A taste of heaven...or hints of hell? My review of "To Heaven and Back"

To Heaven and Back

In 1999, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mary C. Neal and her husband, Bill, left their four children at home and travelled to the Fuy River in Chile on a kayaking expedition. While travelling down the river, Mary became trapped in her kayak underwater and drowned. Through what can only be explained as divine intervention, she was rescued from the water and brought back to life. In To Heaven and Back, Mary shares her experience of leaving her body and visiting part of heaven. She also shares her journey of faith and the numerous miracles she has experienced in her life.

It was with great anticipation that I started reading To Heaven and Back. Despite the fact that there are numerous books in print where people recount their experiences going to heaven, I was greatly interested in reading a book written by a respected doctor, a scientist who would be seemingly at odds with the miraculous and yet someone who had experienced the divine. I can confidently state that I found the story to be well-written and moving, and it captured my interest such that I read it in one sitting. Mary writes with a candid honesty about her life, and the very fact that she includes details that cause her embarrassment (such as her perplexing decision not to seek immediate medical help right after her drowning) suggests her authenticity. The miracles themselves, and especially her experience of drowning and how she was saved, can truly only be explained by divine intervention.

However, I must admit that I simply cannot recommend this book. When she shared a couple of the pieces of "wisdom" that had been revealed to her by an angel or Jesus, I found myself pausing and feeling quite uncomfortable. The author suggests that our souls exist prior to our birth and we help pre-plan our life's course, but there is nothing in the Bible to support this! I also questioned the revelation that very young infants and toddlers can "still remember God's world", remember where they come from. Nothing I read in the Bible seems to support this either. Indeed, Psalm 139:13 states "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb". I don't know about you, but that verse clearly implies that we are created, by God, while in the womb, and NOT that we existed in some state in some sort of heaven prior to our birth. Mary's actual visit to "heaven" is also extremely brief, where she does not have any encounter with Jesus or God but instead with spiritual beings as they approach a hall where apparently everyone is given the chance to review their life and choose God or choose to reject him. Again, where in the Bible does it suggest we are given this "last chance" to choose God? Why even live for God then? Why not live for yourself and then once you are dead just choose God when you enter this hall? If these pieces of wisdom were so important to be shared, wouldn't Jesus have stated such things himself in the Bible?

Don't get me wrong. If nothing else, the book makes a fascinating conversation starter, and it will cause you to go back to the Bible to explore these issues. But this is not a book I would feel comfortable telling my friends or family to read. There are too many questionable aspects of the book (and believe me, there are many more I could mention), and I find it difficult to reconcile events that are clearly only possible with God's intervention (i.e. Mary's rescue) with "wisdom" that seems at odds with the Bible. Was she rescued by God but then had an encounter with false angels (demons) that confused her? Or did the message she received get mixed up due to the passage of time, since she wrote her experience down well after she received it? I simply don't know.

It is with much reluctance that I give this book 1 out of 5 stars, because I had truly hoped for more.

An ebook has been provided courtesy of the publisher for the purposes of this unbiased review.



Mary C. Neal, MDMary C. Neal, M.D. is an orthopaedic surgeon. She studied at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Medicine, completed her orthopaedic residency at the University of Southern California and is fellowship trained as a spinal surgeon. She is the former Director of Spine Surgery at the University of Southern California and is a founding partner of Orthopedic Associates of Jackson Hole. Her after-life experience has been featured on national media including WGN, Dr. Oz, and Fox and Friends. She has served as a church elder, on several non-profit organization boards, and created the Willie Neal Environmental Awareness Fund. Dr. Neal lives with her family in Jackson Hole, WY.