It should be kept in mind that near-death experiences are near-death experiences, not after-death experiences. Whatever the physical state of the person, God would know whether their physical life has come to completion. God would know whether something we view as death will be reversed or overcome in some manner afterward. We can speak of the experiences people have in near-death occurrences as Heaven or Hell, but it may be better to think of them as Heaven-like and Hell-like.
A non-Christian can have a seemingly positive or neutral near-death experience, without the sort of suffering we associate with Hell (or an intermediate state leading to Hell, if we want to use the term Hell more narrowly), just as non-Christians in the Bible can encounter angels, demons, visions, supernatural dreams, etc. without accompanying Hell-like suffering. A lot of people expect Heaven or Hell in near-death experiences, as if they're after-death experiences. They aren't. The fact that a non-Christian has a pleasant near-death experience doesn't contradict Christianity. The details might be inconsistent with Christianity, and such a judgment would have to be made case-by-case, but Christianity doesn't deny that a non-Christian can have a pleasant experience outside of his body, or in some other unusual means, in a state that's near death.
In Michael Sabom's book cited above, he argues that passages like Genesis 35:18-19 and Job 14:2 refer to the soul's departure from the body as a process. Near-death experiences, at least some of them, may occur during that process, before death. What occurs during that process can be Heaven-like or Hell-like, but it isn't the same as Heaven and Hell. And a variety of things can occur. A person can get a true foretaste of his upcoming afterlife. Or he could be deceived by a demon, for example. Regardless of what one thinks of Sabom's reading of Genesis 35 and Job 14, the concept seems plausible and consistent with scripture.
It should also be kept in mind that these reports of near-death experiences are coming from fallible individuals. While what they report is likely to be generally accurate, they can be mistaken about details. Sabom cites a case (p. 216) in which an individual assumed that a being he saw in a near-death experience was Jesus. But the being denied that he was Jesus when asked. As Sabom points out, the vast majority of people who claim to have seen Jesus in near-death experiences seem to just assume that it's Jesus or assume that the being's claim to be Jesus must be true. They didn't have much, if any, confirmation of that assumption.
And sometimes near-death experiences contradict one another. An obvious example is the case of a person who's told, in a near-death experience, that there is no Hell, in contrast to another person's report that he went to Hell or was told that he was on his way there.
The generalities of what a person reports can be true without every detail being true. People may be relying partly on false interpretations of what they experienced. Often, these experiences are too unexpected and brief for people to derive as much information about them as we'd like to have. Near-death experiences can tell us more about the soul, angels, demons, the dying process, etc. than they tell us about the afterlife.
Friday, February 27, 2009
Why Would A Non-Christian Have A Positive Near-Death Experience?
Here's something I wrote in a recent thread, in case anybody not following that thread would find it helpful: