Just about anything said on the topic of near death experiences captures a person's imagination. Whether you are catching a quick glimpse of a documentary, or just listening to a friend's unbelievable story, the mystery of what happens to us after death is something of interest to every human being. What actually happens to us when we die? Is an NDE (Near Death Experience) simply the last desperate experiences of a dying brain? Does the person's cultural upbringing or faith effect what kind of NDE they have? Do all NDEs line up with what the Bible says? These are some very important questions we should all be asking. Perhaps we can shed some light on at least a few of these questions.
First and foremost, I would like to address the obvious fact that there have been many sensationalized NDE stories in recent decades. Some of them even completely made up. Of course everyone wants to be "cool" and loves attention, especially if it can get them media attention in whatever form it takes. NDE researcher, Dr. Jeffery Long, notices this as well and even stated in his book "Evidence of the Afterlife",
"Skeptics have suggested that Oprah created the near-death experience. … What they are jokingly suggesting is that Opera and other cultural icons have popularized the near-death experience to such a point that people claim to have NDEs when they really don't. It is hip to have NDEs, the skeptics claim, and people will go to any length to fit into that category."
- Evidence of the Afterlife, Jeffery Long, MD pg. 135
I'm sure many remember the 2010 book titled "The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven" that told a story of a young boy named Alex Malarkey who was in a terrible car crash. This story described how Alex had died, went to Heaven, and met Jesus before coming back and telling his family. The family got national attention and the book sold more than a million copies. The book instantly became the cornerstone that many Christians used to defend the biblical view of life after death. However, some time later, Alex confessed, "I did not die. I did not go to Heaven. I said I went to Heaven because I thought it would get me attention." Obviously this came as a huge letdown to the Christian community, making it very clear how easy it was for anyone to fabricate an NDE story.
In other cases, you may have heard people say they had an NDE and met with higher beings that told them secrets of the universe, later coming back to their bodies and challenging the biblical narrative. It's extremely important for the reader to know that you can have an out-of-body experience (OBE) without actually dying. Yes, it's true there are many that briefly have a perspective outside of their physical body during an NDE, but this does not mean it's exclusive to NDEs. Without getting into an in-depth explanation of the traditional history of OBEs, a short description could be; it is the Eastern religious practice of leaving the body and interacting with spirit beings within a spiritual plane of this world. This discipline is very real! Many occult groups also practice OBEs regularly to place spiritual curses on people, homes, and neighborhoods, which can have a real impact in the physical world. I myself was fascinated with OBEs in my youth, loving the idea of flying around and exploring the spiritual dimension. I have read very thick books on the subject and did all the exercises they explained. I wanted to master the ability! Of course, this was before I was saved through faith in Jesus Christ and learned just how dangerous it is. I can tell you of a few horrifying episodes I experienced. This practice is something scripture tells Christians not to mess with, and I for one know why. What many OBEers do not realize is the beings they are interacting with are not creatures of God at all. Don't be deceived. Not forgetting the main point that is being made here, don't be fooled by those who claim they have NDEs and were given secrets to the universe by unknown beings. If they did not FLATLINE physically, it was not an NDE, but more likely an OBE.
Aside from the fabricated stories, there are many doctors today who are vehement skeptics trying to explain away NDEers testimonies with whatever natural explanations they can. The most common explanation is that NDEs are nothing more than the last sensory information from a dying brain that is desperately trying to stay alive. However, this explanation does not hold water since the majority if NDEers are perfectly coherent and have a rather heightened sense of awareness outside of their body long after the activity of the brain has quit. Other doctors try to say NDEs are only hallucinations. The problem with this is that hallucinations are usually scattered and confusing, yet NDEers come back to describe very detailed and lucid experiences.
There have also been excellent studies on those who have been blind from youth, or even birth, that are able to see during an NDE, come back blind again, and able to describe everything they saw in fine details! How is this even possible with the naturalistic explanations of a dying brain just soaking up it's last bits of information? Dr. Jeffery Long writes in his book about a woman named Vicky,
Vicky, blind shortly after birth. Has NDE and says, “I knew it was me … I was pretty thin then. I was quite tall and thin at that point. And I recognized at first that it was a body, but I didn’t even know that it was mine initially. Then I perceived that I was up on the ceiling, and I thought, ‘Well, that’s kind of weird. What am I doing up here?’ I thought, ‘Well, this must be me. Am I dead?’ … I just briefly saw this body, and … I knew that it was mine because I wasn’t in mine."
– Jeffery Long, MD., Evidence of the Afterlife, pg. 84
One other point that I found interesting in my study of this topic is that if an NDE could be explained by natural causes, and the dying brain is only trying to soak up last bits of information, why then do nearly all NDEers describe how they met family that had already been dead for sometime, some family members whom they never even met? This is a problem for me. Wouldn't the dying brain's last thoughts instead be concerned about the living people they are about to leave behind? Perhaps their family at home? Spouse? Children? Parents? Why are these people rarely ever described in NDEs? Something to consider.
A lot can be said about NDEs. Obviously many many books have been written on the topic and countless studies have been done. I'm confident that many of you have heard of the typical experiences that NDEers have; having a perception outside of the with heightened senses while watching doctors frantically working on their body, traveling through a tunnel, meeting deceased loved ones, meeting beings that show the NDEer a review of their life. In fact, all of these experiences that I just listed are what puts NDEs around the world on common ground. These commonalities are an excellent indication that something very real is happening during an NDE, rather than dismissing the NDE as a simple natural occurrence.
Many NDEers explain how they had feelings of indescribable love. Other described how everything appeared to be MORE REAL than here in our present reality, as though they had shed the dream of earth. Colors are said to be more vibrant, while there are also new colors not seen here on earth! Many NDEers end up getting very depressed following their experience, after sometimes arguing with beings that they were not allowed to stay. I have even heard it quoted from an NDEer that dying is "easy" and "peaceful", living is what's hard!
One thing I started asking myself was, "Why do I rarely hear about a BAD experience? Does nearly everyone go to this wonderful place regardless?" This was an important question to me, because I know that scripture tells me
"... for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it."
- Mat 7:13-14 KJV
So how could it appear to be just the opposite? My question was answered in Lee's Strobel's new book "The Case for Heaven".
"Twelve different studies involving 1,369 subjects revealed that 23 percent reported NDEs ranging from disturbing to terrifying or despairing. In fact, a 2019 study by the European Academy of Neurology Congress of 1,035 people across thirty-five countries showed that one out of ten people had undergone a near-death experience – and 73% of them rated is as having been “unpleasant”.
I [Lee Strobel] said to Burke, “In the early days of NDE research, very few people reported having a hellish experience. Why is that?”
“Embarrassment. Wanting to suppress the memory. Fear of social ostracism. Some suffer long-term psychological trauma. Today people are more willing to talk about it, like Howard Storm, who has become a friend of mine.”
- Lee Strobel, The Case for Heaven, pg. 61
After reading this I was curious about Howard Storm's story. As I read further, the details of Storm's hellish NDE story were recorded.
Storm was a professor of art at Northern Kentucky University and an avowed atheist when he “died” from a stomach ulcer that had perforated his duodenum. Oddly, he found himself standing up next to the bed, feeling better than ever. He began to follow some mysterious but friendly visitors who beckoned him down the hallway. This turned into a trek of miles, with conditions getting darker and darker. Suddenly, the strangers who had greeted him so warmly became rude and hostile. Now it was pitch-black, and Storm felt stark terror. They began pushing, hitting, pulling, kicking, biting, and tearing with their fingernails and hands as they laughed and swore at him. He fought back as best he could, but he was mauled – physically and emotionally – in the struggle.
“There has never been a horror movie or book that can begin to describe their cruelty,” he recalled. “Eventually, I was eviscerated. I definitely lost one of my eyes, my ears were gone, and I’m lying on the floor of that place.
“So now I have eternity – time without measure – to think about my situation … Because I had lived a garbage life, I had gone down the toilet. And I realized this is the horrible part: that the people who had met me were my kindred spirits. They denied God, they lived for themselves, and their lives were about manipulation and control of other people. My life was devoted to building a monument to my ego. My family, my sculptures, my paintings – all of those were gone now, and what did they matter? I wasn’t far from becoming like one of my own tormentors for all eternity.”
Eventually, Storm called out for help. “I yelled into the darkness, ‘Jesus, save me!’ I have never meant anything more strongly in my life.”
A small light appeared – “way brighter than the sun” – and hands and arms came out. “When they touched me, in that light, I could see me and all the gore. I was roadkill. And that gore began to just dissolve and I became whole.”
He felt a love far beyond words. “If I took all my experience of love in my entire life and could condense it into a moment, it still wouldn’t begin to measure up to the intensity of this love that I was feeling. And that love is the foundation of my life from that moment on.”
- Lee Strobel, The Case for Heaven, pgs. 61-62
The next question I hear many ask concerning NDEs is, "Do people all over the world that are NOT Christians have the same experiences?" Now this really is the question where the rubber meets the road. We all want to know if the bible is God's true word, the authority, and that Jesus Christ is the ONLY way to Heaven. And with THOUSANDS of other religions spanning the world, it's important to know if their religious views and culture have an impact on the types of NDEs they experience. Are they similar? Or are they all different, invalidating religion altogether? Again, in the book "The Case for Heaven" Lee addresses this to the scholar he is interviewing. While asking about an atheist from New Zealand named Ian McCormack who had a profound NDE himself, Lee asks
“But if Ian had been a Hindu, might he have encountered a god from that faith?”
“In all my research, I’ve never read of people describing anything like Krishna, who has blue skin, or Shiva, who has three eyes, or descriptions of the dissolving of the individual self in the impersonal supreme Brahma, which is the ultimate Hindu reality. In fact, two researchers studied five hundred Americans and five hundred Indians to see how much their cultural conditioning may have affected their NDE.”
“What did they find?”
“That several basic Hindu ideas of the afterlife were never portrayed in the visions of the Indian patients. No reincarnation. They did describe encountering a white-robed man with a book of accounts. To them, that might vaguely suggest Karma, or the record of merits and demerits. But again, that’s an interpretation, because it’s also very consistent with what we find in the Bible. Bruce Greyson, who studied cross-cultural NDEs, agreed that it’s not the core experience that differs, but the ways in which people interpret what they have experienced.”
- Lee Strobel, The Case for Heaven, pg. 59
This is very profound! I believe this proves that no matter where you live on the earth, what culture you live in, or even what religion you subscribe to, we all have the very same core experiences during an NDE! It would make sense that we would interpret them differently, but as said in Strobel's book, the CORE of the experiences is always the same, and line up with the biblical narrative. I would say that this is an extremely good case to say that there is definitely something to Christianity.
There is SO MUCH MORE information on this topic, and I regret that I am only able to give a very small taste of the research and stories on this topic. As always, I would encourage the reader to study this topic for themselves. Start with the two books quoted in this article, and read NDE testimonies from https://nderf.org/ which is the largest NDE website in the world cataloging over 4900 Experiences from all over the world. There are also many great books by John Burke, Jeffery Long, Bill Weise, etc. The research is incredible if you take the time to read up on it.
In conclusion, I find there is more than enough evidence to prove that NDEs are absolutely real, there is absolutely life after death, and that scripture without a doubt holds to be the authority on what happens after we die. Many true NDEers would agree with this. Will you read their story?
Written by: Joshua Berry
Book: The Case for Heaven - Lee Strobel
Book: Evidence of the Afterlife - Long & Perry