One of the most interesting occurrences that are used to prove that we exist after death are near-death experiences (NDEs). If some aspect of a person survives at death, then the afterlife must be real. For anyone who has read my writings, it is obvious that I believe in what the Bible actually depicts as life after death—the new heavens and new earth.
Of course, NDEs are also used to prove something else: that we are souls who temporarily live in bodies. It is believed that what survives death during these events is really our immaterial souls, which have been “liberated” from these earthly tombs.
But do NDEs actually prove this view of the afterlife? Do they actually support the notion of a soul that can live apart from the body, or a biblical view of these matters? Personally, I don’t believe so. Here is a piece of what I wrote in The Death Myth concerning near-death experiences:
“Take the case of Howard Storm, for example. Storm, a former atheist professor turned Christian, received a lot of notoriety for his account of traveling to hell during an alleged NDE. In his book, My Descent into Death, Storm describes a horrific place of torment where some type of entities attacked and mutilated him . . . Another well-known example of a near-death experience is Colton Burpo’s account of seeing his deceased grandfather—whom he would later identify in a family photograph—during an emergency surgery. It’s worth noting that a very similar story, which is documented in the book, The Boy Who Went to Heaven, was officially denounced as a hoax in January of 2015.
Furthermore, NDERF (the Near Death Experience Research Foundation) has documented thousands of NDEs from across the globe. A short sampling of these otherworldly experiences yields no shortage of variation. In one account, we read about a woman who turned into a “golden orb,” and later proceeded to converse (in Orbese, I suppose) with other orbs before returning to her body. Another account described a man who flew around his city with an unknown companion before coming back to his body. Yet another story described a woman’s heavenly “playtime,” in which she jumped around on the clouds like a child before coming back to earth. Thousands of others could be mentioned, but the point should be clear enough.
While there seems to be at least a degree of continuity within some NDEs (like visions of tunnels, lights, deceased relatives, etc.), the problem is that such accounts are far too disparate to be taken as concrete evidence in favor of the TDP. One person reports having gone to heaven, another to hell, another to infinite darkness, another to a place resembling a hospital waiting room, and so on. Within these different locations, the type of existence recounted by the revived individual also drastically varies. Some claimed to have a body, others only a soul, and still others report all sorts of things in between (recall the glowing orbs).
Furthermore, some report to have seen Mohammed, while others saw Jesus, while still others saw the gods or goddesses of pagan religions, and all manner of other prophets and deities. While it would be rash to dismiss every person who claims to have had such an experience, it is also clear that not all of these realities can be valid at once” (pp. 41-42).
If you read my blog entitled “Afterlife Confusion,” you would recall the particular case I made there. I said that those who think the Bible tells us about an immediate afterlife (as a soul) are willing to throw competing examples together to prove it. Some go to heaven, some to hell, others go to Hades, and some venture to Abraham’s bosom or paradise; all are apparently supposed to prove that we will live as disembodied beings after we die. Of course, they actually don’t prove that at all. Instead, the “evidence” fights against itself, pointing towards no exact view of life after death.
This is an enormous problem for NDEs as well. How can seeing Jesus or Mohammed, going to a waiting room or hell, living as an orb or as a soul, and all of these variations, prove any particular view of the human soul or the afterlife? Should a Christian expect to encounter Mohammed, or to become an orb after death?
Put another way: can all of the doors really lead to the same room?
I am not trying to say that strange things do not sometimes occur at death, or that there are no documented cases where people were revived with knowledge of things they should not have known. Like UFO sightings or the many known attestations to miracles, some are undoubtedly true and some are undoubtedly not.
For my part, I believe the valid examples of NDEs are much better explained as visions. These can be seen in biblical events like John’s “in the spirit” moments of Revelation (1:10, 4:2), and in Paul’s heavenly experience in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4. God has caused the person to see or to know things they would not have known, rather than pulling an immaterial soul out to some literal location.
Many people hinge quite a lot on near-death experiences, and I have read many books seeking to prove their validity. Like many other things, there is a place for these events. But I would caution any of us on using them too fervently, and without the proper grain of salt.
After all, they seem to prove about every concept of the afterlife out there, not just a biblical one. Throwing them all together gives as much credence to Islam or paganism as it does to Christianity.
Is that the type of evidence we want to give to others?
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Rossiter, Brian. The Death Myth: Uncovering What the Bible Really Says about the Afterlife. pg. 136. iUniverse. Bloomington, IN. Copyright, 2018. Print.