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Near-death experiences and the authority of Scripture

J.K., from the UK, wrote:

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I just have some questions regarding the afterlife, I’m struggling to understand all the evidence for God and such but the one that I want to believe in most is the afterlife. When Christians say that’s NDEs prove God I usually tend to think that this true but it got me thinking, when I began reading atheists explanations for them for example: we evolved the trait so they are all similar or DMT etc. So for me this doesn’t seem to prove much, and I feel that this is the only thing the afterlife has going for it. Atheists also say we distort evidence to fit our views.As many people have pointed out to me, the things we feel (human experience) can all be explained by the action of electrochemical reactions in the brain this then removes the need for the concept of the soul and since the soul hypothesis is untestable then it’s blind faith once again. I was just wondering if you knew of any evidence or could help me understand and settle my fears

, CMI-US, responds:

Thanks for writing in. I actually believe NDEs are not trustworthy witnesses about what we can expect when we die. The brain does all sorts of weird things when a person is involved in trauma, and while I don’t doubt that the light, feelings of peace, etc, were things the person experienced, I don’t believe they are actually glimpses of heaven. See Two perspectives on near death experiences.

Rather, my belief in the afterlife is informed by Someone who actually died and came back to life—Jesus. He tells us that every person on Earth is going to live forever in one of two places, and what we believe about Him decides which. Every person is born in rebellion against God, and throughout our lives we demonstrate this by sinning. God’s justice demands that He judge sin (our justice demands that sin is paid for, too, but we’re just a lot more selective when it comes to our own ‘pet sins’), so people who die in this sinful, rebellious state go to Hell, a place of judgment and separation from God.

God could send every person to Hell and be perfectly just, because every person has sinned. But God loves us, and wanted to save a people for Himself. So He sent His Son to take on humanity. Jesus lived a perfect human life—never once sinning or failing to act completely righteously. Then He died in one of the cruelest, most humiliating ways possible, and God placed the judgment for the sins of the world on Him. He died in our place, was buried, and on the third day He rose. So He has unique authority to tell us about Heaven—which He died to make available to us, and Hell, which is the only option for those who reject Him.

Scripture tells us that those who trust Jesus go to be with Him when they die, and we call the place they go ‘Heaven’, though Scripture also calls it ‘Paradise’. To be in this place is better than living in the fallen world, but it is not the ultimate destination of the believer. Rather, all those who have believed in Jesus will be resurrected when He returns, and will live with Him forever in the restored New Heavens and Earth. The new earth will feature many of the things we love most about God’s creation—it couldn’t be called ‘earth’ at all if there was not some continuity—but none of the things that were introduced as a result of sin. Believers will worship God on the new earth, as well as serving Him in various functions. Scripture speaks of us ruling with Christ and judging angels—and there will doubtless be things that we couldn’t even begin to imagine in this existence. And the important thing to note here is: Scripture is the authority, not someone’s subjective experience.

As far as electrochemical reactions explaining human experience, it doesn’t come close. An orangutan might have electrochemical reactions in its brain fairly similar to those happening in mine, but it will never contemplate the role of those reactions in its own consciousness, or communicate its thoughts on the subject via language. And as such, these electrochemical reactions do not remove the possibility of a soul. See Brain chemistry and the fate of the personality after death, and The God spot.

As Christians, we take many things on faith, including the existence of the soul. But this faith is not blind—it is grounded in the authority of Jesus, who rose from the dead. So we do not have to be afraid that what He says might be wrong, or need to be revised in light of scientific understanding.

I hope this helps.

Published: 23 May 2015

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