Cardiologists can tell us what happens to the physical body at the moment of death, persons with near-death experiences may give us subjective reports of their personal journeys into the afterlife, but only the Bible can tell us what happens to our spirit and soul as well as the body at the moment of death.
That's the conclusion reached by Wallace Henley, after almost 40 years of working with dying people and their loved ones as a pastor. He explores the Bible's revelation of dying and death in his newest book, Your First Step in Heaven: What Happens Immediately at Death (Worldwide Publishing Group).
As a young man, Henley was a newspaper editor and later aide to President Richard Nixon at the White House. Beginning in 1973, Henley was a senior pastor for 25 years, and has spent the last 12 as senior associate pastor at one of the America's largest churches—Second Baptist of Houston, with 64,000-members, under Dr. Ed Young.
Henley answered my questions about his new book:
As an exclusive columnist for Christian Post and author of more than 20 books, you write extensively on politics, world affairs, and cultural upheaval: Why did you write a book on Heaven?
"Even though I had opportunity to observe the highest levels of government, I consider the most important work of my life that of caring for people as a pastor," Henley says. "Jesus told Peter that if he loved Jesus he should tend Christ's flock. There is no higher call than that—not even the White House comes close."
The Bible says there is an interval between death and receiving the new body in Christ, yet you say people in Christ put on the new body immediately up their "first step in Heaven."
The Bible revealed the nature of time long before Stephen Hawking and other physicists started thinking about it. In Your First Step in Heaven we explore the fascinating revelation in the Hebrew and Greek languages of the Bible that help us understand the "now and not-yet." As I show in Your First Step in Heaven, these terms explain how there is a "waiting" to be "clothed" in the new body on the level of finite time, but an "already" of the new body in infinite time.
Heaven is a realm where there are no tears, no grief, but what about our loved ones who are not there because they never received Christ? Won't we grieve for them? And if we do, how can Heaven be Heaven?
In Your First Step in Heaven I include a chapter on what happens to our minds in Heaven. The Bible reveals much about the nature of our memory in Heaven. What do we remember about our past life on earth, and the people we knew? I write about the Bible's rich truth that shows Heaven is a realm without sorrows, just as Revelation says, even though, in the natural domain, there is much to be sorrowful about.
There have been recent high-profile suicides among Christian leaders and/or their families. Does a Christian who commits suicide go to Heaven?
In almost 40 years as a pastor, I have conducted funerals for at least a dozen suicide victims. As you note, recent news stories have reported on suicides among Christian leaders and their families. Probing the Scriptures, I have sought to explain this act in Your First Step in Heaven from the Bible's viewpoint. While suicide is a horrible deed, and scars bereaved loved ones severely, there is reason for hope, as I detail in the book.
Do you write about near-death experiences (NDEs) that have been so prominent recently in books and film?
There are NDEs that seem to meet Scriptural criteria, and by that standard are valid. I mention some in the book. However, as Paul says, Satan is able to disguise himself as an "angel of light." Your First Step in Heaven deals primarily with the objective revelation of Scripture.
What are some of the other tough questions you address in Your First Step in Heaven?
Some include: What happens to infants and young children who die before they can understand the Gospel and receive Christ? What about people across the world who yearn to know God but apparently never have opportunity to hear about Christ and respond? What about people who are mentally incapacitated from birth? Whom do we know in Heaven? What exactly does Jesus mean when He says He is preparing a "place" for us? What are the "dwelling places"—or "mansions," in the King James Version—He's readying for us?
Where can we find your book?
Your First Step in Heaven is available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon by clicking here.