In the 1970s, a book about “near death experiences” (NDEs) came out, called Life after Life. Written by Raymond Moody, the book investigated many cases of people who had experienced clinical death (no heartbeat) but later revived. I became very interested in this subject at the time, and found it very appealing because I believed it gave solid proof for the existence of God (ironic, since I was not a Christian at the time, yet I did believe in God). This subject has gained some popularity more recently due to the release of a book by Eben Alexander, called Proof of Heaven. Unlike Mr. Moody’s review of those who had NDEs, Mr. Alexander personally had a NDE. The question I’d like to explore is whether NDEs give proof of God, and more specifically, are they really an encounter with God. The best way to do that is to compare NDEs with God’s word.
One thing that seems to make NDEs so compelling is the similarity among the experiences reported by so many different people (people of all ages, including children, as well as all nationalities). While they are not all exactly the same, most NDEs contain the following:
As you can see, a lot of what is said sounds Biblical. We don’t really know what the experience is like after we die, so who can argue with the tunnel and bright light? Furthermore, we know that God is light (1 John 1:5), and that He is love (1 John 4:8). The real problem lies in the statement that this love is unconditional. That is not what we read in Scripture (more on that later).
A group with which Mr. Moody was associated, the International Association for Near Death Studies, has a website that documents people who have had NDEs. To help determine whether or not NDEs are Biblical, it’s useful to examine some of the statements made by people who’ve had a NDE.
Again, these statements could be viewed as being Biblical, especially by a relatively new or spiritually immature Christian. As we’ll see, however, Scripture contradicts these NDEs.
First and foremost, Scripture makes clear that God’s love is NOT unconditional. While it’s true that God is love, it is also true that those who do not have faith in Jesus Christ are condemned. It does not logically follow that a condemned person would have the accepting, loving experience recorded by those who have had a NDE. Most Christians are familiar with John 3:16; what is not usually included with that verse is John 3:18: “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Remember, the vast majority of those who have reported NDEs are not Christians. Furthermore, if NDEs are true, then God accepts unbelievers; yet Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6) To be accepted by God, one must believe in Christ; God’s love is conditioned on faith in Christ. Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), and one can only expect judgment and wrath.
Most of these people also talk about feeling overwhelming love and acceptance; there is no fear of this bright light being. Yet, Scripture says that our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). Whenever people were in God’s presence, they were fearful, even when in front of God in the spiritual realm (i.e., not in the flesh). For example, the apostle John, the one whom Jesus loved, upon encountering the exalted Christ in Revelation 1 said, “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man.” If an apostle, a Christian whom the Holy Spirit says is the one Jesus loved falls like a dead man in the presence of God, I am certain that would be even more true for an unbeliever.
Notice, too, that the one NDE describes Jesus as having “bare feet”. Revelation 1:15 says, “His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace.” If this is how John saw Jesus, why should we expect Him to look different to others?
Most say they do not fear death. Yet Scripture makes clear that those who are not in Christ do fear death, because of the punishment that will come with it. Hebrews 9:27 says that it is appointed for man to die once, and then the judgment. The same chapter about God being love quoted above (John 4) goes on to say this: “9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins….. 17 By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” Only Christians, who are saved from God’s wrath, should not fear death. Unbelievers should rightly fear death, because God’s punishment awaits them. Those who have had a NDE but are not Christian have an incredibly false sense of peace when they should rightly fear death because of the punishment it will bring.
Perhaps most interesting to me was what Eben Alexander said about his NDE. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey (and anything “spiritual” coming from Oprah Winfrey should be a huge red warning flag to Christians), Mr. Alexander made some interesting statements. First, he said that God was not “about a religion that separates, divides”. Indeed, any religion that believes it’s “better” than another, or that “sets up conflict” is “not part of that all loving God”. Again, this does not square at all with Scripture. Listen to what our Lord says in Matthew 10: “34 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. 37 “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” If that’s not separation, division, or conflict, then I don’t know what is. Clearly, Mr. Alexander’s “experience” does not square with the truth of Gods’ word.
If these NDEs contradict Scripture, they are not from God. So, what are they? Some speculate that NDEs are caused by some malfunction in the brain; in other words, it’s purely physical. This would account for the similarity of the experiences. However, it begs the question as to why everyone views the NDE as an encounter with God (or a god like being). Furthermore, I find it interesting that the vast majority of people who experience a NDE are deceived into believing that God loves everyone unconditionally, or that the being of light is not the God of the Bible.
Personally, I believe this is Satanic. If Satan can deceive people in the earthly realm, it stands to reason that he can do the same in the spiritual realm. In that sense, there may be a lot of truth to the NDE that people have. They may truly leave their body, go through a tunnel and see a being of light. They may really feel unconditional love, safety and peace. But this being is clearly a deceiving spirit. Speaking of false apostles, Scripture says, “13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.” (2 Corinthians 11)
In conclusion, NDEs, although they may actually occur, are not true, at least as far as they concern God, and who He is and what He is like. They are intended to lead people astray from the true God, Jesus Christ. Like anything that seeks to teach us about God, we should test it. 1 John 4 says “1 Beloved, 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. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.” The way we test the spirits is to compare what they say to the word of God. Thanks be to God for giving us His word and His Holy Spirit to guide us.