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:

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.


  1. I would generally agree with your sentiments here. However, I do take issue with one thing - the semantic argument based on the name "near-death" as opposed to "after-death." I have heard many people say this, but I've never found it to be particularly powerful since what we call it is irrelevant to what it actually is. And indeed, I have heard of at least one doctor who had done some studies in this field (I forget his name) who stated that we have some post-death cases. Anyway, that doesn't really change anything ... I'm not just not particularly fond of that argument.

  2. Leslie,

    I agree that the significance of a term like "near-death" depends on its accuracy. But you may want to reread my first paragraph above. I distinguish between what looks like death to us and what God knows to be the completion of a person's life. The cases you refer to as "post-death cases" are what I had in mind when I referred to "something we view as death" that "will be reversed or overcome in some manner afterward".

    I think we're in agreement on this subject. Maybe I didn't communicate my point clearly enough, but I didn't intend to deny what you're saying.

  3. From what I have read do believe the NDE does in fact give a true glimpse of the afterlife. How do you not know that God in his grace is choosing to fully reveal himself to a "non christian" and save them right then and there? Also, many have fallen into hellish ndes and called out to God or Christ ad been saved which is scriptural, it says call on the Lord and you will be saved, it doesn't say anything about it only being an option while alive. In fact, I Peter 3:18-20 teaches that Jesus went into hell after his death on the cross and preached to the disobedient spirits of Noah's day. Yes, there is Judgment after death, but this Judgment is not always immediate, and may be more of an accessment rather then punishment. Even if it is punishment, it doesn't mean endless punishment. Nowhere in scrpture does it teach that everyone that descends into hell will be there without end. Yes, it mentions eternal punishment for some, but it never says all. Plus the word eternal in greek is aionios which comes from the root word aion which means age. The word could potentially mean without end, but simply means for an indeterminate period of time. There are some, the sons of perdition, in Hebrews 6 and 10 that will not recieve repentance, but their soul will be destroyed and the soul will be reformed and returned to God. The soul will be seperated from the personality. The soul will go back to its original settings, much like if you wipe out our computer and put the restore disk in and it goes back to the manufactures original settings. this is will be a very small percentage of people.
    The NDE actually does support Christianity in that it affirms:
    1. One God (many speak of the trinity)
    2. Jesus is the Son of God.
    3. Jesus is the savior of the world, and paid for sins onthe cross.
    4. Jesus will return again in his second comming.
    5. The Bible is inspired of God.

  4. Well, the bible is full of contradictions, and errors that many intelligent people can't take it seriously! In addition, much of christianity spread to the western world on the coat tails of threats to become a believer of be tortured and or killed "in the name of god!" So, I wonder just how popular(wide spread)it would be if forced conversion never happened! I tend to think it would have faded away centuries ago thus leaving NDE of the religious kind to be VERY different(ie no hell)than they unfortunately are! I'll end with a quote from Einstein:
    "I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own -- a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty. Neither can I believe that the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotisms."
    (Albert Einstein)