Near Death Experiences (NDEs) and the Bible - Part 1
Due to some unforeseen circumstances I will not be continuing my series in the book of John right now. I am planning to get back to it and finish it at some point, but it seems God is taking me (at least temporarily) in another direction. I am doing some more research on the book, and once that is done, i will try to get back and complete the series that is already started. I apologize for any inconvenience.
In the meantime I want to take a biblical look at an area that can cause confusion and even damage if not properly understood. We all have our opinions, and nobody understands it completely, but when it comes to the topic of near death experiences, it would be good if we can make as much sense of the phenomenon as possible. As always, I will let the Scripture have the final word.
Because of the nature of the topic, I realize this can be touchy. I know many individuals that have experienced a near death experience. Often, even after the experience many still have questions. This article will in no way answer them all, but hopefully we can make some sense of what happens when a person tastes a near death experience or NDE. The Online Free Dictionary describes an NDE as - "the experience of being close to death but surviving."
So let us take a deep breath and begin.
Modern medical technology has allowed us to look into this issue that many have wondered about for centuries. Even though we have the technical means to observe some elements of NDEs, we must also be careful to apply rightly divided Scripture to the issue. We will do that in Part 2.
There are many thoughts and ideas as to exactly what takes place in an NDE. The issue is divided among science, psychology, philosophy, and religion. The NDE is undoubtedly a life-changer for the one who experiences it. Just what takes place for sure, can not be determined by science, psychology, philosophy, or religion.
Is there an afterlife? If so, what is it like? Many have been brought back from “the dead” due to resuscitation efforts that were not possible years ago. Although these experiences no doubt have been happening for millennia, it has not been until fairly recently that these experiences has been able to be documented.
So what happens at the moment of death? If we are to examine the reports of 1000’s of independent cases of NDEs, a pattern begins to emerge. Not all will experience every step. Not all will experience the events in the same order, but a rough overview of leaving the realm of the living for the land of “the dead” looks something like this.
The Process of Leaving This Life
First, the dying individual sees him/herself floating above their body. They are able to hear and see what the doctors are saying and doing, but not from the vantage point of their body. Perhaps they see from the ceiling or from a corner of the room – detached from the body.
Secondly, as they float, they begin to enter a dark tunnel and are pulled along at rapid speed. At the end of the tunnel a bright light appears filled with overwhelming love leaving the traveler with a desire to never return to life on earth. Often they claim to meet beings from the celestial world. The beings that are described vary. Some would seem as if they are angels, or maybe loved ones that have gone on before.
In a few instances, God or Jesus Himself may be seen. In the reports that I have read, most encounter the Judeo-Christian God, Jesus. If we are to say that these reports are of actual happenings, that would make sense as Jesus Himself says, “. . . I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). If, on the other hand, these reports represent something else, it would also make sense as most eastern religions do not own a personal God, thus they would not expect to meet one.
The third step usually involves the individual being given a chance to decide if they want to remain in the celestial sphere or return to earth. Most find the afterlife to be such a place of peace and love they have no desire to return to their earthly existence, but because of unfinished work on earth they may choose to return anyway.
Movies, TV shows, and books have popularized the theory we have just looked at. Pastor and author Todd Burpo goes into much detail as he tells of his son Colton’s NDE in his book Heaven is For Real. Colton describes Heaven as having “jeweled gates, shining rivers, and streets of gold”. He goes on to describe a God with blue eyes, yellow hair, and huge wings; a Jesus with sea-green-bluish eyes, brown hair, no wings, but with a rainbow colored horse; and a Holy Spirit who is bluish but hard to see.
Do you believe in NDEs?
Even though they are not publicized as much there are also many stories of not entering Heaven, but stories of entering the netherworld. In his book, 23 Minutes in Hell, Bill Wise describes 23 minutes in which he went to hell and returned to tell about it. In that 23 minutes, he experienced 300 degree temperatures with no humidity; reptilian-like demons of torture, rats the size of dogs and many other things.
In many cases, regardless of the “place” visited, often it is reported that it seems like eternity. Not that the time period seems very long (in reality it may only be a matter of minutes or less), but rather that there is no time or space. Before Creation only eternity existed. We are told in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” In the beginning (the creation of time) God created the heaven (the creation of space) and the earth (the creation of matter). In eternity time, space, and matter do not exist. The absence of these is what is commonly reported. Because we do live with time, space, and matter, that is a hard concept to wrap our minds around. Nevertheless, this is what is reported.
We cannot deny NDEs actually do take place. There are too many reports with the same or similar descriptions to call it coincidence. We have to accept the fact that something takes place. But what? To find the answers we must look to Scripture. Movies, TV shows, and books are not necessarily true. Scripture is our source for truth. Therefore that is what we must examine. Like the Bereans of old, we must test the Scriptures against everything.
Romans 3:4 tells us to ". . . let God be true, but every man a liar . . . ." In other words, as we apply Romans 3:4 to this subject we must allow the Scriptures to judge our experiences rather that interpret Scripture to fit our experiences. I understand the NDE is very real for many people. I would not try to cheapen or disregard the experience. The question is not do these experiences actually take place, but In light of Scripture, the question becomes what are these folks experiencing?
Does the Bible speak to NDEs? Or are we left in silence on the subject? The Bible is a Book that deals with life - and death. The biblical definition of death is separation. Physical death takes place when the soul separates from the body. Scripture lists some exceptions to this in the form of resurrection reports that we will look at shortly.
The first thing we must come to terms with is are we willing to take the Scriptures literally at face value? If not, this article is not for you. If so, we will examine the Scriptures in Part 2 coming shortly.