Not long ago, I wrote a review of the book Proof of Heaven. It was written by a neurosurgeon who was convinced that he had died and gone to heaven. I expressed quite a bit of skepticism, for reasons that are discussed in the review. Shortly after, I got an email from a reader who suggested what he considered to be a better book, Flight to Heaven. I put the book into my “queue” and finally got a chance to read it while I was in Central America. I agree with the commenter that this is a much better book, but I am a bit skeptical that the author, Captain Dale Black, actually went to heaven.
Captain Black is currently a retired airline pilot who owns a real estate company with his wife. He has two grown children and has worked tirelessly to improve aviation safety. He has also flown as a missionary pilot in 50 different countries. Indeed, the book starts with a harrowing experience he had while flying for missionary purposes in Africa. He sets up the desperate situation and uses it to introduce the airplane crash that caused what he thinks was his visit to heaven. Once he completes the retelling of the crash, his visit, and his recovery, he resolves the book by finishing the opening tale about his experience flying in Africa. It is an exciting way of getting the reader hooked early on in the book.
When Dale Black was nineteen, he had his pilot’s license. He had wanted to be a pilot for quite some time, and he worked hard earning the money necessary to take the required classes. He wasn’t ready to fly jets yet, but he was able to be part of a three-man group that was flying a twin-engine cargo plane making several deliveries throughout California. Upon takeoff, the plane couldn’t get enough lift, and it crashed into, ironically, a monument built to honor the pioneers of aviation who had passed on.
Of the three-man team, Dale Black was the lone survivor.
This book is about a lot of things. It is about a young man who didn’t understand why God allowed him to survive the crash. It is about the guilt he experienced at being accused of causing the crash. Later investigations would show it wasn’t his fault, but he didn’t learn about that for many years. It is about a young man trying to piece together memories from a truly horrific accident during a long, torturous recovery. It is about a teenager who was able to recover more than any doctor ever thought he would. Most importantly, however, it is about how a catastrophic event changed a teenage boy from a self-centered kid into a real man of God.
This is what gives his story the most credibility. While I am skeptical that he actually visited heaven, it is clear that he had an encounter with God, and that changed him in ways that only God could. For example, when he fully recovered consciousness for the first time, he saw his nurse. Here is his description of what happened when he saw her:
This is hard to explain, but I felt an immediate and overwhelming love for this woman. It wasn’t romantic. Nothing like that. It was deeper than that, purer. I wanted to talk with her, to thank her for helping me, but I couldn’t. Most of all, I wanted to encourage her by telling her just how much God loved her. (p. 38)
He says that he had accepted Jesus as a kid, but as a teenager, he was focused on himself. This experience of feeling overwhelming love for another person was completely new to him, and it happened over and over again after the accident.
As his recovery continued, he started piecing together his memories, and he realized that the reason he was experiencing these feelings was that he had visited heaven. He was at first very frightened to tell anyone about this, but he eventually confided in his grandfather, who wisely told him that instead of telling people about his visit to heaven, he should allow his actions to show that he had such an experience. For many, many years, he followed his grandfather’s advice. However, much later in life, he and his wife decided that a series of events were orchestrated by God to show that it was time to tell his story. That’s why he wrote the book.
What of his visit to heaven? It begins with an out-of-body experience in surgery where he sees several details that would have been hard for him (or anyone else other than a few medical personnel) to know. He is then greeted with an amazing light and is shuttled by two angelic escorts to a place of unimaginable beauty that is filled with the purest light. He writes:
Somehow I knew that light and life and love were connected and interrelated. It was as if the very heart of God lay open for everyone in heaven to bask in its glory, to warm themselves in its presence, to bathe in its almost liquid properties so they could be restored, renewed, refreshed. Remarkably, the light didn’t shine on things but through them. (p.100, emphasis his)
He writes about seeing people that he did not recognize but somehow knew, of incredible music, and of amazing dwellings. He has a hard time putting the beauty into words, but at one point, I think he does as well as any poet could. When describing the “houses” that he saw in heaven, he writes:
The dwellings in these townships were not arranged in a uniform or symmetrical manner but appeared perfectly balanced somehow. Each home was customized and unique from the others yet blended harmoniously. Some were three or four stories, some were even higher. There were no two the same. If music could become homes, it would look like these, beautifully built and perfectly balanced. (p. 105, emphasis mine)
When Jesus spoke about going back to His Father to prepare a place for us (John 14:1-3), I can imagine that these dwellings were exactly what he was talking about.
I find Captain Black’s description of heaven much more believable than what is given in Proof of Heaven. Some of that, of course, is because it is more consistent with the Bible. However, I think there are other reasons as well. His account sounds more like someone trying to describe a real experience of unimaginable wonder. In addition, Dale Black’s dramatically changed life testifies to the fact that something truly genuine happened to him.
At the same time, however, two things bother me about the account. First, it took a long, long time for him to remember his trip to heaven. I understand that he had severe brain injuries that affected all of his memories. Indeed, it took him a long time to remember really important people in his life, much less events that took place before and during the accident. At the same time, however, when a person pieces together a story over a long time, it is easy for honest mistakes to be made. What Dale Black truly thinks happened to him during his accident could be the result of suggestions and images that came from people, dreams, movies, etc. before the accident and during his recovery.
Second, it really bothers me that he decided to tell his story now. Neither he nor his wife (who wrote the last section of the book) explain exactly what series of events led them to decide to go against his grandfather’s advice and now publicly share his story. I can believe that such a thing could happen. After all, God chooses for things to happen in His time, not ours. However, I guess I would be more comfortable if I knew exactly what events prompted them to share the story publicly.
So as far as I see it, here is the bottom line: Something truly miraculous happened to him. His changed life and the things he has done since the accident clearly show this. Was it a visit to heaven? Perhaps. If nothing else, it was a very close encounter with the Most High. That, in and of itself, makes it worth reading the book.