The Mystery of Near-Death Experiences


Megyn Kelly of Fox News recently interviewed John Burke—a pastor in Austin, TX—about his book Imagine Heaven. Burke provides detailed descriptions of the after life from individuals claiming to have been taken there in an intermediate, out-of-body state often referred to as a near-death experience (NDE).

 

Burke’s in-depth research and observations clearly raise some very legitimate questions.In light of the testimonies in the book—many with striking similarities—how should we as Christians interpret what people claim to have experienced? I agree with the author that many—though not all—NDE reports have a basis in reality.  We also agree that these kinds of experiences are not the norm.  Nevertheless, here are some facts:

 

  • Some of the testimonies are from highly educated scientists and professionals with no axe to grind. They also include statements and descriptions from young children with limited ability to fabricate such reports. The fact that we have so many NDE reports from credible individuals means that we should definitely keep an open mind.

 

  • The majority of NDE reports don’t appear to conflict with biblical teaching since we can read that God has interacted with men and women in a variety of dramatic ways in the past, including visions, voices, dreams, angelic encounters, etc. (Hebrews 1:1). The Scriptures suggest that similar interactions will occur in the future (Acts 2:17). Of special interest is the fact that today there are thousands of reports coming out of Muslim controlled areas of individuals being directed to the Gospel via short-lived extraordinary phenomena that include visions, dreams, and hearing voices.

 

  • Many who claim to have experienced near-death report making major life changes afterward. In some cases unbelievers became deeply committed to Christ. Some were even inspired to start Christian ministries. In other words, in the majority of these cases, the spiritual fruits were undeniably positive.

Admittedly, this subject still leaves questions unanswered, including why God chooses to deal with some individuals in such extraordinary ways. In fact, I’m reminded of Paul’s experience which he describes in his letter to the Corinthians (see 2 Corinthians 12:1-10). He “was caught up into the third heaven” or “paradise.” He readily admitted that he didn’t know “whether he was in the body or out of the body.” However, the experience was so extraordinary that he was given a “thorn in the flesh” so that he would remain humble. We are not told what this “thorn” was—but he had to bear it indefinitely.

 

One thing seems clear from Paul’s experience—and in any other person’s experience who claims to have had an “out of body experience”—and then returned: it should definitely lead to humility!
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