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Feedback archiveFeedback 2013

Two perspectives on near death experiences

Published: 26 May 2013 (GMT+10)

One of the questions we’re often asked is how we explain near-death experiences.

123rf.com/Andriy Solovyov

Josef L., U.S., asks,

Dear CMI,
I’m not really sure how to ask this question, but lately I’ve been thinking of the atheist’s position that when we die, it’s all over.
I’ll confess if there is one thing that sort of makes me doubt my faith, it’s comas or near-death experiences (I do not mean the light at the end of the tunnel type of stuff), such as when people are in a coma or are clinically dead but come back, they often say nothing happened. Also, I think about people who suffer brain trauma and their personalities change. It makes it seem like our consciousness is a function of our physical bodies.
In light of stuff like this, how should Christians view the spirit? Like is our spirit our personalities? If so, it seems to be dependent on the wellness of our physical-self. Another example would be as we age, our personalities can change or degenerate.

Lita Cosner answers:

Dear Josef,

Thanks for writing in.

If God didn’t reveal to us what happens after death, we wouldn’t know. Apart from a few very specific examples in Scripture, no one has come back from the dead, truly, to tell us what it’s like, and of those who were resuscitated, no one’s testimony of what it was like has survived.

Of course, the great exception is Jesus—He died, and He was truly dead for three days, and then He was resurrected. Since He has actually died, He is an authority on what death and the afterlife is like. And He promises that death isn’t the end of everything. Jesus said that He is preparing a place for us, and that if we trust in Him during this life, we will be with Him after death.

People who have ‘near death’ experiences, by definition, haven’t died.

People who have ‘near death’ experiences, by definition, haven’t died. People who are successfully resuscitated by doctors also haven’t died, even if they fit the clinical definition of death for a few minutes. The brain, often starved of oxygen and in the stages of shutting down, may produce hallucinations. Others don’t experience (or at least remember) this.

Regarding how the brain and the ‘person’ are related, if humans are meaningfully both physical and spiritual (e.g. not just spirits in body suits), we would expect damage to the body to affect personality. For instance, some people with various mental health issues can be tremendously helped by medication which corrects a chemical imbalance—does this introduce an artificial element to the person’s personality, or does it correct a defect, allowing that person’s ‘true’ personality to come through?

Or, for another example, too many of us have had the heartbreaking experience of seeing an elderly relative go through Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. A formerly lovely person can become agitated, fearful, angry, and unlike themselves. Is this a genuine change in personality, or does the degenerating brain render one less capable of being themselves, just as the degenerating joints and muscles make one less mobile? Or to put it another way, you could have a great computer program, but if the hard drive is defective, it won’t work.

The atheists’ view that ‘we are our brain chemistry’ and it all ends when we die is terribly depressing. Rather, the Christian view of a fallen world, including fallen human bodies, allows for the view that all sorts of psychological defects or brain injuries are not permanent, or even really a part of one’s ‘real’ self, but rather products of the Curse that will be removed in the Resurrection.

By the way, Phineas Gage, the most prominent example of catastrophic brain injury, did not turn into the monster he is frequently portrayed as.1

By the way, many of the issues you raise about the way in which physical factors affect our personality and so on were utilized by one Keith Augustine in a 1997 paper arguing for the extinction of the personality at death (since expanded into a paper called ‘The Case Against Immortality’) and a staple of humanists/atheists. In 2004, we provided a detailed commentary on Augustine’s original paper, which is likely quite pertinent to your queries; see Brain chemistry and the fate of the personality after death.

Sincerely,

Lita Cosner

Information Officer
Creation Ministries International (US)


In a written response to a question received during ministry, Gary Bates answered:

Hi,

You asked about near death experiences. There have been lots of information and explanations for these over the years. We have some brief information at the article Near death experiences: what should Christians think? You said that they claim to see Heaven but not hell. I think these fall into a different category than the straight near death experiences. These are where people are really having an out of body experience (OBEs), like a vision that lasts for hours. This is different to near death experiences (NDEs).

Obviously this cannot be really happening, and it demonstrates a surfacing of whatever the person already believes or is being subjected to at the time.

For example, a lot of NDEs seem to occur when people are in surgery or on an operating table. Anesthesia produces a vulnerable state where there seems to be a cessation and contraction of time, as opposed to sleeping, for instance. During such events (and hypnosis can induce the same state), the mind has been shown to be highly suggestible leading to something known as false memory syndrome. I believe that alleged alien abductees suffer from the same practice although deliberately implanted by fallen angels. However, our minds, that is, our imaginations can also create these false memories. The reason that people remember them so vividly is because of the state they were in when the alleged memory was implanted or created. They are unable to distinguish it from reality. I.e. people have been experimentally hypnotized, given a false memory then woken up. They had already incorporated the false memory into their memory banks even having a sense of a real physical experience. When told that it had just been deliberately implanted, they would not accept it.2

People who’ve had NDE’s also claim to see their own bodies on the operating table, and also see a white tunnel of light with their deceased relatives on the other side. Some report they also see aliens standing next to the relatives. Obviously this cannot be really happening, and it demonstrates a surfacing of whatever the person already believes or is being subjected to at the time.

I hope this helps.

If you get the book Alien Intrusion: UFOs and the Evolution Connection there is a brand new section that covers all of the above (i.e. hypnosis, suggestability and false memories etc.). You can click on the link supplied.

Gary Bates
CEO
Creation Ministries International (US)

Related Articles

References

  1. For more information, see http://mindfulhack.blogspot.com/2009/03/phineas-gage-evolution-of-lecture-room.html. Return to text.
  2. This also applies in cases where people claim to have gone to Heaven or Hell. While such stories may be compelling, we have a responsibility as Christians to examine what Scripture teaches. In view of Hebrews 9:27, “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,” there is no biblical ground for saying that someone could die and come back prior to the Resurrection of the dead. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments
George F., Australia, 26 May 2013

I really value the articles on the CMI website, I respect your scholarship and commitment to the Word of God, the Bible. I would like to respectfully draw attention to the comment as part of note #2 that has got me a bit confused as to what you are really saying, and I quote, 'In view of Hebrews 9:27, “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,” there is no biblical ground for saying that someone could die and come back prior to the Resurrection of the dead.'

I hope I'm wrong but it sounds like you are saying that it is impossible for the dead to be raised before the 'Resurrection of the dead'. I would expect you to believe in the literal resurrections that Jesus, Paul, Peter etc. were involved in, (and also the OT accounts). Are you saying that it just can't happen today, and that the modern testimonies of such today are implausible because they conflict with a scientific view that is higher than the Bible's record? I couldn't imagine that being the case with CMI. If it was happening in Bible times, should we be surprised if/when it happens today? After all, the disciples were told to "...raise the dead..." and then they were told to teach all subsequent followers to do everything they were commanded to do (Matt. 10:8; 28:19,20, please also look at Acts 26:8). Maybe there is something I have missed in this.

God bless

Lita Cosner responds

Thanks for the opportunity to clarify. Jesus, of course, experienced a genuine resurrection; He died and was raised in an imperishable body that will never again experience death. Various others were raised from genuine death by prophets and apostles, but what they underwent might be better termed 'revivification', not resurrection, since their bodies died again. Importantly, none of these people came back talking about experiencing Heaven that we know about from Scripture.

Dwight F., United Kingdom, 26 May 2013

Hi there, there are at least two other issues that a person hath to consider with the degeneration of a person's mind. 1. God giving a person over to their reprobate mind (Rom ch1). 2. We live in a fallen world and this is what happens to sinful people. This should not happen to a Christian as it is the work of the Holy Spirit to produce the fruit of the Spirit.

Gary Bates responds

Dwight, thanks for your email. Your comments presume that all experiences must be inherently evil, but as the article explained they can be explained as normal phenomena such as false memory syndrome. Secondly, it doesn't always follow that people suffering from mental or emotional illnesses might be in sin etc. The brain is an organ like any other in the body that can be affected by the Fall.

Eileen T., United Kingdom, 26 May 2013

Thank you for these explanations for a phenomena that has been quite puzzling, especially when there are certain ministries that have been built upon and (dare I say) money made from, an individual's own experience. Are they legitimised by souls being saved subsequently?

On reflection, the gospel is built on the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ , not on any other persons experience.

Paul P., United States, 26 May 2013

As a longtime supporter of CMI and a student of Christian apologetics, I find the article "Two Perspectives on NDEs" completely off-base. To both of you: please read "Beyond Death: Exploring the Evidence for Immortality" by well-known apologists Gary Habermas and J P Moreland. NDEs *do* provide very strong evidential support for the afterlife. The only reason I can imagine that many Christians are so quick to reject NDEs despite their immense evidential power is this: they are unwilling to subject themselves to anything that might challenge their personal Biblical interpretations. Please don't be closed-minded; the Bible does not contain *all* the truth that is knowable.

1 John 4:1 says, "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world." What does the above verse imply? There are false spirits, yes, but it also implies that there will be spirits who communicate *truth* as well. Otherwise why test them? We could just say "ignore all spirits" if they were all false. Many NDEs are completely inexplicable as mere hallucinations and the stories told do not necessarily contradict anything in the Bible. In fact, the Bible itself records many OBEs and NDEs: for example, in 1 Corinthians 12:2-4.

"I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know--God knows. And I know that this man--whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows-- was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell." Please reconsider your views on this! Thanks, and love in Christ.

Gary Bates responds

Thanks for your email, but we don't think it is off base or based upon faulty interpretation. Firstly, the idea that the dead can come back to life has serious Gospel implications. So, it is not about what is unknowable but actually what one can know from Scripture. What if everyone got a second chance? Why make a decision for Christ in this life? Secondly, your choice of scholars as an authority leaves a lot to be desired. Moreland, for example, cannot get a plain reading of Genesis correctl. If he reads millions of years into those plain straightforward verses, then there is little reason to trust such eisegesis elsewhere. Please take the time to read Are Ghosts Real? as it deals with the theological points on this issue. I think you should reconsider this matter seriously. Using people's experiences to interpret Scripture is dangerous and actually warned about in Scripture. The Bible is clear when it says that it is appointed for man to die once and then face judgment.

Margaret H., United States, 26 May 2013

My oldest brother told a non-family member that he died, went to hell and saw satan before his final death. He didn't want to go back after not believing in hell for 50 or so years.

Gary Bates responds

Hi Margaret, please read the replies to others at the bottom of this article. I know the experiences can seem real, even to the experiencer, but I don't think they are allowable by Scripture. Please read Are Ghosts Real? for the theological reasons as to why. They can also be explained by normal phenomena such as something known as false memory syndrome, as mentioned in the article.

John C., United States, 26 May 2013

Just read your 2-view account on NDE's. Brief, but thorough. I had heard of course the Phineas Gage story. Thank you for the active link to the research page. It cleared up a lot of misconceptions I may have entertained. I had thought that even if Gage's personality had changed, we are in a fallen world where effects like this are to be expected. It was helpful to read that much of the hype about his case was fabrication or overstatement. We must be so careful. I appreciate the care and handling every issue receives at this website.

Angie P., Canada, 27 May 2013

It would be worth looking at Alex Malarkey's story. It is an incredible story. "The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven" is the true story of an ordinary boy’s most extraordinary journey. As you see Heaven and earth through Alex’s eyes, you’ll come away with new insights on miracles, life beyond this world, and the power of a father’s love." Truthfully, I would of probably of shrugged it off if it wasn't for seeing the interviews on 100 Huntley Street program. I'm not much of a reader but I couldn't put this book down. This boy's experience was incredible and the connections to support its truth is remarkable. It also comes in DVD. Definitely worth checking out.

Gary Bates responds

Hi Angie, We are familiar with the book but we would caution too much acceptance of the experiential when it is in conflict with Scripture. There were many things that didn't gel with the claimed stories. You say it is a true story, but may I provide a gentle challenge and say "How do you know it is true?" Many things can appear Godly on the surface yet yet can be explained through normal mechanisms such as false memory syndrome, for example. That is not to say they are evil or even emanate from the spiritual realm at all, but on many occasions there is lots of good hard medical evidence that shows people sometimes have trouble separating the false memory from something that they really think happened. The new chapter in my book Alien Intrusion: UFOs and the evolution connection covers this in a lot of detail.

Anthony R., United Kingdom, 27 May 2013

The second statement I think is unsupported is Gary's note that "In view of Hebrews 9:27, “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,” there is no biblical ground for saying that someone could die and come back prior to the Resurrection of the dead".

Several people were raised from the dead through God's power by Jesus, and by the prophets before him, and by Paul after him, even though it is given unto man to die once. Lazarus is not alive today, and therefore must have died twice. Therefore this verse cannot possibly mean that a person cannot be raised back to life from death by God's power.

In the context, Paul is showing that it only needed Jesus to die once to atone for mankind's sin, since man only dies once. This is the natural form of things of which Paul is speaking, i.e., is general, and does not preclude God's miraculous restoring of that life, to live longer, in specific cases.

Lita Cosner responds

As I clarified above, Jesus experienced a genuine resurrection, and several others were resuscitated. What I was referring to was the possibility that someone could die and come back to tell us about the afterlife.

Deborah M., United States, 27 May 2013

I wanted to comment on the experience of calmness and serenity and thinking it was 'heaven' or similarly supernatural. When one is hemorrhaging [near death] it can have a calm serene feel to it. It doesn't seem to illicit danger signals like pain or fright. Maybe because that would just make you bleed to death faster? I would think that being unconscious due to illness or injury would also be in your best interest to be calm, so your body can work on healing. A nice relaxing dream would be in order. It does not seem to require any supernatural attachment to it at all. I appreciate the article.

Chris W., United Kingdom, 27 May 2013

Dear Sirs,

Well this is all very interesting! Firstly let me say it gives me comfort that the CMI 'professionals' are taking a very strict/biblical standpoint on this subject. This gives me comfort. But there are so many testimonies of people who describe leaving their bodies, meeting Jesus and then asking, or being told to return back to earth, so that the Gospel might be proclaimed powerfully and with added conviction. There are, in my opinion, just too many of these testimonies, to say that nothing other than chemicals in the brain, are producing these effects. But then as has been said 'It is appointed unto man to die but once and then the judgement'.

But what of the evangelist Ian McCormack [sic. McCormick] (of box jelly fish notoriety) see [deleted per feedback rules linking to outside sites]. Thousands have been saved at his meetings around the world. Or the plane crash victim: [similarly deleted]? As a previous correspondent has said, Paul (I assume it was him!) went up to heaven etc And it has also been pointed out that not everything is in the Bible: it doesn't have to be - only enough to show us how to live and be saved. So why shouldn't God take people here and there, in this dimension and out again, if it serves his purposes?

Gary Bates responds

I'm not sure if you realize your own contradictory statement. Your are affirming CMI's Bible first stand on interpreting such experiences, but then go on to say that there are experiences that we must defer to when interpreting the Bible. It is not relevant how many experiences there are or even how many people get saved as a result, even if the latter is a good result. For example, I've challenged people about using false 'Christian' arguments when witnessing to others, and received replies like "Well, it doesn't matter as long as they get saved!"

In my own specialty area of UFO research it is claimed that up to 4 million Americans claim to have been abducted by aliens. So, must I then find a way to insert aliens into the Bible somewhere to account for the stories behind the experience?

The point is the experiences can be real, meaning that someone can have a dream, or some form of hypnotically induced state (and even still be wide awake), but the alleged memories might not be truthful. And if those memories conflict with the clear teachings of Scripture then they simply cannot be true (and the life after death issue is a salvation/Gospel issue that WE CAN KNOW from Scripture). Unfortunately, what is being expressed by a lot of people in these comments is unawareness of the simple and normal mechanisms recognized by the medical community known as false memory syndrome, that can explain what is going on. The evidence shows that when people have undergone this experience they cannot distinguish the difference between a real event and an induced false memory. BTW as I said to another commenter I've seen and met Ian McCormick first hand. I believe he is genuine and acting in good faith, but am not convinced as to the validity of his experience (as in going to both hell and heaven). I recommend to all readers that they purchase a copy of Alien Intrusion: UFOs and the Evolution Connection. The fifth printing onwards (it is now in its sixth printing) contains a brand new chapter that explains this mechanism of false memory syndrome and how it can be derived intentionally or even inadvertently. It is based upon first hand research having met hundreds of people over the years with whom I could test, first hand, my hypothesis.

Jonathan M., Canada, 27 May 2013

I'm glad to see CMI taking the right position on this controversial topic. More and more Christian apologists are using NDEs as an evidence for the afterlife. This is a mistake. Many survivors of NDEs come back with unbiblical messages. We must put our faith in the Word of God and not the mystic experiences of people suffering from oxygen deprivation.

Gary Bates responds

You are correct. many people claim they see their deceased relatives standing next to aliens during the experience. This obviously cannot be true so it calls into question the whole experience.

Don G., Canada, 27 May 2013

You rightly caution against the experiential "when it is in conflict with the Scriptures", and wisely question rather than condemn those who disagree. But you fail to show NDE experiences conflict with Scriptures; beware of letting a theology rule out what the Bible teaches.

Several Scriptures tell of people who the Bible says were dead, but came back from the dead (e.g. 2 Kings 13:21 and 4:32-37; Matthew 27:51-53; John 11:14-44). Unstated "serious Gospel implications" must not be allowed to rule out these Bible accounts, as I'm sure you'll agree.

As to "how do you know it is true?", some NDE children are able to report things that they could not have known by natural means; an example is young Colton Burpo, who told his parents what rooms they were in, who they were with, what they were doing, the colour of the carpets, etc. while he was 'gone', though he'd never been in either room before or since. Unlikely to be lucky guesses.

While it's true that God does not violate Scripture, He clearly is not limited to what we believe He can/should do (Eph. 3:20)

Lita Cosner responds

I wonder if you realize: you start out by congratulating us for cautioning against using experience, but then you go on to say, "But people have these experiences!" God has 'self-limited' by revealing Himself to us in certain ways that rule out certain other modes of revelation.

Anytime anyone encountered God in Scripture, they seemed surprised to leave the experience alive. God's glory is overwhelming and terrifying to a sinful human. Even John, the disciple who Jesus loved, was struck 'as if dead' by the sight of his glorified Lord.

Paul genuinely saw Heaven and wasn't allowed to say anything about it. John genuinely saw Heaven, and his account in Revelation is consistently centered on God's glory. His language is as if trying to grasp for the words to describe what he's seeing, it's too glorious to describe in earthly terms.

In comparison, Colin's account of Heaven features rainbow-colored horses, people with angel wings, and a Holy Spirit who is 'kind of blue'. I reject all experiences of modern people going to Heaven because they don't square with what Scripture tells us about Heaven and God's glory. And that's the case even when the person who has the experience is a sweet four-year-old.

Jeremy W., Canada, 27 May 2013

I enjoyed this article, and particularly liked the obvious point most people miss, that a NDE is just that, 'near' death, but NOT death.

I once read a book about a guy that says Jesus 'sent him to Hell' so that he could tell people what it was like, and warn them. I was of course massively skeptical of this, for many reasons, but primarily because Jesus told us what Hell would be like, he warned us countless times, and he told us how to avoid it in the Bible, so what would be the point of sending a Christian to Hell to learn something we already know?

That book was "23 Minutes in Hell" by Bill Wiese.

Another note; You can see just how popular these NDEs and Alien encounters are just by reading the articles on this site. They seem to have far more comments from both side than do the creation/evolution or scientific articles. I have not read every article though, nor am I privy to the filtering system, so I could be way off on that. ;)

H. Y., Canada, 27 May 2013

Just wondering ... what's your take on Lazarus. Was he really dead when Jesus raised him?

Lita Cosner responds

Yes; he had been in the tomb long enough to start stinking.

Christian G., Canada, 27 May 2013

Gary,

Thank you for your excellent article. I’ll sure have to read your book, which I believe will answer many questions. I also used to think, without having studied, that NDE were proofs of the afterlife. But, why didn’t any of Lazarus or others brought back from the grave/dead never gave us any glimpses of their afterlife experience in the recorded scriptures. Wouldn’t the apostles want to record for us all that wonderful experiential information?

Paul (and many others) may have had visions, but I don’t think it was an OBE/NDE per say, as Paul did not see his “body on the table” (whether in or out-of-body I don’t know…). I’ve become somewhat protected from those experiential witness (UFO, NDE, ghosts, etc) since considering that Jesus explained in the parables of the wheat and tares that the wicked are reserved for the judgment (2 Pet 3:7 KJV) at the end of time per Mt 13:39-42, when unjust are cast into Hell. How could people experience Hell during NDE if they don’t even go there until they are separated sometimes after the coming/judgement? Thank you very much for excellent article, and I look forward to read your book on your research in this area. Like you, I believe the UFO’s and NDE (and ghosts and Mary) are very inconsistent in their description/beliefs and a certain percentage maybe related to spiritual deception. Steve Wohlberg also wrote on similar subject of death/ghosts. Keep up your excellent work.

Christian

As Jesus said, scriptures is very relevant: “If they hear not Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one (Jesus and Lazarus) rose from the dead” Luke 16:31.

Stephan B., Canada, 27 May 2013

First of all, great work you guys do at CMI so don't stop. Secondly, this article was interresting to me as i have gone thru it myself (NDE) when i was 18. I would like to share as best as i can what i experienced and let you judge it as you see fit.

I was an atheist. One evening, i was with some friends and i was stoned as i had taken heavy drugs. At one point, something weird happened ; Hard to describe but everything around me shut down on me like a curtain...the sound died away, my vision died away slowly and i felt my hear stop. I remember puting my hand on my chest and not feeling my heartbeat and thinking '' oh c---, this is it ! ''. I fell on the floor. Next, i felt as being removed from my body but all was just blackness & darkness around me. I was fully aware & thinking (unlike a dream) but couldn't do anything. I remember also that time & physical substance was irrelevant. For what seemed like only a brief moment, i was suddenlly fully aware of my entire life from all aspect. And the next and last part changed my life ; i clearly heard a voice ask : '' are you ready ? ''. I said ''NO '' and right away, my eyes openned and i was lying still on the floor with my friends still talking in the kitchen. I got up and understood + knew that it is not over when we die contrary to what i had believed. I then asked my friends how long i had been on the floor and they told me couple minutes but for me, it lasted only a brief moment. I don't know what to make of it...if it was real or not but it did change my life as i became christian shortly after. And i do agree with Paul P from the USA :''the Bible does not contain *all* the truth that is knowable''. But i also believe that no so-called ''truth'' can go against the Bible. The Bible is what God intended for us to know.

Lita Cosner responds

Stephan, I believe that you had a powerful experience. And God could have used this experience to bring you to believe the Gospel. I am not going to try to dissect the experience, but you were clearly aware that your body was in a 'crisis', and that you were 'shutting down'. A lot of weird things happen when the body starts to shut itself down, and this could be a state where people are more susceptible to experiencing things (and the fact that you had taken drugs may have made this even more likely).

These experiences become harmful when they become a focal point or obsession. I would encourage you to focus on what the Bible's teaching, and not make too much out of an experience. By the way, you may be interested in Gary Bates's book Alien Intrusion which has a chapter with an explanation of these experiences.

James M., United Kingdom, 28 May 2013

As you start from the premiss of the Bible being the only authority, I will start there to raise the idea that it isn't the only authority.

Abraham, Moses etc. didn't have most of the bible yet followed God.

The bible says "The heavens declare. . ."

"Through everything God made. . . . So they have no excuse."

Jesus taught from the world around as well as from scripture.

ie. We get our understanding from both the Bible and the world around us.

We can be so caught up with not being "of the world" that we forget to be in it.

That premiss aside I know that in hospitals and hospices NDE of both heaven and hell are frequent.

Jean Darnell's book "Heaven here I come" is an interesting example. But does scripture disagree with the evidence of NDE and the examples of "the only way they could have known that was some OoBE"

In the story of Dives and Lazarus, God explains why return to life isn't a guaranteed effective witness, but doesn't rule it out.

Lazarus was dead in the tomb.

John was caught up to heaven.

Enoch went to heaven and decided to stay.

The only scripture I can think of that would rule it out is "It is given unto man once to die". It is also given unto man to live 70 years but some live more, some less. its a general rule not a limit. 120 years is a maximum Biblical limit, (see Guinness book of records to see if Bible is true on that one) (spoiler alert: dozens have reached 119, only one over 120 claim that hasn't been so far dismissed).

Evolution undermines itself by inventing ad hoc arguments to explain evidence that doesn't fit the paradigm, let's not undermine ourselves by the same method, better to say, "I don't know" or "evidence and arguments on both sides" than be dogmatic with unverified ideas.

"What should Christians think?" - seek and YOU will find.

Lita Cosner responds

Dear James,

Before God had completed the entire revelation of Scripture, He gave special revelation to specific individuals who would play an important part in salvation history. And during this time, people were saved by trusting in what God had revealed. Today, without exception, people are saved by believing what God has revealed about Himself and salvation in Jesus Christ.

NDEs are not something to rely on or trust in, regardless of whether they are common or rare. Rather, we should trust in Scripture.

Lynn E., Canada, 28 May 2013

Good article, on a subject matter that tends to have a variety of opinions with (often) plenty of personal anecdotal arguments.

Because we live in a society where experience frequently trumps dogma, it can be easy to allow a lot of credence to personal "near death experiences" which offer support to the belief that people can come back from the dead after spending a portion of time in the fires of hell or the rapture of heaven. I have read of some accounts of NDE's upon which detailed theological dogma was formulated, which can be a foolish, or even very dangerous path to follow.

By far, the best book I have read on the subject is "If I Should Wake Before I Die" by Christian cardiologist Dr. H. Leon Greene. The gist of the book is that near death experiences are not a reliable guide to the afterlife, nor the Biblical understanding of life and death in the realm of eternity.

In support of what I refer to as "pop Christian culture," accounts of NDE's are invariably cherry picked to provide the "evidence" that supports the presenter's theological perspective. In fact, NDE's attesting to an afterlife experience of heavenly bliss have often shown a wanton disregard for the personal religious perspectives of the person who is undergoing the experience. In short, there have been individuals who have attested to being Christian, Muslim, Hindu, (insert religious affiliation here), or even atheist, and invariably described a similar NDE of heavenly bliss, which indicates there is something fundamentally wrong with trying to ascribe doctrinal implications to the results. In short, are you going to believe what God reveals in His Word, or are you going to let conflicting personal experiences dictate what you believe?

Elaine C., United States, 29 May 2013

I am reading a book by Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon. In the book he clearly explains his NDE and is firmly convinced that there is indeed a God and Heaven. This in spite of the fact that he was trained by a very liberal university. There is a God and there is a heaven. I myself had a NDE when I was 18 months old. I remember it very clearly. I was dying from Whooping cough and my mother and father were walking the floor with me and praying/crying to save me. I was saved and do firmly believe in God the father, his Son and the Holy Ghost. Faith is tantamount to belief in the Christ. NDEs clearly happen and it is a shame that people do not accept this as a reality.

Gary Bates responds

I also think it is a shame when people place experiences over the Bible rather than use the Bible to interpret experiences. however, that is irrelevant to the argument somewhat. The issue is, does Scripture allow for people dying and going to heaven and coming back. The only passage remotely connected is the Apostle Paul's visit to a 3rd Heaven and even he was not sure if it really happened or not.

But, allegedly this has happened to thousands of people; some have written about it and so on, so therefore many think it is a real visitation. Also, it speaks about nice 'Godly' stuff so the tendency of Christians is to accept these. The biggest problem with many of these alleged ‘heaven’ experiences is that many of the recollections differ from each other. Logically then, they all cannot be true. So, which ones do you decide as real or false? One always has to be careful about finding loopholes in, or taking an eisegetical approach based upon the experiences of many. For example, 4 million Americans claim to have been abducted by aliens. Some of them have incredible details about the inside of a spaceship and can even recall a real physical sense of the experience, so how do we explain these details if people really have not been aboard a spaceship? (Often their recollections contradict each other too). Now, it would be probably easier to believe that God created life in this incredibly vast universe but a plain understanding of the Gospel’s big picture, God’s purposes for Creation and for mankind etc. would prohibit this. Therefore I am constrained by what the Bible implies or teaches to explain it otherwise. As I think that people coming back from the dead is a Gospel/salvation issue, I also have real problems with this idea. If we get such second chances why even lead people to the Lord (would be a dramatic, but logical, extension to the this idea). The Bible says we die and face judgment. Is that true or not? We are only given a few exceptions in Scriptures where people were raised from the dead and none of these (except for the possible Paul account mentioned earlier) have stories of visiting Heaven and returning. I

Moreover, there is a simple and now pretty well understood phenomenon known as false memory syndrome that can explain all of this. Unfortunately many Christians are massively unaware of this phenomenon and have a tendency to think “Well, it came from Christian, he’s credible, he would not lie, and people have been saved as a result.” All things might be true but is still does not automatically follow that his experience was truthful—even if he believes it is. And of course, people often want to believe in this stuff. Often people cannot distinguish between the false memory and reality. The false memory foundation says that memory is highly suggestible and memories are often a mix of fantasy and fact, and that they can only be verified by external corroboration. That’s bit hard when someone claims they’ve been to heaven. A little know fact is that people who claim NDE’s say they see the white light with their dead relatives at the other end standing alongside aliens. Now, that can’t really be happening can it? Or are aliens in Heaven too?

Given your story about a neurosurgeon, he of all people should be aware of other factors like brain chemistry that seems to trigger ‘tunnels of light’ etc. If he was a liberal Christian also, he is more likely, not less, to read into Scripture rather than take it literally in the places where it deserves to be read in such a way. The experience will so often will also be subjectively modified in someone with a Christian background so that they have visions of heaven—and again, the very fact that they are not all the same should give one pause. Of course, to this point, I have sounded like a rationalist skeptic, but one does not have the faintest idea of how brain chemistry (which obviously mediates our psyche) links to the immortal, spiritual aspects of our being and ‘travels with it’. It has been postulated more than once that drug taking (as in the DMT rituals) can open the gate, as it were, to very unhealthy spiritual aspects, and some of the shamanic visions involve seeing aliens. Also, I note that in the vast majority of NDE’s, the experiencer seems to be more immune to the Gospel thereafter; they lose their fear of death totally, and certainly of any possibility of judgement after death. because the being (s) is often so totally accepting and non-judgmental, and also there is often a spiritual ‘message’ which makes one firmly convinced of universalism, i.e. all will be loved and accepted, sin does not enter into the equation. So while I am not saying that these ‘trips to heaven’ in true believers are of that sinister nature, one can say that it seems unwise to grant them credence as anything other than subjective experiences—because otherwise one would have no logical reason not to grant these very loving but anti-Gospel experiences the same degree of credibility if they ‘sound credible’.

Regarding the issue of brain chemistry, i.e. when the brain starts to shut down, its chemistry may well give rise to various sensations including quite vivid experiences, which have little to do with objective reality. There is a substance that is found naturally in the brain called DMT, and which is also ingested in various shamanic rituals, which result in spiritual experiences of a most profound nature and that seem totally, absolutely, undeniably real to the experiencers.

These experiences can be incredibly varied; they can include being ushered into the presence of a god-like being, or even discussions with spirit guides, and also can be absolutely dreadful and fear-inducing. A lot seems to depend on the individual, which presumably includes their upbringing and their background beliefs. It has been postulated that chemicals like DMT are the cause of hallucinations in psychotic breakdowns. It has long been known that the content of hallucinations/delusions in psychosis is socio-culturally determined to an extent. So that in a strongly Christian culture, people think that demons are trying to take over their minds; in a sci-fi soaked one, it’s aliens whereas in the former Soviet Union, it was the KGB trying to beam microwaves into their head, whatever.

One should not rely upon an experience as a proof of their faith either. Faith comes by hearing the Word as the Word itself indicates. In fact, as someone who has met and worked with hundreds of experiencers in multiple scenarios it is actually dangerous to depend upon the experience, no matter how real they seem, to interpret Scripture. As disappointing as this may be to you, I urge you to take the counsel of Scripture first.

Ray D., United States, 29 May 2013

One comment is "there are at least two other issues that a person hath to consider with the degeneration of a person's mind. 1. God giving a person over to their reprobate mind (Rom ch1). 2. We live in a fallen world and this is what happens to sinful people. This should not happen to a Christian as it is the work of the Holy Spirit to produce the fruit of the Spirit."

I suggest that many people show good spiritual fruit who are not "in Christ." I'm sure that Paul's contrast between fruit of the flesh and fruit of the spirit is contrasting physical with spiritual fruit. All Christians are gifted with the Spirit. Many Christians are less spiritual than some non-Christians. I think this proves that Paul's list of spiritual gifts refers simply to that which is opposed to the flesh in any mortal person. -- Ray D.

Lita Cosner responds

It is impossible for someone to be spiritual or to have good spiritual fruit apart from a relationship with Christ, and that you think it is possible means that you fundamentally misunderstand what the problem is that we need to be saved from.

Apart from Christ, we're not simply 'incomplete' or less able to be good; we're completely incapable of doing anything pleasing to God.

Jonathan L., United States, 29 May 2013

Matthew 27:52

"and the tombs were opened; and many bodies of the saints that had fallen asleep were raised;" This is why I trust the Word.

Gary Bates responds

Yes, and these were people who were dead, probably for a long time, like Lazarus "who stinketh!" These were resurrections, which is biblical, and will happen to believers eventually. This is quite different to the concept of NDEs.

Michael L., United States, 30 May 2013

I have wrestled with this NDE issue for some time now, & I am fully aware of Hebrews 9:27. Reading that chapter in Hebrews, & I don't glean any specific philosophy denying the possibility of a God experience like an NDE before our bodies actually die permanently. It seems that this chapter is dealing more with the juxtaposition of the Old Covenant vs. the New Covenant. Is it possible that verse 27 is also denying the reincarnation philosophy? I am sure there were a few of those beliefs floating around in the Christian world throughout this region due to gentile religious influence.

I would never purposely defy scriptural truth, but again, the scripture does not seem clear on these specific experiences, & I believe we should take a closer look at these phenomenons. There may be a fine line between this realm & the next, & it's possible these things are real. It's also possible that God gives some people a vision of the other realm for his own reasons. So, the person may not be clinically deceased, but still able to see beyond our own dimension. The Bible shows us that God will sometimes bargain with humans, for the education of future generations. Jesus said that we are blessed if we see & believe, & more blessed if we don't see, yet believe. However, he does not condemn those who need to see in order to believe. Is it possible that many NDE's are God's way of revealing eternity to those who need to see in order to believe?

Gary Bates responds

Michael, with regard to whether you think this is Scriptural or not, please read our replies to others on this topic in the comments section below the main article. There are Gospel issues at stake.

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