Years ago, a friend of mine named Dan shared with me about a near death experience (NDE) that he had. As he reconstructed the story of a horrific car accident that landed him on an operating table, he started to relay an encounter of being in the upper corner of the room with an angelic being watching the doctors operate on him.
SHARING HIS EXPERIENCE
When He came out of anesthesia later, to the doctor’s surprise, he was able to share lucid details of what happened during the surgery. As I listened to Dan, my skeptical spidey senses tingling, yet because Dan was a trusted friend, I knew he wasn’t fabricating his story. Many people have had similar stories like Dan’s. Stories of seeing Jesus, angels, loved ones, a bright light, hearing heavenly music or experiencing a comforting sensation. Some people have also shared haunting stories of seeing or experiencing the agonies of hell.
- Were these experiences real?
- Were they hallucinations?
- Were they dreams?
- Are they indications of a person’s eternal security?
The ultimate answer is that we do not know. The line between life and death, mortality and immortality, earthly and heavenly is very mysterious. As with all information related to the afterlife, we need to be cautious with all NDE reports. No experience, no matter how supernatural or sensational, should trump biblical truth. Some of these NDE may have been real, spiritual and from the Lord or perhaps they were imagined. Do we see any NDE in the Bible? What do we see in the Bible related to NDE?
Some people point to Peter’s vision in Acts 10 or Paul’s vision of heaven in 2 Corinthians 12 or John’s vision of Revelation as evidence of NDE. The problem with those examples is that although they were indeed supernatural visions, they were not given as they were dying but while they were alive. One verse often referenced in support of a NDE is the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7:55 as Stephen proclaims that he sees the heaven’s open up and Jesus standing in heaven. This is chronologically in error because Stephen was not dying at the moment of his vision and was not killed until the people took him out of the city and stoned him in verse 58.
We obviously see others having visions of heaven in Scripture in Daniel, Isaiah, and John. What I find interesting is that these and other similar visions focused on the glory of God rather than on other people. They relayed the sense of God’s majesty not, “I saw Grandma there”. They were emotionally overcome by their experience. Isaiah was overwhelmed with a sense of impurity in God’s presence (Isaiah 6:5), Ezekiel fell face to the ground (Ezekiel 1:28) and the Apostle John fell down in fear as well (Revelation 1:17). These biblical accounts stand in contrast to much of what we hear today from those who have a NDE. That does not necessarily mean that God has not nor would not grant what we have reported, but we do not want to be naïve and simply embrace sensational reports of supernatural experiences without having a biblical foundation to sift and evaluate them.
A good example of why to be cautious is the case of Alex Malarchy and his 2010 book, The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven. Alex and his father wrote the book 6 years after a car accident landed Alex in the hospital with a 2 month coma. When he awoke from the come, Alex had a story of going to heaven and having conversations with Jesus. The book flew off the bookshelves. In January of this year, Alex recanted of his story. In an open letter he stated: “I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims I did, I had never read the Bible… The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.”
Another caution for us with NDE is to keep in mind that the devil does disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:44) and tries to counterfeit God’s work. Anytime someone reports that they had a supernatural experience, we do not want to be too quick to assume it must be from God.
A CAUTIOUS APPROACH
Ultimately we cannot be dogmatic about whether NDE are real or not. A healthy stance would be to initially be cautious and skeptical yet have a degree of openness to God possibly allowing such experiences as a means to reinforce the reality of heaven and hell, of man’s soul and of our need to hear and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The more important issue for us is not the near death experience but the death experience. Do we know for sure that we are going to spend eternity with Christ after this life (1 John 5:13)? That was the case for my friend Dan. Dan had an accident last year and fell. He did not survive his injuries. Although his family mourned the loss of their husband and father, they were comforted by His faith in Christ and great love for Jesus. They know that he is in the presence of the Lord, not as a vision or NDE, but as a reality. How about you? How about your family, friends, co-workers and neighbors? Let’s not get distracted by that which is sensational, but stay focused on that which is real.