Occasionally, my research for my upcoming book, "What the Hell? Simple Answers to Life's Most Burning Questions", takes me to the testimonies and personal experiences of others regarding Hell.
Recently, I came across the book, "23 Minutes In Hell", by Bill Wiese. Now, I don't know Bill Wiese and I have nothing against the man. In fact, as a fellow Christian, I am overjoyed that he is seeking to spread the gospel in his own way. However, after reading his book, cover to cover, I was left thinking that either the man was deceived, or was intentionally pushing an agenda. Not knowing him, as I said, I dare not conjecture which.
The book speaks of him somehow being catapulted into a Dante's Inferno type of Hell while, presumably, asleep in his bed. Now, if you are not familiar with Dante's Inferno, it is a part of a larger poem written by a man named Dante Alighieri in the 14th century which greatly influenced the Church's perception of Hell. Inferno, of course, was a fictitious poem, not having anything to do with Biblical Scripture, but was more about Dante's political angst against some of his enemies at the time.
Wiese borrows a significant amount of the descriptors in Inferno in his alleged trip to Hell. I don't fault him for that, as it is the meat and drink of modern Christianity, however wrong it may be.
There are, however, some very strange inconsistencies in Wiese's story which require the observant reader to take notice. I will address them individually.
1. He claims to have gone to bed at Midnight on 23 NOV 1998 and was "catapulted out of my bed into the very pit of hell." (p. 2) So, by his own testimony, he was in bed at the time of his "departure" to hell, he says, at 3:00 am. However, his wife, Annette, whom he appropriately and tenderly describes in his book, says this on p. 46: "I woke up to screams coming from down the hallway. My first reaction was to look to my right to see if Bill was there beside me in bed. He wasn't." So, the million dollar question is, how did Bill get from being in his bed to laying on the floor several rooms away if he was in Hell the whole time, with no way to control his body in the meantime?
2. Annette continues on with this: "I turned to my left and looked at the digital clock, and noticed that it was 3:23 a.m. I got out of bed and WALKED down the hallway to the living room where I found Bill in a fetal position with his hands grasping at the sides of his head. His breathing was erratic, and he was screaming, "I feel like I'm going to die!" I thought he was having a heart attack." - Emphasis mine. I don't know about you, but if someone *I* loved was in a fetal position on the floor, and their screams woke me up, I would RUN, not walk to wherever they were. Her testimony does not match what a prudent person would do under those circumstances, and the rest of her story is similarly unbelievable. She didn't call 911 when she believed he was having a heart attack, even when he was screaming the entire time she was praying over him. No woman I have spoken to, even Christian ones, has agreed that they would have done the same under similar circumstances, knowing what Annette knew at the time she had awoken.
3. He claimed several times during the book, that he was unable to think of the Lord during his time in Hell because Jesus Himself prevented it. (p. 37) There are two problems with that. First, how would he know that the demons in his cell were blaspheming against a God he didn't know? (p. 4) Second, in his alleged encounter with Jesus, all Jesus said was, "I kept it from you" but did not otherwise give an explanation. Wiese offered an explanation, but that didn't come from Jesus.
4. Upon arrival to his cell, initially, Wiese said he could not stand due to an inexplicable weakness, which apparently never got better. (p. 2) However, after getting soundly whupped on by 2 of his 4 giant demon captors, somehow, with his chest ripped open and in the new found pitch blackness, he was able to stand up and walk away. He offered no explanation how he somehow "adjusted" to his predicament and got stronger, even as his circumstances got much, much worse.
5. After escaping his cell and demonic tormentors, he said he was taken back there to get roughed up again, prone on the floor. Then, all of a sudden, he was standing next to the pit of fire 10 miles away without any explanation as to how he was carried such a vast distance instantaneously, or how he managed to stand up after being nearly drawn and quartered. (p. 14)
6. During his encounter with Jesus, he claimed that he arose from the bottom of the cavern and was rising in the air. Then suddenly Jesus appeared, and he fell to His feet. How is that possible when both are floating in the air? What could he have fallen on?
7. His testimony, indeed the title of the book, indicates that he had been in Hell proper for 23 minutes, but clearly that couldn't be the case because he claimed that Jesus took him out of Hell and into outer space, and then back to his home. That time between his departure from Hell and his arrival at home clearly would have eaten into his 23 minutes.
8. His "abduction" at 3:00 am - Now this may picking nits, but why would Jesus take Bill at the tail end of what is referred to as the "Witching Hour"?
9. Finally, and this is perhaps the most damning (pardon the pun) to his story, but Scripture clearly states that folks don't go to Hell and return back to the earth. In fact, according to the Lazarus and the rich man parable, it is strictly forbidden because nobody would believe the person anyway. Jesus ABSOLUTELY would not violate His own Word. And for Wiese to have actually gone to Hell and come back would contradict God's Word. This beats even the previously mentioned contradictions in Wiese's story.
So, that leaves us with the nagging question, why would Wiese experience this, if he experienced it at all? Bear in mind that Wiese is a professed Christian since 1970 and has had 28 years to learn the Bible and Hell mythology as it pertains to Christianity today - prior to this event. I don't think he hallucinated it, but he may have dreamed it. And he could have just made it up.
If he dreamed it, then he clearly was being deceived. I have no clue why he would make it up, other than to add more validity to the Hell scare tactics that have produced recalcitrant and often backsliding pseudo-converts througout the ages.
Does this mean that his book is entirely bad? No, not really. He does make some standard Christian points that Jesus, not our own "goodness" or good works, is the way to Heaven. That's the gospel in a nutshell, and thankfully Wiese does not waver from that point at any time. Does he use a substantial portion of his biblical references inappropriately or out of context. Yes, and that's a very pervasive scourge in modern Christian writings that is incredibly annoying, not to mention dangerous.
All that being said, I believe Bill Wiese to be an earnest Christian man who is doing what he can to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to others, in his own way. Do I believe his story? Absolutely not...it's inconsistent as well as being unbiblical. But I, in no way doubt his faithfulness to Jesus or his commitment to spreading the Gospel.
I will email him to see if he wants to address any of the points I made, or to clarify areas of confusion on my part, and if he deigns to answer, I will put it here for all to see.
May the Peace and Love of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you always,