Near Death Experiences And The Bible.

There are two important reasons why we should turn to the Bible as we try to understand the NDE phenomenon. First (and quite obviously for Christians), the Bible is the supreme authority in guiding the lives of believers. It conveys what God declares essential for humans to know about truth and how to please Him. Therefore, whatever the Bible has to say bearing on near-death experiences must be thoroughly and objectively examined.[Also See Never Read A Bible Verse]
In addition, we must turn to the Bible because NDE advocates also turn to the Bible to support their interpretations of this phenomenon. Since many of these advocates believe in the universality of all religions, they naturally seek passages from as many religious texts as they can find that seem to parallel the near-death experience, including one particular biblical account that they assert describes some NDE elements. What NDE advocates claim to find in this biblical account must not be taken at face value, however, but must be studied also in contrast to the total NDE model that they have established.
The biblical event that New Age writers frequently try to link with NDEs is taken from Acts 9:3-6 and 26:12-23, which respectively relate Paul's encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus and Paul's own account of his experience. In this story Paul, who was still named Saul at the time, was broadening his zealous persecution of Christians when a blazing light halted his journey to Damascus. After being blinded by the light, Paul heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" (9:4). Presently the voice identified Himself as Jesus. From this experience Paul became a dedicated disciple of Christ.
According to Raymond Moody, "This episode obviously bears some resemblance to the encounter with the being of light in near death experiences."14 Moody supports his claim by drawing parallels between the radiant light, the presence of a spiritual being, the conveying of a message, and the life-changing effect of this experience with elements he attributes to NDEs. Furthermore, Moody says, although Paul was labeled as insane because of his story, he went on to preach love as a way of life to others. The correlations are quite clear.
There are, however, glaring distinctions between the two. First and most importantly, Paul did not have a near-death experience. Some people have asked how we know that he didn't. The best answer comes from Paul himself when he later elaborates on the incident, offering further details to King Agrippa without once mentioning that he had died (Acts 26:2-29). Another difference is that the light blinded Paul, while in NDEs the light does not visually impair people's eyes. Moody admits to these two variances, but does not mention one other critical difference. While most NDEers prefer to keep their experience private, Paul felt compelled to proclaim his conversion experience to everyone around him, even including those who would be extremely hostile to his words. In fact, Paul demonstrated the best example of fulfilling Jesus' Great Commission — he not only preached love, but declared Jesus Christ as the only way to God.
Beyond Paul's conversion story, New Agers are hard pressed to enlist other biblical accounts with which to draw similarities to NDEs. They have alluded to Paul's discussion of spiritual bodies (1 Cor. 15:35-52); Paul's reference to a man (apparently himself) who saw the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2-4), which they assert was an NDE; and Jesus' self-declaration as "the light of the world" (John 8:12). None of these biblical passages, however, were intended to illuminate the mysteries of the near-death experience.
In context, the "spiritual bodies" Paul writes of in 1 Corinthians 15 are the bodies believers will possess after they have been resurrected at the time of Christ's second coming. Jesus' declaration that He is the light of the world pertains to the spiritual illumination He brings to the world — it has no necessary relevance for the near-death experience. While the experience Paul discusses in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 could be called a near-death experience — he himself did not know whether he had died ("out of the body") or seen a vision ("in the body") — it is not described in terms similar to Moody's profile of an NDE. Rather, it was a unique revelatory experience in keeping with Paul's unique calling as the "apostle to the Gentiles" (Gal. 2:7-9). It thus cannot be taken as representative of a near-death experience common to humanity.
There are several cases in the Bible in which people have returned from the dead: Elisha restored the Shunammite boy back to life (2 Kings 4:8-37); Jesus healed a ruler's dead daughter (Matt. 9:18-26); and Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:38-44). What happened to them while they were dead is never described, however, and thus they need no discussion. One biblical account that does deserve comment is the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8:54-60). In this story Stephen looks up to heaven and sees the glory of God and Jesus. But what must be noted is that Stephen had this vision before he was stoned — that is, he was not dying when he saw Jesus.
The point is that the Bible says little, if anything, about what occurs during a near-death experience. Nevertheless, the Bible is very clear about God's displeasure with those who invite spirit beings into their lives. "Do not practice divination or sorcery....Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God" (Lev. 19:26, 31). And, if the being of light is an actual spirit entity who is actually conveying a universalist message, then biblically we must conclude that he is an evil spirit, not Jesus Christ (John 14:6; cf. 2 Cor. 11:3-4). Now, many NDEers never sought a near-death experience, nor did they seek the being of light. Thus they cannot be charged with violating God's prohibition of spiritism. But many others, especially those who espouse New Age ideas, actively seek further encounters with this being. These are guilty of spiritism and stand in desperate need of repentance and restoration before the true God.
But how can we conclude that this being of light is an evil spirit when he exudes love and joy and peace, and when he encourages people to love others? It is tough to speak against such an argument. It is much easier to speak against a horned demon with a pitchfork who commands people to hate, hurt, and rebel. Spiritual warfare, however, is a battleground where it is often difficult to identify the enemy. Frequently he disguises himself as a beloved friend. Deception has always been his way, and it has been a deadly weapon in his arsenal evident since he used it in the Garden of Eden. Indeed, Paul warned Timothy that "in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons" (1 Tim. 4:1). Of course, the most evil deception is when the Devil appears to be God. Again, Paul's words ring true: "Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14).

One question relevant to Christians still remains unanswered: How should we view the near-death experiences of those people who have become faithful followers of Christ because of their near-death experience? In Part One of this article, I recounted the story of Dan, who experienced many of the classic elements of an NDE, which led to his Christian conversion. To this day he strongly believes he met Jesus during that experience. Did he, however, actually encounter the Devil?
Since NDEs are of a subjective nature, determining their source is largely a speculative venture. With divine, demonic, and several natural factors all meriting consideration, a single, universal explanation for NDEs becomes quite risky. So, while the Devil apparently has been involved with some NDEs, who can say with certainty that Dan encountered the Devil instead of Christ? If the message and experience of an NDE does not distort or conflict with biblical teachings, then we should be careful not to speak against that which resulted in salvation and may have been a genuine work of God.
Nevertheless, a potential problem emerges when near-death experiences are exalted as a means of bringing people to Christ. Such endorsement could lead many to trust NDEs more than they should, accepting them as generally authentic rather than examining the merits of each case individually. Indeed, if the message of the being of light, the interpretation of the near-death experience, or the lifestyle that results from the experience contradicts the teachings of the Bible, then that particular NDE should not be accepted as valid.
In addition, there are some NDE accounts that provide elaborate and fantastic details concerning heaven and hell that go far beyond scripture. When unreservedly accepted, these reports function as extrabiblical revelation about the nature of the world beyond. This can easily weaken scriptural authority while diluting the divinely revealed content of Christian faith with the feeble projections of human imagination. The best protection against such error, if we are to hold that some NDEs may in fact be genuine, is to maintain that only the Bible can be trusted absolutely as a revelation of heavenly realities.
We must also remember that medical research is still at an early stage of exploring this phenomenon and may yet provide vital understanding on this subject. It is quite possible that physical/psychological and spiritual explanations can complement each other. For instance, just as many Christians have understood satanic powers to operate through the effects of mind-altering chemicals such as LSD, so these powers might also intrude on someone's consciousness affected by bodily chemicals, such as endorphins, or the psychological stress of near-death trauma. In fact, such a possibility is likely if the person has previously engaged in extreme forms of occult activity.
It is possible, therefore, for an NDE to be partly explained medically and partly explained spiritually. When, for example, the message of the being of light is obviously intended to deceive the NDEer, that experience can be explained in terms of satanic influence without denying medical or psychological causes.
t is also possible that demonic influence enters in some time after the NDE occurred. In such cases an experience that is authentic, or at least not occultic, is later remembered or interpreted as conveying a universalist message. The research of Maurice Rawlings would seem to support this.
In conclusion, we should avoid overgeneralizing either the implications of NDEs or the experiences themselves. In many cases, something decidedly wrong has occurred at some point on a spiritual level; in other cases the experience may have just been a natural phenomenon; and in still other cases, the Lord Himself may have been involved in an authentic near-death experience. We cannot draw any conclusions about individual cases, however, without first taking what has been reported about the experience and the message and examining this report under the light of God's Word. According to this test, any doctrine that denies the judgment of God is condemned. But any testimony that glorifies Jesus Christ as the only Lord and Savior is worthy of our serious consideration (1 Cor. 12:3).

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1 Response Sep 23, 2011