Almost unnoticed in the general euphoria about NDEs has been the sobering fact that not all NDEs are affirming. Although downplayed and under-reported, some experiences are deeply disturbing.
Very few of the people who experience NDEs in which they approach what can only be described as "hell" are forthcoming about such an event; they hide their experiences afterward; they are deeply embarrassed, they are terrified, and they are mortified. If inpatients, they disappear when asked for information and they are likely to withdraw completely for they are under great stress.”
In the context of what we should expect when we die, the Bible tells us every person is appointed to die and will be judged (Hebrews 9:27). The only way to be reconciled with God is through Jesus who said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Whoever truly believes in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins will not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). These things are sure.
On the other hand, near-death experiences are not as sure. After all, we live in a spiritual world. Fallen angels/demons (who are Satan's emissaries) can misdirect people - even Christians. Paul warned the Corinthian believers about Satan’s schemes when he wrote, “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2nd Corinthians 11:14).
According to those who study the phenomena in the medical community, although many of the NDEs that are publicized are generally affirming experiences, it is a fact that far from all "near-death experiences" are positive.
Nancy Evans Bush, President Emerita, International Association for Near-Death Studies and Bruce Greyson, MD, co-authored a 2016 article for the National Institutes of Health, entitled “Distressing Near-Death Experiences: The Basics.” Bush and Greyson explain, “The great majority of near-death experiences (NDEs) that have been publicly reported over the past four decades have been described as pleasant, even glorious. Almost unnoticed in the euphoria about them has been the sobering fact that not all NDEs are so affirming. Some are deeply disturbing."
In the same study, Bush and Greyson categorized distressing near-death experiences in three ways. Here is an example of each one:
Inverse: “In some NDEs, features usually reported in other NDEs as pleasurable are perceived as hostile or threatening. A man thrown from his horse found himself floating at treetop height, watching emergency medical technicians working over his body. ‘No! No! This isn’t right!’ He screamed, ‘Put me back!’ but they did not hear him.”
Void: “A woman in childbirth found herself abruptly flying over the hospital and into deep, empty space. A group of circular entities informed her she never existed, that she had been allowed to imagine her life but it was a joke; she was not real. She argued with facts about her life and descriptions of Earth. ‘No,’ they said, ‘none of that had ever been real; this is all there was.’ She was left alone in space.”
Hellish: “A woman who hemorrhaged from a ruptured Fallopian tube reported an NDE involving ‘horrific beings with gray gelatinous appendages grasping and clawing at me. The sounds of their guttural moaning and the indescribable stench still remain 41 years later. There was no benign Being of Light, no life video, nothing beautiful or pleasant.’”
Not surprisingly, distressing NDEs are not as well publicized in a culture that seems attuned to more positive messages. Because distressing near-death experiences are more difficult to receive any recognition, it would be unwise to speculate how many NDEs are positive or negative based on reports.
Is there any record of Near-Death Experiences in the Bible?
Although they are definitely, a spiritual event, the Bible, has scant information about near-death experiences. There are at least ten people raised from the dead in Scripture. Some of those include Elijah raising the son of the Zarephath widow from the dead (1 Kings 17:17–22), the dead man who was raised when his body touched Elisha's bones (2 Kings 13:20, 21), Jesus rising from the dead (Matthew 28:5-8; Mark 16:6; Luke 24:5, 6), and Dorcas being brought back from the dead (Acts 9:36-41).
The interesting thing about these people who came back is the complete lack of information about the other side. This doesn’t mean they didn’t experience anything extraordinary. But aside from Jesus’ post-resurrection testimony, God saw no reason to elaborate in Scripture, on anyone experiencing an NDE.
The closest relatable experience to a near-death experience in Scripture is the martyrdom of Stephen in the book of Acts. In Luke’s account, we read about a stressful situation preceding death which often accompanies NDEs in the scientific literature:
"But he [Stephen], full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.
And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep." (Acts 7:55–60)
In this narrative, we find Stephen’s eyes being open to events in heaven just before he was killed. This supernatural revelation was an unveiling of a celestial scene where the Trinity was at work and on display. Stephen, through the Holy Spirit, saw both Jesus and God the Father in heaven. Because this event is recorded in Scripture, we know a near-death experience can reveal glimpses of a real heaven. In other words, legitimate near-death experiences are possible and could be used by God, but only if they align with and do not contradict Scripture.
Despite the popular interest and literature documenting near-death experiences, atheistic materialists have attempted to explain away the phenomena. Materialists believe that matter is all that exists and thus immaterial souls are not real nor is a spiritual realm. There are several explanations materialists posit to explain away near-death experiences as physical anomalies.
Dr. Peter Fenwick is consultant neuropsychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital in the UK and presides over the International Association for Near-Death Studies. Fenwick built a database of over 300 NDE accounts. The Christian Medical Fellowship analyzed the research and addressed some common materialist explanations for near-death experiences and how they don’t always work.
Hallucinations: Unlike NDEs, hallucinations are renowned for their subjective content. Despite some similarities with hallucinations, NDEs are more varied and include different cultural elements not always common with erratic hallucinations.
Drugs: Drugs are often administered as part of a resuscitation attempt and could disorder brain function and produce an NDE. However, only 14% in Dr. Fenwick's database had been given drugs at the time of their experience.
Endorphin-related: The body's own pain-killing endorphins could induce a sense of euphoria, leading to an NDE. For instance, there is a surge of endorphins following grand mal seizures, but the effect is not positive and coherent visions are usually not reported.
Cerebral hypoxia: Some have postulated that low oxygen might cause random firing of neurons in the visual system. This experience could result in a central dot of light that spreads out to the peripheries of vision appearing to be movement down a tunnel of light. However, those who experience cerebral hypoxia in other situations (like fighter pilots), do not experience NDEs.
Though some near-death experiences could possibly be explained away by materialistic interpretations, it is not possible to resolve the thousands of otherworldly experiences based only in an atheistic and materialistic worldview.
Rather, the only possible viewing lens through which understanding NDEs is remotely possible, is from a Christian perspective, understanding we live in a world constructed by an all-knowing, all-caring God; a world which is not only material, but is also populated by immaterial entities, i.e., created spiritual beings, both beneficent and malevolent, and which consists of not only the realm of earth, but the other realms of both heaven and hell.
But this does not mean we should accept all near-death experiences as being either from God or from Satan, for some are from the fallen imagination of man. After all, there is big money in so-called “heavenly tourism.”
In 2010, Kevin and Alex Malarkey wrote, The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven. The duo recounted the NDE of a six-year old (Alex) who suffered a horrific accident, was paralyzed, and unlikely to survive. While he lay unconscious in the hospital, Alex supposedly visited heaven, saw angels, heard unearthly music, and met Jesus. The book sold more than a million copies. It turns out, it didn’t happen.
Five years after it was published, the young author recanted his story even though his father still sought to profit from the tale. In an open letter to booksellers, Alex said he made it up to get attention. ...the story was a lie.
One of the largest booksellers of the fable, Lifeway Christian Stores, eventually pulled the remaining copies from the shelves, but not before hundreds of thousands of people had believed a tale told by a boy named Malarkey.
Clearly, we cannot believe every near-death experience. Some people who describe NDEs may be motivated by attention like Alex. Others could have a financial motivation. The 2014 movie, "Heaven is for Real," was about a young boy who slipped into unconsciousness during emergency surgery, supposedly visited heaven, and met deceased loved ones along with Jesus. The movie grossed over $100 million dollars! We should recognize there are monetary incentives to promote a compelling near-death experience, even if there are other seemingly positive outcomes or reasons to tell the story.
Christians should value truth over any possible confirming experience in an NDE (John 8:32). After all, we don’t need anecdotal evidence of what we know is true from Scripture. When we come across a seemingly credible account of someone who claims to have had a glowing affirmative "near-death experience," we must weigh the account against reliable information. Here are three, biblical questions that will assist in shedding light on whether a near-death experience is legitimate.
Is the person generally believed to be trustworthy (Luke 16:10)?
Was there a lasting, positive change in the person’s life as a result of the NDE that is supported by family and friends (Deuteronomy 19:15–21)?
Does the NDE conform to what Scripture teaches regarding the events reported (2 Peter 1:19)?
Answering yes to all these questions lends credence to a possible near-death experience. However, these questions do not guarantee any near-death experience actually happened. If any of the events or descriptions contradict what is clearly taught in Scripture, we must emulate the Bereans of Acts 17:11, and reject these accounts or attribute them to other malicious causes, i.e., spiritual deception by demonic entities.
Ultimately, no one should depend on any fallible person’s subjective experience about eternal matters.
As in every spiritual matter, the Bible is the most authoritative source for information on this life and the life to come. Near-death experiences are, by nature, subjective events that happen to one person. God knows why they happen. If they are from Him, they may be specifically for that individual. God may even use such an experience to draw people to himself. Though some may be true, there is absolutely no certainty about any given NDE.
Subjective experience must never overrule the clear teaching of the Word of God, which is our only sure foundation, the only safeguard against deliberately created demonic deception, intended to lead the person away from their belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ and other Biblical truths - by substituting the doctrines of demons.
The Apostle Peter wrote, “And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place . . .”
(2nd Peter 1:19). Peter informs us that the “prophetic word” should confirm our experiences. This includes near-death experiences. This is true regarding our own NDEs, “visions,” etc., - if we have them, and it is also true of others’ experiences. Always test the Spirits, whether they be of God (1st John 4:1-2).
In conclusion, near-death experiences point to the reality that we must all face death. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-7), every person who lived before us, except Enoch and Elijah (whom God took straight to heaven, Genesis 5:24, Second Kings 2:11), has physically died. Death is one of the unifying realities in humanity (Romans 5:12). NDEs generate immense interest in a world where everyone dies.
Near-death experiences point to a world beyond our own. Whether any particular near-death experience is a reliable experience from God can be challenging to discover. However, one thing remains true of everyone: we will all die. And there is only one rescue from a just and eternal judgement: repenting and believing the good news of God's free gift of Salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
Deceived By The light, by Doug Groothus
Answers in Genesis.org
Those who receive a preview of hell through a Near Death experience, yet are brought back, and have the opportunity to turn to God in repentance, and receive Salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, must always be thankful for that "wake-up call," which surely it was.
I believe some are real and some change as a result. I have seen a few that were the result of seeing hell and those people were visibly shaken by the experience. If an NDE results in someone being saved then I am inclined to believe it.