A true story of Death and Life. Don Piper with Cecil Murphy
Courtesy: Grand Rapids Michigan: Revell.
The truck sandwiched my small car between the bridge railing and the driver’s side of the truck. All those wheels went right on top of my car and smashed it.
Because of the truck’s speed, the accident report states that the impact was about 110 miles per hour. That is, the truck struck me while going 60 miles an hour, and I was driving at 50. The inmate received a citation for failure to control his vehicle and speeding. Information later came out that he wasn’t licensed to drive the truck. At the prison, supervisors had asked for volunteers to drive their truck to pick up food items and bring them back. Because he was the only volunteer, they let him drive their supply truck. Two guards followed close behind him in another state-owned pickup.
After the accident, the truck driver didn’t have a scratch on him. The prison truck received little damage. However, the heavy vehicle had crushed my Ford and pushed it from the narrow road. Only the bridge railing stopped my car from going into the lake.
According to those who were at the scene, the guards called for medical backup from the prison, and they arrived a few minutes later. Someone examined me, found no pulse, and declared that I had been killed instantly. I have no recollection of the impact or anything that happened afterward.
In one powerful, overwhelming second, I died.
MY TIME IN HEAVEN
When I died, I didn’t flow through a long, dark tunnel. I had no sense of fading away or coming back. I never felt my body being transported. Simultaneous with my last recollection of seeing the bridge and the rain, a light enveloped me, with a brilliance beyond earthly comprehension or description.
In my next moment of awareness, I was standing in Heaven.
Joy pulsated through me as I looked around, and at that moment I became aware of a large crowd of people. They stood in front of a brilliant, ornate gate. I have no idea how far away they were. As the crowd rushed toward me, I saw people I had known, and knew that all of them had died within my lifetime. Their presence seemed absolutely natural.
They rushed toward me, and every person was smiling, shouting, and praising God. Although no one said so, intuitively I knew they were my celestial welcoming committee. It was as if they had all gathered just outside Heaven’s gate, waiting for me.
The first person I recognized was my grandfather. After being hugged by him, I don’t remember who was second or third. The crowd surrounded me. Some hugged me and a few kissed my cheek, while others pumped my hand. Never had I felt more loved.
I felt overwhelmed by the number of people who had come to welcome me to Heaven. There were so many of them, and never had I imagined anyone being as happy as they all were. Their faces radiated a serenity I had never seen on Earth. All were full of life and expressed radiant joy.
I saw my great-grandfather, heard his voice, and felt his embrace as he told me how excited he was that I had come to join them.
I spotted two teachers who had loved me and often talked to me about Jesus. As I walked among them, I became aware of the wide variety of ages–old and young and every age in between. Many of them hadn’t known each other on Earth, but had influenced my life in some way. Even though they hadn’t met on Earth, they seemed to know each other now.
As I try to explain this, my words seem weak and hardly adequate, because I have to use earthly terms to refer to unimaginable joy, excitement, warmth, and total happiness. Everyone continually embraced me, touched me, spoke to me, laughed, and praised God. This seemed to go on for a long time, but I didn’t tire of it.
My father is one of eleven children. Some of his brothers and sisters had as many as thirteen children. When I was a kid, our family reunions were so huge that we rented an entire city park in Monticello, Arkansas. We Pipers are affectionate, with a lot of hugging and kissing when we come together. None of those earthly family reunions, however, prepared me for the sublime gathering of saints I experienced at the gates of Heaven.
Everything I experienced was like a first-class buffet for the senses. I had never felt such powerful embraces or feasted my eyes on such beauty. Heaven’s light and texture defy earthly eyes or explanation. Warm, radiant light engulfed me. As I looked around, I could hardly grasp the vivid, dazzling colors. Every hue and tone surpassed anything I had ever seen.
With all the heightened awareness of my senses, I felt as if I had never seen, heard, or felt anything so real before. I don’t recall that I tasted anything, yet I know that if I had, that too would have been more glorious than anything I had eaten or drunk on Earth. The best way to explain it is to say that I felt as if I were in another dimension. Never, even in my happiest moments, had I ever felt so fully alive. I stood speechless in front of the crowd of loved ones, still trying to take in everything. Over and over I heard how overjoyed they were to see me and how excited they were to have me among them. I’m not sure if they actually said the words or not, but I knew they had been waiting and expecting me, yet I also knew that in Heaven there is no sense of time passing.
I wasn’t conscious of anything I’d left behind and felt no regrets about leaving family or possessions. It was as if God had removed anything negative or worrisome from my consciousness and I could only rejoice at being together with these wonderful people. They looked exactly as I once knew them–although they were more radiant and joyful than they’d ever been on Earth.
All of the people I encountered were the same age they had been the last time I had seen them–except that all the ravages of living on Earth had vanished. Even though some of their features may not have been considered attractive on Earth, in Heaven every feature was perfect, beautiful, and wonderful to gaze at.
I felt loved–more loved than ever before in my life. When they gazed at me, I knew what the Bible means by perfect love. It emanated from every person who surrounded me.
At some point, I looked around and the sight overwhelmed me. Everything was brilliantly intense. Coming out from the gate–a short distance ahead–was a brilliance that was brighter than the light that surrounded us, utterly luminous. As soon as I stopped gazing at the people’s faces, I realized that everything around me glowed with a dazzling intensity. In trying to describe the scene, words are totally inadequate, because human words can’t express the feeling of awe and wonder at what I beheld.
Everything I saw glowed with intense brightness. The best I can describe it is that we began to move toward that light. No one said it was time to do so, and yet we all started forward at the same time. As I stared ahead, everything seemed to grow taller–like a gentle hill that kept going upward and never stopped. I had expected to see some darkness behind the gate, but as far ahead as I could see, there was absolutely nothing but intense, radiant light.
By contrast, the powerful light I had encountered when I met my friends and loved ones paled into darkness as the radiance and iridescence in front of me increased. It was as if each step I took intensified the glowing luminosity. I didn’t know how it could get more dazzling, but it did. It would be like cracking open the door of a dark room and walking into the brightness of a noonday sun. As the door swings open, the full rays of the sun burst forth, and we’re momentarily blinded.
I wasn’t blinded, but I was amazed that the luster and intensity continually increased. Strange as it seems, as brilliant as everything was, each time I stepped forward, the splendor increased. The farther I walked, the brighter the light. The light engulfed me, and I had the sense that I was being ushered into the presence of God. Although our earthly eyes must gradually adjust to light or darkness, my heavenly eyes saw with absolute ease. In Heaven, each of our senses is immeasurably heightened to take it all in. And what a sensory celebration! Then I heard the music.
My most vivid memory of Heaven is what I heard. I can only describe it as a holy whoosh of wings.
But I’d have to magnify that thousands of times to explain the effect of the sound in Heaven.
It was the most beautiful and pleasant sound I’ve ever heard, and it didn’t stop. It was like a song that goes on forever.
I didn’t just hear music. It seemed as if I were part of the music–and it played in and through my body.
As aware as I became of the joyous sounds and melodies that filled the air, I wasn’t distracted. I felt as if the heavenly concert permeated every part of my being, and at the same time I focused on everything else around me.
Myriads of sounds so filled my mind and heart that it’s difficult to explain them. The most amazing one, however, was the angels’ wings. I didn’t see them, but the sound was a beautiful melody with a cadence that never seemed to stop. The swishing resounded as if it was a form of never-ending praise.
A second sound remains, even today, the single most vivid memory I have of my heavenly experience. I call it music, but it differed from anything I had ever heard or ever expect to hear on Earth. The melodies of praise filled the atmosphere. The nonstop intensity and endless variety overwhelmed me.
The praise was unending, but the most remarkable thing to me was that hundreds of songs were being sung at the same time, all of them worshiping God. As I approached the large, magnificent gate, I heard them from every direction and realized that each voice praised God. Praise was everywhere, and all of it was musical, yet composed of melodies and tones I’d never experienced before.
As strange as it may seem, I could clearly distinguish each song. It sounded as if each hymn of praise was meant for me to hear as I moved inside the gate.
Many of the old hymns and choruses I had sung at various times in my life were part of the music, along with hundreds of songs I had never heard before. Hymns of praise, modern-sounding choruses, and ancient chants filled my ears and brought not only a deep peace but the greatest feeling of joy I’ve ever experienced.
I marveled at the glorious music. Though not possessed of a great singing voice in life, I knew that if I sang, my voice would be in perfect pitch and would sound as melodious and harmonious as the thousands of other voices and instruments that filled my ears.
Even now, back on Earth, sometimes I still hear faint echoes of that music. When I’m especially tired and lie in bed with my eyes closed, occasionally I drift off to sleep with the sounds of Heaven filling my heart and mind. No matter how difficult a day I’ve had, peace immediately fills every part of my being.
* In those minutes in Heaven–and they held no sense of time for me–others touched me, and their warm embraces were absolutely real. I saw colors I would never have believed existed. I’ve never, ever felt more alive than I did then.
I was home; I was where I belonged. I wanted to be there more than I ever wanted to be anywhere on Earth. Time had slipped away, and I was simply present in Heaven. All worries, anxieties, and concerns vanished. I felt perfect.
* Although I knew God was there, I never saw any kind of image or luminous glow to indicate His divine presence. I’ve heard people talk about going inside and coming back out the gate. That didn’t happen to me. I saw only a bright iridescence. I peered through the gate, yearning to see what lay beyond. It wasn’t an anxious yearning, but a peaceful openness to experience all the grace and joy of Heaven.
* After a time, we started moving together right up to the gate. Looming just over the heads of my reception committee stood an awesome gate interrupting a wall that faded out of sight in both directions. I couldn’t see the end of the walls in either direction. As I gazed upward, I couldn’t see the top either.
On Earth, whenever I thought of Heaven, I anticipated that one day I’d see a gate made of pearls. This gate wasn’t made of pearls, but was pearlescent–perhaps iridescent may be more descriptive. To me, it looked as if someone had spread pearl icing on a cake. The gate glowed and shimmered. The luminescence dazzled me, and I would have been content to stay at that spot. Yet I stepped forward.
I paused just outside the gate, and I could see inside. It was like a city with paved streets. To my amazement, they had been constructed of literal gold. If you imagine a street paved with gold bricks, that’s as close as I can come to describing what lay inside the gate.
I’m not sure why I paused. I was thrilled at the prospect and wanted to go inside. I knew everything would be even more thrilling than what I had experienced so far. At that very moment I was about to realize the yearning of every human heart. I was in Heaven and ready to go in through the pearlescent gate.
During that momentary pause, something changed. Instead of just hearing the music and the thousands of voices praising God, I had become part of the choir. I was one with them, and they had absorbed me into their midst. I had arrived at a place I had wanted to visit for a long time; I lingered to gaze before I continued forward.
Then, just as suddenly as I had arrived at the gates of Heaven, I left them.