HOUSMAIL #HM115A -- NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCES Part 1 -- A Brief Review                   29 March 2004

By Allon Maxwell

Last Friday, my 15 year old grandson, mentioned a visiting speaker at his school, who had been invited to share his "testimony" about what was claimed to be his "death", immediately followed by a short visit to "hell" and "heaven", and subsequent "resurrection". Of course "experiences" like this one, are NOT new. They have been going on for thousands of years! I first encountered them in the 1970s, when several books were written, many magazine articles appeared, and a couple of documentaries were shown on TV.

By the grace of God, I was able to recall information from those 1970s studies, and give my grandson a brief "off the cuff" Biblical response to his description of the "testimony". In the light of other pending local events, it was also timely to use it as the basis for the Sunday School lesson in Church, yesterday.

Since then it has seemed appropriate to collect together some more detailed information which might be useful for other friends as well. So this article represents Part 1 of a two part response to the questions raised by such testimonies. (See also the companion article "Near Death Experiences Part 2 -- A Biblical View".)

"Near Death Experiences" are NOT new! I have personally met four people who had experienced things which I consider to be in the same category. I also remember a well known Melbourne "Christian" about 20 to 25 years ago, who made quite a name for himself sharing a testimony quite similar to the one briefly described above. Some considerable time after he had been declared dead by the doctors who examined him, he recovered consciousness. He claimed that while he was in this state, he experienced a "vision" in which he met Jesus and was "sent back" to warn others to repent while they had the opportunity. The doctors were completely baffled by the case, but eventually came to the conclusion that he had not actually died, but was kept alive by a very intermittent pulse, with just enough blood circulation to prevent brain damage.

Of course the bottom line of his testimony was a powerful emotional appeal to the audience to "repent". But alas ..... the meaning of true repentance was NOT adequately defined, and his testimony was ever so much more about the preacher, than it was about Jesus! (John 5:43-44; 16:14) Vitally important elements of the REAL Good News about the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ were missing.

There is one major problem with such testimonies! Remarkably similar "Near Death experiences" (NDEs) are NOT unique to Christians! They are also reported by Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, American Indians, atheists, psychics, and homosexuals. And of course those from other groups do not point to Christianity as the goal of any return to life!

A Gallup survey conducted in 1982 estimated that there were currently approximately 13 million adults in the USA who had NDEs! It could be expected that similar pro rata numbers could be found in other countries. However it should also be noted that the majority of people who have been diagnosed as "clinically dead", and then revived, report no experience at all. They were completely unconscious during the time of their "death".

A brief search this morning found quite a bit of published information. There are even a number of "Near Death Associations" on line. One of these calls itself:

"The International Association for Near-Death Studies"
It has links to a number of other sources.
Perhaps one of the best known authors is Dr. Raymond Moody, who published a best selling book , " Life After Life " somewhere around 1975. He is credited with being the first modern researcher to focus public attention the subject, and is said to have coined the term "near-death experience".

Moody recorded and compared the experiences of 150 people who died, or almost died, and then revived. He listed NINE elements that generally occur during NDEs. (although from other reports, not necessarily all of these occur in every case, nor are they necessarily always exactly the same in detail.) The list below combines information from Moody‘s list with other information gleaned over the years, from other sources which I am unable to document here.

1. A strange sound : -- Moody describes it as a buzzing, or ringing noise, while having a sense of being dead. However in some testimonies I have read, neither the noise nor the sense of being dead, was mentioned.

2. Out-of-body experience : This appears to be associated with most cases. People report the sensation of rising up and floating above their own body looking down on it and the medical team, and watching events.

3. Peace and painlessness : While people are dying, they may experience intense crippling pain, but as soon as they "leave the body" the pain vanishes and they experience "peace".

4. The tunnel experience : Most seem to describe an experience of being drawn into a "dark tunnel" through which they travelled at an extremely high speed, until they reached a realm of radiant light where they met a "being of light". (Some also reported arriving in "hell" at some stage in this process.) In the presence of the "being of light", some felt afraid. Others felt welcomed and accepted.

5.Rising rapidly into the heavens : Some people reported rising suddenly into the heavens without the "tunnel experience", whilst seeing the earth and stars as they would be seen by astronauts in space.

6.The Being of Light : Most seem to report meeting a powerful spiritual "being of light". Some (but not all) identified this being as God, or Jesus, or some other famous historical religious figure.

7.People of light : Some people reported seeing other people arriving with them and queuing up to enter "heaven"! Others reported meeting people who had already entered, who "glowed with an inner light". And others reported being welcomed by friends and relatives who have already died and were there to meet them.

8. The life review : The Being of Light was often reported as presenting the person with a non judgemental overview of everything they had ever done, especially to other people. Most reported that they came away without having felt guilt, or if they did, they felt forgiven. When they returned to their bodies they usually reported feeling that "love" is the most important thing in life. (although it often seems that this "love" is not clearly defined.)

9.Reluctance to return : Sometimes the "Being of Light" told the person that they must return to their bodies. Others were given a choice of staying or returning. Those who were reluctant to return, usually did so for the sake of loved ones they did not wish to leave behind.

Of course there are always some who for less than honest motives, will jump onto any "bandwagon" they think might make them famous. (or rich!) Nevertheless the volume of similar testimonies is far too great to deny that for many of those concerned there has been a very "real" experience of some sort. However their interpretation of the meaning of their experience is another matter altogether! In the light of Bible teaching, it is my personal opinion that MOST are deceived about what has really happened to them! (2 Thess 1:9-12)

If we do faithfully interpret the experience in the light of what the Bible says, there is ONE thing we can be certain of. The people concerned were NOT actually dead. Nor have they been "resurrected" from the dead! Of that we may be certain, from the Bible‘s very clear statement that the dead are completely unconscious and know nothing. (Eccles 9:5, 10)

The medical profession has developed a definition of "clinical death", and/or "brain death", which they use for the purpose of officially declaring death has taken place, before writing a legally required "death certificate". In these cases it would appear that "clinical death" and REAL death, are not always the same thing. That is why the term "near death experience" has been coined. It describes people who show no visible and measurable signs of heart or brain activity, but are not yet completely and irreversibly dead.

My own personal speculation, based on my Biblical view of things, is that these are trance like " altered states of mind ", quite similar to those experienced by "soul travellers", "astral travellers", "voodoo worshippers", witch doctors, some ancient and modern pagan cultures, and mediums who claim to contact the dead.

They can be readily induced by certain physical techniques. It seems VERY likely that in some cases, they may be induced by the effect on the brain of toxins in the body, resulting from some illnesses. Or maybe it could be a side effect of lack of oxygen to the brain, when blood circulation and/or breathing temporarily ceases. Another possibility for some cases would be the remnant effect of past drug abuse. The research simply hasn‘t been done yet. How do you arrange for an NDE under laboratory controlled conditions?

If I am correct about that, then NDEs are in the realm of the OCCULT, which God calls ABOMINATION!

They are certainly NOT anything like the Bible descriptions of Christian Holy Spirit experience or gifts! Nor can they ever be used to support the popular beliefs of most religious cultures about some sort of "Life After Death". That would completely contradict Bible teaching that the dead know NOTHING!