Thursday, March 13, 2008

90 Minutes in Heaven

A few days ago, I couldn't sleep and I finished off a book called 90 Minutes in Heaven, another loaner from the Cave family. I have to admit that I was a little reluctant and skeptical at first, but once I got into it, I enjoyed reading this book.
Here's the basic scoop. Don Piper, the author, was on his way back from a retreat for pastors in Livingston (about 2 hours from my home town near Houston). As he was driving over a bridge with low visibility, a large truck hit him head on. Apparently, he was killed instantly. His body was so crushed within the crumpled car that the medical personnel could not remove him from the car without "the jaws of life," special rescue tools that actually cut a car open like a giant can opener. After several people took his pulse, checked for signs of life, and assessed his body, the emergency team declared him dead.
The emergency workers then tended to the other people injured in the accident, and they waited for "the jaws of life" crew to arrive so that they could cut his corpse out of the car. One of the speakers at the pastors' retreat felt led by God to go up and pray for the man in the car. The police officer explained that the guy was clearly dead, but he still went. He prayed for the guy for quite a while. The book doesn't say exactly how long, but I got the idea that it was 20-30 minutes. He would go back and forth between praying and singing hymns and crying.
Then, suddenly the dead guy - or the formerly dead guy - was singing with him. He jumped out of the car, and ran to get the EMT's, shouting "The dead guy is singing! He is alive!" The didn't believe him at first, but finally they agreed to go check for a pulse just to get this other guy to shut up. When they got a pulse, everyone jumped back into action trying to figure out how to get him back.
From the time of the accident to the time of the first sign of life, 90 minutes passed. During this time, Don Piper was having an experience of heaven. He believes he was actually in heaven, and came back to earth because of the prayers of this man.
The next 2 chapters describe Don's memories of heaven. I believe it is possible that Don was almost dead, experienced a dream or a hallucination, and then returned to life. However, that would involve several extremely serious mistakes by medical professionals whose very job is making decisions about whether someone is alive or dead and helping them to stay alive. It is at least as plausible - to me anyway - that Don's perspective is correct, that he was indeed in heaven, or at the very least was experiencing an authentic vision of heaven.
Half of the value of this book is in Don's description of heaven, or to be more precise the outer gates of heaven. It is beautiful and resonant with what I would expect of heaven, both in terms of the descriptions in the Bible and in terms of my heart's longings. We get too few good descriptions of what heaven could be like. This is indeed a good one that helps my imagination stretch toward the beauty that explodes all potentials.
The other half of the value of this book is in Don's description of his return to earth, which was basically a living hell. His body was nearly destroyed in the crash. Both his leg and his arm were nearly separated from his body, and large chunks of bone were just completely missing. He spent a solid year completely incapacitated as he struggled through the recovery process. He had to wear a bone fixator which actually stretched his leg bone out to replace the missing parts, and yes, apparently it was as painful as it sounds! As difficult as this sounds, he experienced all of this hell directly after spending 90 minutes in heaven, or at the least believing that he had.
The book describes his struggle to find meaning in his radically altered life. He struggles with depression, physical limitations, and overwhelming pain. The value here is his story of victory. Despite all odds, he made it. He overcame the pain and the loss. He found meaning in life amid extremely difficult circumstances.
The writing isn't great, but the content is very good. I enjoyed the read, and it may be very valuable for someone going through a difficult time or for someone who has just lost a loved one. Still, mostly because of the writing style, it only gets jjj from me.
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