult because allegedly the dead are communicating on other frequencies. Where is the biblical or factual support for this? There isn’t any.
A Mormon patient tells Neal that her dead husband visits her. Not only this, but she reports that this dead husband helped Neal when she (Neal) was being rescued in the boating accident! So we are to believe a dead person was there at the river in Chile, assisting in the rescue. This is yet another fantastical tale that pops up in the story.
Neal sees messages in blooming branches, flowers, and other events and objects. She sees blooming flowers as a message from her dead son, and lightning striking a tree is another message. There is no reason or standard offered to support seeing messages in such innocent objects and events. This view would allow a person to read any kind of message in anything, at anytime, anywhere (as is often done in the New Age as well as in some erroneous forms of Christianity).
Talks with Jesus and Angels
At various times, Neal alleges that she conversed with Jesus and angels. However, she does not give any specifics.
Her description of Jesus is vague and could be based on many typical drawings/paintings of Jesus: a flowing robe, long hair, and “indistinct features.” Considering the story Neal is relaying, it is surprising that Jesus has such an obscure role.
Conclusions: Not from God
Neal seems sincere and I am not disputing that she may have had real experiences. However, that does not mean the experiences have anything to do with God. This book provides irrefutable evidence that Neal not only does not hold sound Christian beliefs, but she is thoroughly deceived by many major non-Christian teachings. Therefore, she could not have gone to heaven or talked with the true Jesus.
The miracles were not miracles from God or Neal would be proclaiming biblical truth instead of grave error. Was she “rescued” by God to propagate the false beliefs found in her story? The answer must be no: God does not endorse such beliefs. The fact Neal was rescued does not mean her ideas and visions are from God.
The tragic thing would be for someone who is not a Christian to read this book and think that Neal’s beliefs are Christian and that she really did talk to Jesus. Any credibility given this book will lead to notions contrary to God’s truth.
Having been involved in the New Age for many years, and having had many types of supernatural experiences, including OBEs (out-of-body experiences), it is not difficult for me to believe that people have what they think are near death experiences and visits to heaven, or an encounter when dying or supposedly dead with someone they believe is Jesus. However, there are many reasons to disbelieve alleged trips to heaven:
* People’s tales of “heaven” vary widely and contradict each other
* Many who claim such visits are not Christians, and some are actually drawn into New Age beliefs due to the experience
* Such tales add information to heaven and to the nature of God and/or Jesus outside scripture, and therefore contradict
the sufficiency of God’s word
* Some narratives are contrary to biblical scripture
* Reported NDEs (near death experiences) or trips to some place after death in other cultures are culturally based,
and include seeing Hindu gods, Buddha, or other non-Christian deities/figures lending support to the idea that one
sees what one expects (a delusion)
* These accounts base truth on dubious subjective experiences
* There is no way to verify these anecdotes
* One who is from earth can only speak of earth, and not know about heaven beyond what God has revealed in his
word. Jesus, speaking of himself, states:
“He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all.” John 3:31
The true Jesus is the only way. No one can earn eternal life with God, so Jesus, the Son of God, came and lived as man, and died to pay the penalty for sins so that all who believe in him are forgiven and have eternal life. Jesus bodily resurrected 3 days after his death on the cross, and bodily ascended into heaven to God the Father.
“No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” John 3:13-15