Examining Near Death Experiences

I believe in life after death because God has given me faith in Jesus Christ as my Savior, the forgiveness of my sins, and the promise of entrance into Heaven and eventually also the New Earth. This faith is the combination of the Holy Spirit working on me through the use of God’s promises and Jesus’ story in the Bible. I have no personal experience of dying or Heaven.

That may not be true for everyone who is still alive. Medical interventions have drastically increased the number of Near Death Experiences (NDE). Though I would not count them as an equal source of information to the Holy Spirit and the Bible, they do represent information that needs to be explained.

In the book, Evidence of the Afterlife, Dr. Jeffery Long publishes the findings of an extended study of those who report leaving their bodies, sometimes hearing conversations they should not have been able to hear within this world, experiencing people and places beyond this world, and returning to their bodies and normal life.

Dr. Long looks at demographics such as religion to consider whether expectations have created false memories. He is convinced that the NDE experience is genuine and not the product of hypoxia as the brain dies, nor false memory. He notes that not all NDE’s are identical, but considering that an NDE is an abnormal state, one would expect some variation. He would also note that there are a set of frequently occurring experiences. Let’s consider what these may be.

The first is simply leaving your body. This would not fit with a materialist view that consciousness is simply brain chemistry and resident in the body. It fits very well with the biblical model of the soul and body separating, ultimately because of sin. It would also support the idea that consciousness is either connected to the soul or is the soul.

The ability to briefly move independent of the body and to see or hear things within or even outside of the room containing the body is further proof of the veracity of the experience. It suggests a brief lingering between our body and our life-after-death destination.

The second is heightened senses. This is an intriguing surprise. Our sensory organs and the sensory portions of our brain are part of the body. How can senses be greater without the body? This common experience (74% of those surveyed) suggests that some of our sensory faculties are a part of the soul. This allows for a heightened experience of color and beauty, also sound and music. It may suggest the formation of a heavenly body, though awareness of having a body is not reported.

The third is the experience of intense and generally positive emotions. The Bible warns us that some, in fact a majority, will experience Sheol at their death. Those experiencing this would be unlikely to share it, thereby creating biased information among reported data. What is primarily reported here is such things as love, joy, happiness, warmth, safety, belonging, forgiveness and understanding. These are emotions that would be expected from Heaven and the experience of meeting God.

The fourth, and maybe the most well-known, is passing through a tunnel. People sometimes describe the tunnel as soft. They experience movement, sometimes at great speed. While the tunnel is not necessarily dark, they know that they are moving toward a bright light. What could this be? I would theorize that Heaven isn’t a part of the space-time dimension in which we now exist. You will not find Heaven by traveling far enough out. I expect it forms a type of parallel universe, as does Sheol. The tunnel is a form of transition from one realm to the other. Whether it has anything to do with Einstein’s “wormhole” concept, I do not know.

The fifth, is experiencing a mystical or brilliant light. Dr. Long reports that 64.6% of respondents report seeing this light. God is described in 1 John as light. While this could be read as being metaphorical, it can also be understood as a statement about his being. The one account offered by Long in the first chapter of his book speaks about an interconnectedness of other lights, including the reporters, to the main light. I think this is intriguing about the Bible speaks about our being a part of the body of Christ. It is connectedness to Christ that saves us.

There are several more common experiences noted in the book, Evidence of the Afterlife, I would like to continue discussing these in my next entry.

Author: tdwenig

Tom is the Senior Pastor of the Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer in Evansville, IN. He has served his congregation since 2000. He has a Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO

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