The numbers are building. People are dying and coming back to life with a story to tell. It’s happening all the time. Near-death experiences (NDEs) are increasingly being reported as an identifiable physiological and psychological reality of clinical significance. Virtually every week, an article appears in the media about a new near-death experience that adds to the growing body of evidence and public awareness. Hollywood has tapped into the rising level of interest in the subject by producing some entertaining and profitable films about the phenomenon.
Yet many Christian pastors and teachers hold the topic of NDEs at arm's length – and for understandable reasons. Called a pseudo-science by some, the field is riddled with a panoply of confusing, conflicting and many anti-Biblical accounts and explanations. For some secular scientists, NDEs are dismissed as a mere chemical reaction in the brain – an unknown mechanism of the body that engages during clinical death or grievous injury or shock.
Why the Christian Clergy push-back? NDE witnesses report a wide range of experiences - from full-on encounters with Jesus Christ - to ethereal experiences where the witness feels joined with an enveloping non-personal light that emanates an unconditional love. The Near-Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF) website has posted thousands of reported incidents that run the gamut from simple experiences of a person leaving their body and hovering near an operating room ceiling to blissful visits to heaven and horrific descents into hell.
Since some reports do not square with the content of the Bible, some Christian pastors tend to dismiss all of them with a single broad brushstroke. They believe they are the product of demonic encounters or the work of fabricators who hope to profit from their claims. Still, others believe NDE witnesses are simply mentally disturbed or deluded. I contend that ignoring NDEs and the people who report them is a mistake. I also recommend that a term other than NDE should be used to allow for a fuller understanding of the phenomenon within Christian circles.
But why should Christians be talking about them at all? Why not let secular scientists and medical professionals deal with the issue?
I humbly suggest that Christians should pay attention to NDEs for the following reasons:
1. They’re happening whether we believe it or not.
Regardless of what you call them, roughly 5% of the American population, or roughly 13 million people, report experiencing an NDE every year according to a poll taken by Gallup in 1992. More recently, an article published in the Journal of Near-Death Studies cited a survey of 2,000 people in Germany in 2011 that found 4 percent had experienced an NDE.
In June 2019, a new study by European researchers found one in ten people has undergone a near-death experience. The findings were presented at the fifth European Academy of Neurology Congress by researchers hailing from Danish specialty hospital Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen University Hospital, the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, along with researchers from the Center for Stroke Research in Berlin, and the Norwegian University of Technology in Trondheim, Norway.
The study analyzed 1,034 people from 35 countries and found that 289 people reported a near-death experience with varying spiritual and physical symptoms.
Of those 289 people, 106 of them reached the threshold for a “true” near-death experience as quantified by the 16 points in the Greyson NDE Scale which "measures the depth of an individuals' near-death experience." An experience reaching 7 on the scale is considered "true."
The Greyson NDE Scale is the most widely used standardized tool to “identify, confirm and characterize” near-death experiences.
For Christian clergy to turn their backs on people who have already undergone a medical trauma or brush with death and are crying out for counseling and support is a recipe for disaster. If you want to turn people away from Jesus Christ and steer them toward the New Age movement or worse, then call them dishonest, duped by demons or simply confused.
Interestingly, several Christian pastors and Catholic priests have experienced NDEs. I've not heard a single one describe their experience as demonic, and I'll let others decide whether they're delusional or dishonest. If you believe Dr. Eben Alexander or Dr. Mary Neal would risk their medical practices and professional reputations to make false sensational claims about experiencing an NDE, I suggest you're mistaken.
2. NDE is an inaccurate term for an actual event that is a reflection of a person’s combined physical and supernatural structure as described in the Bible.
The event, not the term, needs to be taken seriously.
Better term? The Bible teaches that man is composed of a physical body, a soul and a spirit. Several verses, such as 1 Thessalonians 5:23 which states, "Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again," make clear that man has a triune structure. Recognition of those components is vitally important when considering what is termed an NDE. One of the common occurrences reported by NDE witnesses cited in peer-reviewed studies is that they distinctly experience being "out-of-body." As Christians, we should take the wisdom of the Bible as a cue to devise a new term that more accurately describes what is taking place in our physical world daily.
When does dead mean dead? The near-death experience is a term that was created to label an unknown phenomenon. The expression “Near-Death Experience” (NDE) was created in the nineteenth century when a Swiss geologist collected testimonies from his fellow climbers and himself after making a fall in the Alps. Raymond Moody, a philosopher, psychologist, physician and author, most known for his book Life After Life, popularized the term NDE in 1975. While the term has stuck, it's inaccurate, as many of the witnesses' experiences result from being clinically dead. In other words, they had no vital signs – no pulse or respiration. That's not near-dead, that's dead. Maybe not in God's eyes, but certainly in the eyes of man.
Without putting too fine a point on the issue, when a patient flatlines in the presence of an attending physician and efforts to resuscitate the patient are unsuccessful, the physician doesn't announce, "Alright, the patient is almost dead. Let's give them a couple more minutes and then I'll declare them really dead." No, in the eyes of the medical community, dead is dead.
Since NDE has become a label that is used and misused regularly, I suggest a better term for the Christian community would be a spirit/soul separation event, or SSE. For reasons only God knows, certain events trigger the soul and spirit to separate from the physical body – our earth suit. Sometimes, the soul/spirit hovers above the person's body and in other cases, they travel together through a tunnel or vortex. In some cases, the person's soul and spirit arrive in an otherworldly location almost instantly. SSEs vary greatly in content and intensity.
In some reported cases, a person has had no pulse or respiration for more than an hour before “self-resuscitating.” In his fascinating book, My Time In Heaven, the late Richard Sigmund reported being dead for more than eight hours and finding himself being wheeled to a hospital morgue when he re-entered his body. He displayed no signs of brain damage after he came back to life, and his fatal injuries healed spontaneously. Clearly, he went beyond being “near death.”
3. The Bible makes references to events that mirror NDEs or SSEs.
In Isaiah 6, the prophet Isaiah describes being in the presence of the Lord sitting on a throne in heaven and hearing seraphim calling "Holy, Holy Holy is the Lord of Hosts." He further describes a seraphim taking a burning coal from the altar of the Lord and touching it to Isaiah's lips to cleanse him of his guilt and sin. Some may attribute Isaiah's description to a vision, but since the passage does not specifically describe it as a vision but does describe Isaiah talking, seeing and touching, one could make the case that Isaiah underwent an SSE and traveled to heaven.
In Ezekiel 8:1-11, Ezekiel describes a vision in which a supernatural being lifted him between heaven and earth and brought him to the entrance of the gateway of an inner court that faced north in Jerusalem. Unlike Isaiah 6, Ezekiel used the term "vision," although one could make the case that his vision was an out-of-body experience or SSE.
In 2 Corinthians 12:2, the Apostle Paul describes a man who was “caught up in the third heaven – “whether in the body or out of the body, I do not know, God knows. And I know this man was caught up in paradise.” Most Christian scholars agree that Paul was describing his own experience, and although Paul equivocates whether he had an out-of-body experience or a vision, he presents the out-of-body experience as a distinct possibility. For Christian teachers who say that the Bible does not mention NDEs or SSEs, I humbly disagree. Paul's testimony confirms that he visited heaven in some capacity while he still had a physical body on earth that was alive.
Finally, in Revelation 1:10, John describes being in the spirit on the Lord's day and being in the presence of Jesus Christ, who directs John to record what he observed. The faculty of sight is associated with the physical and the spiritual body. NDE/SSE witnesses report a heightened sense of vision. For John to be able to see in the heavenly realm, he most likely separated from his physical body.
4. Members of the New Age movement and witchcraft practice induced SSEs.
While some in the body of Christ reject the concept of NDEs/SSEs, members of the occult and the New Age movement have practiced a form of an induced SSE - astral projection – for many years. Practitioners of astral projection report their out-of-body experiences on websites such as The Astral Pulse, which is devoted to guest posts and articles about out-of-body experiences and astral projection experiences. New Age movement adherents seem to understand the concept of the detachable conscious element of the human body, i.e., three-part construction of man - better than most Christian clergy. Christian pastors, teachers, and researchers who are self-avowed former witches, warlocks, Satanists or New Age movement practitioners have acknowledged either personally engaging in astral projection or being aware of others who have. Christian clergy and researchers should learn from the New Age devotees who have engaged in disconnecting their spirits and souls from their bodies and traveling to remote locations to further their misguided activities. NDE/SSE witnesses have undergone unintentional events similar to astral projection, and Christian brothers and sisters should lend them a sympathetic ear and encourage them to seek God and read scripture.
5. NDEs or SSEs help our understanding of what’s written in the Bible.
Accurately and honestly reported NDEs/SSEs can confirm God's inspired Word, not replace it. They do not add or take away from the Bible any more than the archeological discovery of a specific artifact never mentioned in the Bible, such as a coin or piece of pottery that bears the name of a particular person revealed in the Bible - but contains some new detail not described in any Bible verse - in any way conflicts with the scriptures. They simply add detail that amplifies and clarifies what is written in God's inspired word.
Put another way, SSEs are events that allow individuals to observe and to experience details about the supernatural properties of heaven and hell. NDEs/SSEs shouldn't be the basis for our faith, but they can reinforce our faith.
I’ll be the first to admit that one does not need to study a single NDE/SSE to learn about God. The Bible is truly fully sufficient. However, the eyewitness testimony of honest and careful NDE/SSE witnesses can aid the Christian in better understanding parts of scripture.
For example, the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all document the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Although none provide any specific details about how Jesus was nailed to the cross, the readers of the Gospel have a general understanding of what happened to Jesus on Golgotha, also known as the place of the Skull. However, a popular misconception memorialized in countless paintings and graphic depictions is that the Roman soldiers drove spikes through the palms of Jesus' hands into the wooden cross.
In his book, The Case For Christ, Lee Strobel documents an interview with Alexander Metherell, MD, and Ph.D., a man with the medical and scientific credentials to explain the crucifixion. As explained by Dr. Metherell, when the Romans conducted a crucifixion, they used 5 to 7-inch metal spikes that were driven through the wrists and feet of the victim. The wrists had to be used because the flesh and small bones of the hands could not support the weight of the victim. As explained by Dr. Metherell, the wrist was considered part of the hand in the language of the day of Jesus' time.
Why is this important? In B.W. Melvin’s book, A Land Unknown: Hell’s Dominion – an account of an extensive NDE/SSE that landed Melvin in hell – Melvin describes on page 67 standing in the presence of Christ, who reached toward Melvin to wipe his tears with the hem of Christ’s robe and “revealing an ugly gnashed scar near His wrist displaying that the very joints had been ripped from their place.” He describes later in his book observing the same wounds on Christ. At the time of his NDE/SSE that had been precipitated by cholera, Melvin was an avowed militant atheist. Like any careful witness, he simply recorded what he saw.
In Jim Woodford’s book, Heaven, an unexpected journey, he documents an NDE/SSE in which he travels to an entrance of hell and then is escorted to heaven by three angles after dying of an accidental medication overdose. He writes about being escorted into Jesus’ presence, and on page 127 he documents “But when Jesus held out his hand, I saw the radiant light of his garment shining through a hole in his wrist – the wrist that had been nailed to the cross for me. For all of us. It was not a bloody or jagged hole, but clearly an odd-shaped scar."
Did Jim Woodford learn about the use of wrists in crucifixions from others and attempt to mislead his readers with a false account? Possibly, but highly improbable.
Another part of the Bible that is supported by NDEs/SSEs is the book of Genesis, which describes God's creation of man. NDEs/SSEs confirm the existence of the soul and spirit and demonstrate that they are separate and distinct components that make up our total being. They further confirm that our soul/spirit contains all of our senses and that our body is simply a biological interface organism that allows the soul and spirit to function in the earth's time/space continuum. They help refute the notion that we have all evolved from pond scum and developed into prescient beings capable of abstract thought. NDEs/SSEs validate the contention that the soul and spirit did not arise from the primordial soup, and evolutionists simply cannot account for the creation of man's consciousness. NDEs/SSEs confirm we are composed of "supernatural components" that science has yet to identify while the Bible has already clearly described them.
6. NDEs or SSEs have become a legitimate field of scientific study that has amassed large quantities of data and numerous peer-reviewed studies.
Since Raymond Moody wrote his pioneering book in 1975, the field of study of NDEs/SSEs has grown dramatically. Dr. Jeff Long, a radiation oncologist who is a scientist and medical researcher, created the Near-Death Research Foundation (NDERF) and its corresponding website, NDERF.org in 1998. Today, the foundation has a library of more than 4,000 self-reported NDEs/SSEs accounts posted on the website. Each account is information inputted, anonymously, into a scientifically designed questionnaire that is structured to weed out fabricators and fakes. While the NDERF is a neutral secular foundation, Dr. Long wrote God and the Afterlife in 2016, which affirms NDE/SSE witnesses have had encounters with a spiritual being that they knew, intuitively, was God.
Another organization that has some contributors who could be considered New Age movement adherents, or some variation thereof, is the International Association of Near-Death Studies (IANDS). IANDS publishes the only scholarly journal in the field: the Journal of Near-Death Studies. It also maintains an archive of near-death experiences for research and study. Despite recent and currently-scheduled symposiums that have a distinct New Age movement theme to them, the overall scientific study function of IANDS appears to be professionally conducted.
Over 900 articles on NDEs have been published in scholarly literature before 2005, and since then, many more. In the 30 years after Moody published Life After Life, 55 researchers or teams published at least 65 studies of over 3500 NDEs.
Dr. Pim van Lommel et al, have conducted excellent longitudinal NDE studies that have been reported in the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet. Dr. Kenneth Ring has conducted studies on near-death experiences, along with a later study of near-death experiences of the blind, where those with no sight reported observing activities during their NDE/SSE. Dr. Melvin Morse’s study of near-death experiences of children (reported in two articles in the American Medical Association’s American Journal of Diseases of Children) reports that children who were too young to have known of the term NDE reported having the experience.
When one peruses the extensive archives of both NDERF and IANDS, one cannot help but notice that many NDE/SSEs have a well-defined structure that fits a specific pattern. Dreams and hallucinations are composed of random and almost chaotic experiences that rarely have any clearly-defined structure. Very few individuals remember dreams for any length of time, while the experiences of NDE/SSE witnesses seem to be permanently etched into their memories, and in some cases have transformative effects on their lives.
What about the odd and contradictory experiences that cause witnesses to proclaim that hell doesn’t exist or we’re just all one with the universe? The perceptions of NDE/SSE witnesses are colored by their age, life experiences, culture and general frame of reference. For a Buddhist, the glowing figure of an approaching Jesus Christ could be misidentified as Buddha. For the New Age movement practitioner, a short NDE/SSE that exposes the witness to sensations of light and love could confirm their belief that we’re all part of a collective and impersonal field of universal loving energy.
With the foregoing said, I believe some NDE/SSE witnesses are deceived by demons and evil spirits. Bryan Melvin documents in this book witnessing human soul/spirits arriving in hell and being met by demons who changed their shape to appear to be benign beings or one of the person’s family or circle of friends. Those who were resuscitated before their residency in hell became permanent would understandably be deceived into believing they had visited heaven.
Individuals who have engaged in astral projection also report meeting, and being deceived by, demons during their out-of-body experiences.
As scripture tells us in 2 Corinthians 11:14, “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an “angel of light.” Without question, Satan and his minions can and do deceive man, and NDEs/SSEs, as well as encounters with astral projection practitioners, allows them to do so. Skillful and patient interviews of NDE/SSE witnesses may help unmask deceptive experiences. If witnesses report unbiblical experiences, I suggest they've either underwent a deceptive experience or they misinterpreted or misdescribed what they experienced. Once again, a compassionate and dedicated Christian clergy or counselor, with the assistance of a skilled investigator, can help a person make sense of what they underwent.
7. NDEs are legitimate eye-witness accounts that include, in some cases, verified veridical perceptions.
Veridical means truthful or coinciding with reality. Some studies have reported corroborative veridical out-of-body experiences that have been categorized as NDEs/SSEs. The experiences enabled the patients to have sensorial knowledge that they would not have been able to have through their physical bodies. In other words, if the patients had not been in an “out-of-body” state, they would not have been able to experience the information or data they accurately reported.
In Dr. Van Lommel's studies, he has referenced a Dutch study that has documented that a man who had been in a deep coma later told a nurse that he recognized her and saw where she had placed his dentures during resuscitation efforts. He even described the cart into which she placed them.
In another case, researchers report that a woman who left her body during a cardiac arrest was able to look down from the ceiling and watch the medical team at work on her body. She reported that she found herself floating out of the building, up three stories, and over to the north side of the building, where she spotted a tennis shoe on a ledge of the third floor of the building. She described the shoe as a worn dark blue tennis shoe on a window ledge that had one of its laces stuck underneath the heel. The shoe’s location was not visible from the ground and not near the room where the patient had been resuscitated. Psychologist Kim Clark managed to locate the shoe and verify the claim – down to the details about the position of the lace and the location of the wear marks.
Raymond Moody also reported similar veridical out-of-body experiences of subjects he studied. Many of the experiences involved people leaving their bodies in the operating room where they saw medical personnel attempting to resuscitate them and then moving through walls to see their family and friends in hospital waiting rooms making specific statements and engaging in specific actions that the subjects later described with absolute accuracy.
If we are only cells, then we cannot see or hear and move around when our bodies are unconscious and technically dead.
But it happens. We do have a soul and a spirit, and now we have eyewitnesses who can tell us how our spiritual bodies function. It’s a truth that can be verified. A truth that was also written into the scriptures centuries ago.
8. A select number of NDE or SSE witnesses claim they have been sent back to tell others about heaven or hell.
Several NDE/SSE witnesses report being told specifically by Jesus Christ or angels to "tell others about what you have seen."
My first exposure to an account of an out-of-body trip to hell was Bill Wiese’s 23 Minutes in Hell. On page 34 he describes being lifted out of hell by Jesus Christ. He writes, “Jesus said to me, ‘Go and tell them about this place. It is not my desire that any should go there.’”
In his book, Beyond the Gate of Hell, Martin Telezing, Ph.D., writes about an unsolicited out-of-body trip to hell that included an angel escort. On page 91 he writes, "One of the final instructions that my guiding angel gave me before departing from me was to write a book later to testify to the existence of hell in order to warn humans against lifestyles that would lead them here and to encourage them to choose the path that leads to heaven."
In I Met God In Hell, Tim Ehmann describes his struggle with drugs and his descent into hell after injecting his fifth “speedball of the day.” On page 82 of his book, he describes being rescued by Jesus Christ who told him, “I’m going to send you places where no else can go.”
Howard Pittman, a retired law enforcement officer and current pastor, documents in his book, Placebo, his near-death experience in 1979 and his subsequent angelically-escorted journeys to the Second Heaven and ultimately to the Third Heaven, where he pleaded with God to be returned to his physical body. He reports on page 44, "God gave me the command to repeat to the world my experience and this entire message." Pittman went on to write other books related to his NDE/SSE.
In his incredible account of one of most extensive visits to heaven and also hell, the late Richard Sigmund writes in his book, My Time in Heaven, about being taken by Jesus from heaven down into hell at the direction of God. Sigmund, who had been dead for eight hours, describes on page 1266 of the Kindle version that “Jesus urged me to tell people what I saw (in hell).” Jesus told him, “I want you to tell others of this place and warn them that unless they are washed in my blood, unless they are born again, this is where they will spend eternity.”
Did the authors concoct their stories to sell books? Possibly, but one has to ask, why would they go to all of the trouble to fabricate a story that would cause them to be ostracized? Other than Bill Wiese, the many witnesses who have come forward and documented their experiences do not appear to have become best-selling authors. Yet each one of them describes a powerful account of the love and redemptive power of Father God and Jesus Christ. Each book has the potential to draw people to God. And each author reports being commanded by the Lord to go tell the world about the horrors of hell and the joys of heaven. For those who reject and deride the authors, I ask one simple question. What if the writers are telling the truth? If they are, you will be guilty of opposing the will of Jesus Christ.
From a Christian perspective, the goals of many NDE/SSE witness authors are noble and capable of producing fruit. That alone should merit careful consideration.
A book about an out-of-body trip to hell brought me to Christ. I am now a writer of Christian books, a student of the Bible, and a struggling servant of God. If a written account of an NDE/SSE can open my eyes and heart, it can do the same for others.
The late astronomer Carl Sagan once stated, “I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But as much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking.” Perhaps had he studied NDEs/SSEs, Sagan might have opened his mind and heart to God’s message and the evidence of his creation.
I submit that we need to encourage and support – with great caution and care – the witnesses who have left this plane of existence and traveled to the domain of Father God and his angels. Let us do our part to lead people to Jesus Christ and support others who are using their unique experiences to serve the Lord.