The near-death experience (NDE)

Article from the website « Blog de réflexion chrétien », 2009, revision 30/09/14, English translation from French 05/10/14. Reproduction is authorized, provided it is complete and that the source is indicated: https://reflexionsjesus.wordpress.com/

 

In this paper, we consider from a Christian point of view, the issue of the Near Death Experience (NDE).

Although there is no consensus on their definition, according to Greyson, NDE are profound psychological events with transcendental and mystical elements typically occurring to individuals close to death or in situations of intense physical or emotional danger [1].

In most cases, the NDE implies that the spirit of the person, who is subject to it, temporarily leaves his body. In this state out of the body, the spirit can then move into the spiritual world.

It seems that one can find such NDE testimonies all throughout history. A story of Plato (428 – 348 BC), The Myth of Er, is often cited as the oldest description of a NDE attributed to an author clearly identified [2]. These experiences seem then even more universal that one can find similar stories in different eras.

On the other side, as we will see it through some examples, NDE testimonies show sometimes important differences, and then can even be contradictory with regard to the message they carry. Moreover, we can remark that many NDE reports oppose to classical Bible interpretations. From a Christian point of view, at least, such observations can be disturbing at first sight, from which the interest of this study which will attempt to answer them.

We will try first to see how to approach NDE from the point of view of the biblical eschatology. We will then propose an explanation of the phenomenon of NDE that are at odds with the Bible. In light of these considerations, we will continue by setting out the message of different types of NDE opened to criticism. When deemed necessary, we will show in what are these visions opposed to an interpretation of the Bible which will be taken as a reference. Finally, we will conclude on precautions to take with respect to NDE testimonies.

An approach of NDE from a Christian point of view

The main specificity of the NDE compared to more classic visions lies essentially in the particular circumstance of the individual at the time when occurs the experience. Although the imminence of death is no longer considered as an exclusive NDE trigger, a real proximity with death event, however, remains crucial to obtain a profound NDE [3]. Therefore, in this study, we consider NDE as spiritual experiences of vision or ecstasy type with a specificity more or less pronounced of the imminence of death.

First, it seems thus necessary to shortly remind us what would be a Christian perspective of the afterlife.

The writings of the Bible enable us to understand, through a futuristic interpretation, that God has planned a day of final judgment of all men. The verses below describe a judgment with eternal consequences, which will be attended by all men, while the earth and the sky will disappear, indicating that the judgment is yet to come:

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Rev 20:11-15) [4]

As part of this judgment only two outcomes are possible: firstly eternal bliss, the other eternal perdition. This will be the time when the deeds of all men will be revealed and evaluated:

[Those of the nations] show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them. This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. (Ro 2:15-16) [5]

On the other hand, the Bible indicates that some people after death, go directly to « paradise » (cf. the criminal in Lu 23:43), or by the side of Abraham (cf. Lazarus in Lu 16:23), which are presumed to be enjoyable spiritual places. Beside that, we learn that some dead people are said to be tormented in « hell » (cf. the rich man in Lu 16:23). It should be noted that in the verses of Lu 16:23 and Re 20:13-14, it’s the same Greek word « Hades » which is used. It is sometimes translated by « the place of the dead » or « hell« .

From what we have seen, these after death situations can only be understood as temporary. However, although temporary, they clearly result from some form of judgment.

If there is therefore a form of judgment at death, in any case, it would not be a judgment of God upon the deeds of men, which it is said above that it will happen at some point: the Day of Judgment. This form of judgment at death can only be based on the prior knowledge of God about the outcome of the final judgment. It is clear that this prior knowledge is existing and obvious, since those who are destined for eternal bliss, even before passing the final judgment are already in the « book of life« , which is presented as the condition for avoiding eternal damnation.

Thus, if this interpretation of the Bible is correct, one can expect only two situations directly after death: either a person is written in the « book of life » and temporary goes in a pleasant place that we can call « paradise » or a person is not written and goes outside of this place. Moreover, according to the Bible, it seems that it is not possible after death to enter or leave the place reserved for those written in the « book of life ». Therefore, one would enter into it at death, but not after death:

In hell, where he [the rich man] was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ « But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ (Lu 16:23-26) [6]

Many visions of various origins mention an assessment of the deeds of the person who receive it. However, given what we have just said, such an assessment can not be confused with the final judgment of God on men which is still to come. Thus, from a biblical point of view, we can consider this assessment only in the sense of a warning or instruction to the attention of the direct and indirect witnesses.

We can then find in the Bible different examples of visions confirming this view. For example, there is the episode where God brought Ezekiel out of his body (Eze 8 to 11), and where He reveals to him the existence of abominations He will punish. We also have a vision that God gives to Zechariah (Zec 3) where he saw Joshua standing before God and Satan accusing him. We can finally mention the vision of John (Rev 1 to 3) where Jesus delivered among other a message of assessment and warning to seven churches of Asia Minor.

To judge from a Christian point of view of different forms of spiritual experiences as visions or apparitions, it is necessary to check the consistency of their teachings with those of the Bible. On the other hand, when it is clear that the message of spiritual experience as the NDE is not consistent with that of the Bible, it may be useful for the Christian to try to conceptualize its process. This is what we will do below, prior to review specific reports of experience.

Explanation proposal of non-biblical NDE

We will now construct a hypothesis about the origin of NDE in the case it is not in agreement with the scriptures.

It may first be noted that the Bible likens human wisdom to the devilish wisdom and opposed it to that which « comes down from heaven« , i.e. the one of God (cf. Jas 3:15). Thus, the Bible seems to establish some boundaries between the higher spiritual level inhabited by God and his servants and a lower level dedicated to men and demons.

The Bible speaks in particular of the third heaven (2Co 12:2;4). It helps to understand that the third heaven is where is the throne of God and his servants (see Rev 4), and probably also the paradise promised to men (cf. Lu 23:43).

On the other hand, the Bible says that the heavenly places are also occupied by the apostate spirits, the demons. From there, they can have an evil influence on the earth and its occupants:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Eph 6:12) [7]

What is important to know from the activity of demons is that they are constantly trying to exert their influence on all men (2Ti 2:26). Above all, this work of manipulation is done without than men, for the most part are aware (Ac 26:18). Now this is the purpose of these spirits as directing the destiny of man while remaining hidden, and their ambition is to remain so:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. (Eph 2:1-2) [8]

So if a spirit of man venture into the territory of demons, in the spiritual world, there will be no more reason for demons to show themselves or at least to present as they are. In such a situation, they will take advantage to fool this man even more! Indeed, demons certainly don’t have in their interest, that the average person can get an objective view of what happens to the spirit when it leaves the body, either then in the case of imminent death or not.

In the field of the occultism, many former witches who collaborated with demons spoke of the control demons exercise over those who enter the spiritual world. This is the case of Samuel Vagalas Kanco, who was a powerful wizard for 12 years before his conversion to Jesus Christ. He says that just leaving one’s body voluntarily (Astral Travel), requires the intervention of demons:

Of course, any person that who practice astral travel is to a great depth demon possession. A demonic spirit stays in the body to keep the human body alive while this diabolic practice happens. […] Do not be deceived; this spiritual world is the supernatural world of the demonic. While in this dimension, the spirit of the person can be thoroughly deceived by the demonic host. While under demonic hypnotic control the child [for instance], is given a counterfeit experience that makes them feel truly blessed, and very gratifying. The entire experience occurs in the supernatural demonic realm. [9]

We understand from this testimony that demons temporarily act on the body to allow the return of the spirit after an out of body experience. So they can anticipate and control the progress of this experience. If according to this testimony demons are involved in a voluntary out of body experience (e.g. resulting from meditation or invocations), we might suspect they have the power to do so in unintended circumstances as it may be the case in a situation of imminent death. This is not surprising insofar as the Bible says they are on constant lookout for any opportunity to hurt men. (cf. 1Pe 5:8).

On the other hand, demons are spiritual beings far superior, able to subjugate the spiritual perception of men. In fact, the Bible says they can well appear as they are not, that is, as beings of light, peace and love:

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. (2Co 11:13-14) [10]

According to the above, demons are able to inspire thoughts and feelings in order to seduce men in the spiritual world. But we also understand that they can if they wish, generate all sorts of things in the spiritual world. So they could set realistic scenes, counterfeit various characters and get people to extremely intense convictions. Thus, considering all the possibilities that we just listed, demons are able to fully generate the context of a NDE, as defined.

By their similarities, many NDE stories of different eras accredit each other. Thus, one is less led to suspect a counterfeit of NDE a priori.

But we should not forget that according to the Bible, demons are older than humanity. It is therefore possible for them to reproduce throughout the ages and across generations certain events given in the particular circumstances of imminent death. All this would be done in order to make men think that the resultant spiritual experience is somewhat universal.

What seems to create a particular interest for these special visions that are NDE, is a combination of two elements: first some similarities between certain experience reports and then the special conditions of the imminence of death. Indeed, one can easily be tempted to think that some NDE reports would present the real death process which was just interrupted.

Demons could thus use NDE to deliver a deceitful teaching through a vision. This teaching may then strongly accredit existing doctrines. In fact, the reality is that NDE support doctrines that oppose each other, as will be seen later.

We will now review the content of some NDE that does not appear to draw to the biblical thought. We will limit ourselves to 3 types of NDE: those of « New Age » type, those mixing Christianity and New Age, and finally those of the Christian type.

The objective of this presentation is to show that the message of these different types of NDE contradict each other when one would expect it to be as generic as possible. On the other hand, it is also to show that regardless of the type of NDE considered, we can find most of the time elements which are not in line with a traditional Biblical interpretation.

 

New Age type NDE

Many NDE reports convey the ideas of the New Age movement. The New Age is a syncretic spiritual movement, which developed in the second half of the 20th century. It includes in particular several concepts of theosophy, mostly coming themselves from Hinduism or Buddhism. We will review here some typical elements of NDE reports supporting New Age ideas. Particular reference will be made for that to a NDE reported by Mellen-Thomas Benedict from 1982, dead for more than an hour, after a long illness due to terminal cancer.

The vision report of this man teaches that God is an impersonal force or intelligence and that the whole universe is God and participates in his divinity. This is actually a form of pantheism

Light is living stuff. Everything is made of light, even stones. So everything is alive. Everything is made from the light of God; everything is very intelligent. [11]

The story teaches that the true fulfillment of humanity is in a state of self-realization. That is, one must realize that men are God. This is a teaching of Hinduism:

So the light was showing me the Higher Self matrix. And it became very clear to me that all the Higher Selves are connected as one being, all humans are connected as one being, we are actually the same being, different aspects of the same being. It was not committed to one particular religion. [12]

I was in the void and I was aware of everything that had ever been created. It was like I was looking out of God’s eyes. I had become God. Suddenly I wasn’t me anymore. […] People are so busy trying to become God that they ought to realize that we are already God and God is becoming us. That’s what it is really about. [13]

The NDE report clearly denies the sin state of man described in the Bible as well as the means of salvation instituted by God in Jesus. (cf. Ro 3:23-24) In these circumstances, salvation does not make sense, only self-fulfillment counts. This is a specific personal development, through knowledge learning and love for others:

The answer was that no soul was inherently evil. The terrible things that happened to people might make them do evil things, but their souls were not evil. What all people seek, what sustains them, is love, the light told me. What distorts people is a lack of love. [14]

The theory of evolution was developed in the 19th century by Charles Darwin. According to his theory, the various forms of life were created and transformed naturally. Since then, we have come to believe that the universe itself could be built from a « Big Bang. » This is the kind of ideas that are implied in the experience report:

I was in pre-creation, before the Big Bang. […] When I say that I could see or perceive forever, I mean that I could experience all of creation generating itself. It was without beginning and without end. [15]

The NDE study teaches that all religions contain common truths that transcend all differences. This is one of the theosophy principles which teaches that God’s wisdom is everywhere in the universe and in man; it is also akin to pantheism:

So my request was honored and I had some conversations with the light. The light kept changing into different figures, like Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, mandalas, archetypal images and signs. [16]

I asked God, « What is the best religion on the planet? Which one is right? » And Godhead said, with great love: « I don’t care. » […] The Ultimate Godhead of all the stars tells us: « It does not matter what religion you are. » They come and they go, they change. Buddhism has not been here forever, Catholicism has not been here forever, and they are all about to become more enlightened. More light is coming into all systems now. [17]

Reincarnation is also a doctrine taught in the NDE report. In Hinduism, it is for humans a constant cycle of incarnations which his escaped through access to a state of non-existence. This is what we understand about the following:

The light explained to me that there is no death; we are immortal beings. We have already been alive forever! I realized that we are part of a natural living system that recycles itself endlessly. I was never told that I had to come back [in the spiritual world]. I just knew that I would. [18]

Here is a second example of NDE, where it’s shown to the person the panoramic view of her alleged past lives:

She then had a panoramic view of her past lives, but not in this lifetime. She saw how some of her deaths had caused grief to her families and then agreed to return now not to inflict it again. She gave up resisting, was sucked from behind all the way back and came back into her body, through the head. (Patricia) [19]

Regarding reincarnation several views exist in the New Age movement. Sometimes the idea is that the person can freely choose the terms of his/her reincarnation. The comments below from a third NDE obviously imply the previous choice of the person to embody:

Next thing I remember is suddenly finding myself back in the presence of the being of light I’d met first, and told I had to go back. I said: no way, I won’t do it. […] I was told that it wasn’t my time, that I’d been granted a visit ‘back home’, but that I had to fulfill my purpose and do the work I myself had chosen to do on earth. The being of light reminded me that my purpose was to learn more about love, compassion, and how to express them on earth, and that my work was to help other people in any way I could. I had chosen this myself. (Lisa M.) [20]

Finally, the NDE testimony of Mellen-Thomas Benedict implies that mediumistic faculties are desirable and should be developed. In NDE, these faculties appear very frequently in their subjects. Indeed, they often return from their experiences endowed with gifts such as those of telepathy, telekinesis, contact with the dead, astral travel, healing, divination [21] … In other words, with a demonic power awarding them these gifts. [22] But many of these practices are specifically condemned by the Bible (De 18:10-12). The testimony mentions one, claiming it would be a natural thing willed by God:

Since my return I have experienced the light spontaneously, and I have learned how to get to that space almost any time in my meditation. Each one of you can do this. You do not have to die to do this. It is within your equipment; you are wired for it already. The body is the most magnificent light being there is. The body is a universe of incredible light. Spirit is not pushing us to dissolve this body. That is not what is happening. Stop trying to become God; God is becoming you. Here. [23]

We just recalled the principles emanating from the NDE supporting New Age teachings, through excerpts of accounts. It does not seem necessary to explain in more detail how these New Age teachings do not conform to biblical thought. We are going to talk about the NDE, which mention both New Age teachings and some Christian elements.

NDE mixing New Age and Christianity

It is interesting to consider the case of New Age NDE involving biblical elements. For illustrative purpose, we will consider the testimony of Dr. George Ritchie (1943), temporarily dead of cardiac arrest due to complication from pneumonia. One of the first elements of his NDE is the encounter with the light. The light appeared to him by suggestion, as the Son of God:

He would be too bright to look at. For now I saw that it was not light but […] a man made ​​out of light […]. I got to my feet and as I did came the stupendous certainty: « You are in the presence of the Son of God. » [24]

As noted previously, the person of light is quite able to identify with the « Son of God« , but also to other deities such « Buddha and Krishna« . Then, a panoramic life review takes place:

« What have you done with your life to show me? » […] The question, like everything else proceeding from Him, had to do with love. How much have you loved with your life? Have you loved others as I am loving you? Totally? Unconditionally? […] Someone should have told me, I thought indignantly! […] « I told you by the life I lived. I told you by the death I died. And, if you keep your eyes on me, you will see more » [25]

But we saw above that when the being of light preached the New Age, his interest for love was the same as in this case, however, sin is completely ignored. One might think that in this case the being of light who is the « Son of God », ignores sin because it was cleared by the atoning work of the cross. But in this case, it is not explicit. It is only implicit for a reader having a Christian sensibility, not for others.

On the other hand, from a Christian point of view, one might expect that this Jesus is also interested in the faith manifested by the disciple (cf. 1Ti 1:5). In other words, one would expect that Jesus is also interested in the way in which the disciple of Christ is obedient to the Spirit of Christ in him, for example, according to the meaning of the following verse:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20) [26]

The NDE thus reveals a Jesus whose discussion basic content is essentially the same as the being of light of the New Age NDE seen previously.

Let’s resume the experience of George Ritchie. He said he was taken by Jesus to see various scenes involving disembodied beings alongside the living without being seen. In particular, he discovered somewhere on earth, the scene of a brawl involving thousands of disembodied beings dominated by feelings of hatred. George Ritchie thought this scene was hell:

The plain was crowded, even jammed with hordes of ghostly discarnate beings; […] everywhere people were locked in what looked like fights to the death, writhing, punching, gouging. […] If I suspected before that I was seeing hell, now I was sure of it. […] These creatures seemed locked into habits of mind and emotions: into hatred, lust, destructive thought-patterns. [27]

The teachings of the New Age movement about the afterlife often line up with the Tibetan Buddhism view. The spirits of the dead are free to move between different spiritual spheres based on the compatibility of their own spiritual level: Low spheres would be reserved for unhappy spirits. Reincarnation would correspond to an intermediate level. High spheres would be reserved for spirits who made themselves free from the earthly concerns.

In particular, the New Age movement teaches the possibility that after death, the spirit can move from a spiritual « low sphere » to a « high sphere ».

This conception of the afterlife likely contradicts the teaching of the Bible. Indeed, as we have seen above, the only « high sphere » that ensures eternal incorruptibility is called in the Bible paradise. One would enter it directly after death, but not after an evolution in the spiritual world.

In the scene considered the evolution possibility such as presented, is not explicitly expressed, however it is done implicitly.

Indeed, we find a New Age idea which is that even in a « low sphere », the spirits plunged into darkness would be assisted by superior spirits. Their presence would facilitate the emancipation of the suffering spirits, if, without forcing their free-will, they come to desire a better condition.

Perhaps it was not Jesus who had abandoned them, but they who had fled from the Light that showed up their darkness. Or … were they as alone as at first it appeared? Gradually I was becoming aware that there was something else on that plain of grappling forms. […] That entire plain was hovered over by beings seemingly made ​​of light. It was their very size and blinding brightness that had prevented me first from seeing them in. […] not one of these bickering beings on the plain had been abandoned. They were being attended, watched over, ministered to. And the equally observable fact was that not one of them knew it. [28]

Note that the similarity of these spirits of light with biblical angels is not innocuous. Indeed, it can only reinforce the idea that the biblical God would be keen to show grace, somehow to spirits of the dead who are outside of paradise. That’s at least what George Ritchie thinks:

Jesus had been there, in those scenes of Sheol. It was in His light, in His compassion in which I was seeing the awfulness, and that shed a ray of hope, even in hell. [29]

A little further on, the story clearly states higher than the previous spiritual sphere. This sphere seems to host some more spiritually evolved beings, but still attached partly to earthly things:

Now behind, beyond, through all this I began to perceive a whole new realm! Enormous buildings stood in a beautiful sunny park and there was a relationship between the various structures, a pattern to the way they were arranged, that reminded me somewhat of a well-planned university. […] It was more like some tremendous study center, humming with the excitement of great discovery. […] In several of the rooms hooded figures bent over intricate charts and diagrams, or sat at the controls of elaborate consoles flickering with lights. […] Next we walked through a library the size of the whole University of Richmond. […] « Here is the central thought of this earth. » […] « When these people were on earth did they grow beyond selfish desires? » They grew, and they have kept on growing. [30]

According to the text, it seems obvious that the beings who inhabit this sphere are in an intermediate state of spiritual evolution.

Immediately after, the story mentions a new spiritual sphere, which is clearly similar to the biblical paradise:

Even what I had come to think of as a ‘higher plane’ of deep thoughts and learning, was obviously not far distant from the « physical plane » where body-less beings were still bound to a solid world. Now however, we seemed to have left the earth behind. […] And then I saw […] A glowing, seemingly endless city […] The brightness seemed to shine from the very walls and streets of this place, and from beings which I could now discern moving about within it. […] Could these radiant beings, I wondered, amazed, be those who had indeed kept Jesus the focus of their lives? [31]

To summarize, the story speaks first of the lower spheres of prisoners, then of an intermediate sphere, finally of the higher sphere of paradise. We can certainly find the biblical notions of hell and paradise. But to some extent, we also find this gradation in spiritual levels that can be found in Tibetan Buddhism or spiritualism, for example.

Christian type NDE

In every age of the Christian era, there are emerging and existing false doctrines that are confirmed by visions of the same age. Some of them report the imminence of death and can therefore be considered as NDE. We will try to focus as much as possible on the eschatological aspects that emerge from these NDE. We will start talking about NDE supporting more the Roman Catholic doctrines. Then we will continue with NDE promoting less characteristic theological elements.

The earliest description of a « purgatory », without been called as it, appears in the vision of Drythelm, written down in 731. Drythelm was a good man who became sick and appeared to die. His spirit departed from his body and was led by an anonymous guide who introduced him to the afterlife. Here are the comments of his spiritual guide about the visited places:

“That valley you saw so dreadful because of the consuming flames and cutting cold is the place to try and punish the souls of those who delay to confess and amend their sins, but eventually have recourse to repentance at the point of death, and so depart from this life. Nevertheless, because they finally confessed and repented at death, they will all be received into the kingdom of heaven at the Day of Judgment. Many, however, are aided before the Day of Judgment by the prayers, alms and fasting of the living, and more especially by Masses. “That fiery and stinking pit that you saw is the mouth of hell, and whoever falls into it shall never be delivered for all eternity. This flowery place, in which you see these most beautiful young people, so bright and merry, is the reception place for the souls of those who depart from the body after doing good works, […] [32]

The idea expressed is that the salvation of the dead can be earned through suffering or even through specific religious practices performed by the living. We continue in quoting also the vision of Tundale, a man of war, written some centuries later, in 1149. He was suddenly paralyzed, collapsed, and then no signs of life remained in him except a small heat, at the left side of his chest. An angel then guided him to the visit of heaven and hell and subjected him to torture so he can redeem from his sins through suffering:

Tundale, petrified with fear, turned to be closer to his angel. But probably the spirit that guided him was to teach him a lesson; for the poor soldier was alone; the angel was gone. At this right moment a pack of demons, who were the purveyors of the monster, rushed eagerly on the helpless […] He endured there bites, cudgel, blows of any kind; he underwent both the rigors of a cold wind and stinking fumes of sulfur. His angel came and finally took him from this horrible wallow, saying: – You expiated here your usual sins. [33]

In this vein, we can finally refer to the more recent NDE of the Catholic priest Jose Maniyangat. His experience, dating from 1985, began after a traffic accident, where he died temporarily. Once disembodied, his guardian angel appeared to him and took him on a tour of hell, purgatory and paradise:

After the visit to hell, my Guardian angel escorted me to Purgatory. Here too, there are seven degrees of suffering and unquenchable fire. But it is far less intense than hell and there was neither quarreling nor fighting. […] I had a chance to communicate with the souls in Purgatory. They asked me to pray for them and to tell the people to pray for them as well, so they can go to heaven quickly. […] Next, my angel escorted me to heaven passing through a big dazzling white tunnel. […] I saw all the saints, especially the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph, and many dedicated holy Bishops and Priests who were shining like stars. [34]

Like the intermediate sphere mentioned in the previous chapter, we find in these stories a place or state that differs from « paradise » but which people can leave for paradise after a while. However, in this case it is a place of purification which spirits can leave mainly after having endured a certain quota of suffering.

These NDE teach in particular that people who are not written in the « book of life » at death can still be written in after death. To refer to what was seen in the first chapter, this principle is opposed to biblical interpretation that such a development is impossible after death. (cf. Lu 16:23-26).

In general, one may wonder why in many NDE, people are subjected to an evaluation. According to the first chapter, if this assessment is a warning or a specific teaching, it would be biblically acceptable. However, once it would rather be an explicit judgment that happens systematically at the end of life, it becomes dubious. Jesus don’t need in fact to explicitly assess the person’s life at that time, since he knows rightfully who is or is not written in his book of life (Rev 3:5), which appears as the only factor to avoid condemnation at the last judgment. We will now illustrate this issue with some more testimonies.

We continue with the example of the vision of the monk Barontus, who became seriously ill, left his body to come back to life later. Here are some excerpts of his vision summaries (written in 678 or 679). The latter, in his death throes, was beset by demons who wanted his soul because of a specific sin. An angel came and they all agreed to defer to the judgment of God. In this case, it was St. Peter who temporarily rendered the godly judgment:

[…] Hideous demons appeared to him who tried to strangle and swallow with their ferocious teeth. He was mauled furiously until the third hour when the Archangel Raphael came to his aid and conflicted with the demons who claimed the soul. It was agreed to defer to the judgment of God. Raphael touches Barontus throat and he feels his soul torn from his body. […] Barontus with his ​​angelic and demonic escort then visits the first three Paradises. […] Raphael then sends one of the angels looking for Peter […] [He] drives them by threatening them away with three keys in his hand. He turned to Barontus to prescribe him to redeem himself. Indeed, at the time of his conversion, he failed to give 12 pennies. He should discharges it by paying a penny per month for the poor from the first day of April. This will be his tax redemption for the heavenly homeland. […] Having arrived in Hell, Barontus first see nothing, because of the blackness of darkness and thick smoke. Then God allows him to see the prisons are kept tied up multitudes of men. [35]

Following this episode of judgment, the spirit of Barontus returned to his body. Note that this view holds that salvation can be earned by specific religious practices.

We quote now a testimony, which is at the limit of the principle of near-death experience. This is the testimony of a backsliding Christian named Olga (1996). An angel appears to her, telling her that this is her last day. Her spirit leaves her body and the angel accompanies her toward the edge of hell. She faces trial before Jesus and the devil. The latter then accused her:

I did stand before Jesus in pants, not a dress, and I couldn’t look at His face. […] I looked at Satan again and saw lots of stuff on his body. You know how Americans put lots of holes in their ears, sometimes eight? This was how Satan looked; lots of earrings. He had lots of jewelry, makeup and necklaces fastened on him. I had this stuff too. […] I’ve spent hundreds of dollars for this and I see that Satan has this. I didn’t think the Lord would give mercy to me because of this. I thought, ‘my end is hell. […] Satan opened his mouth and said, « the Word of God says: any kind of man’s clothing on a woman is an abomination to God. » [36]

A little later on, Olga returned to her body, contrary then to what the angel said to her. Once again, one can wonder what the point of this assessment is, if it is supposed to precede real death. One can also sense in this kind of testimony an implicit encouragement toward legalism.

In 2012, Emmanuel Senayon was suffering from tuberculosis. While he was bedridden, his spirit left his body to be in the presence of Jesus. The latter took him to the judgment of God and the places where spirits go at its end: Hell and Paradise. Finally, he returned to his body:

[Jesus] took my hand and took me out of the room, to a stand before a great throne. I saw God on the throne, but I could not see His face because It was full of glory, powerful, and his body is like burning fire. I saw some group of angels in white garment before the throne, they were full of glory, those angels carry some books in their hand. And I saw uncountable people before the throne (Revelation 20:11) and they go one after the other to received their judgment, and whenever any one of them get before the throne, the angels will open the books in their hand, and immediately God will judge the person. But what I notice is that many people has stood there, but what God told them is « DEPART FROM ME » […] any one that worketh iniquity were carried away by the storm in to everlasting punishment […] [37]

In this testimony we have a deeds assessment of men’s spirits at death, which appears to be systematic. In this case, the assessment is clearly assimilated to the judgment before the throne of God, of Apocalypse 20:11-15. This is simply not possible, since we have already shown that it can only be a future event. During this trip to hell, we note also here the criteria of this judgment about the outward appearance of women:

And the Lord took to hell fire, on our way to hell, we pass through a tunnel and when we get out of the tunnel we suddenly arrived at a pure dark place, the place look like a country, but it was full of great darkness and with a great horror and terrifying sound of crying. […] Those who dress to please the flesh, a woman that put on trouser, earring, chain, weavon, attachment, make-up, and all other worldly dress, they were in the department of prostitute in hell fire (Isaiah 3:16-24) all of them were tormented […] [38]

Once again, nothing is questionable from a scriptural point of view in the judgment criteria reported above. Nevertheless, we can be doubtful against their superficiality.

The Christian type NDE that we saw often promote specific religious practices as mean of salvation. They encourage among others, some legalistic attitudes, which stand against a more balanced behavior, sensitive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. (cf. 1Co 2:14-15)

On the other hand, the NDE that we went through mentioned an assessment of deeds. Although sometimes we can understand this as a warning, the very circumstances of these NDE often lead to think that they describe a universal death process. This ambiguity is detrimental to a clear understanding of the afterlife process. In some cases, this process is more directly opposed to the traditional biblical interpretation of a future and unique divine judgment. Such stories have thus the potential to influence the approach that one can have of biblical eschatology and should be considered cautiously for this reason.

Conclusion

NDE are visions that are subject of a special interest, since they are commonly associated with real experiences of death which were interrupted.

In this article we considered several different NDE types, starting with those which rather promote New Age ideas to come to those which rather state Christian concepts. We reviewed a diversity of afterlife processes; diversity which itself is highly questionable, as the Christian would rather expect a single process.

We also tried to point out disagreements between the messages that these NDE brought with some biblical interpretations taken as reference. We saw that « New-Age » type NDE essentially promote false pantheist spirituality. Regarding the Christian type NDE, they support diverse false doctrines, sometimes as purification of sins through various religious practices. They frequently encourage a legalistic attitude. We can recognize here some forms of perfectionism, which tends, like the « New-Age » NDE, to confer divine attributes to men. More generally, NDE can present a wrong eschatological pattern which can induce a biased approach to the biblical texts of eschatological nature.

To explain the diversity of processes in NDE and the discrepancies, it has been assumed at the outset, that unbiblical NDE would actually be the result of demonic counterfeit. However, it is not possible to prove that all NDE are deluding on a biblical perspective. So we can not exclude that some NDE testimonies are true. By cons, given the sample of questionable NDE considered in this study, we saw that many of them may be counterfeit.

One can suspect that to judge NDE on a doctrinal basis may be limited in some cases, by the lack of elements to evaluate. The only way that would prevent of a counterfeit NDE or vision would be to test the spirits (cf. 1Jn 4:1) that would be acting at a time when it happens.

Ultimately, it is therefore necessary to consider, but also to communicate about NDE carefully.


Endnotes

[1] B. Greyson, Varieties of Anomalous Experiences: Examining the Scientific Evidence, E. Cardena, Linn SJ, Krippner S. Editor., 2000, American Psychological Association: Washington DC., p. 315-352.

[2] Raymond Moody, Life After Life, New York: Bantam, 1975, chap. 3.

[3] Evelyne-Sarah Mercier, La Mort Transfigurée, recherches sur les expériences vécues aux approches de la mort, Belfond, 1992, First part, chap. 2.

[4] The Holy Bible: New International Version, Holman Bible Publishers, 1986.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Bishop Kanco and Dr. Pat Holliday, The witch doctor and the man, Agape publishers, 2000, p. 42

[10] The Holy Bible: New International Version, Holman Bible Publishers, 1986.

[11] Lee Worth Bailey and Jenny Yates, The Near-Death Experience: A Reader, Routledge, 1996, chap. 2.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Evelyne-Sarah Mercier, Testimonies of Patricia, 2001, http://www.iands-france.org/

[20] Lisa M., Testimony of Lisa M., 2000, http://www.nderf.org/

[21] Lee Worth Bailey and Jenny Yates, The Near-Death Experience: A Reader, Routledge, 1996, chap. 2.

[22] Evelyne-Sarah Mercier, La Mort Transfigurée, recherches sur les expériences vécues aux approches de la mort, Belfond, 1992, second part.

[23] Kurt E. Koch, Occult ABC: Exposing Occult Practices and Ideologies, Paperback, 1978, chap. 2.1.4.

[24] George Ritchie, Return from tomorrow, Fleming H. Revell, 1978, p. 48-49.

[25] Ibid., p. 54-55.

[26] The Holy Bible: New International Version, Holman Bible Publishers, 1986.

[27] George Ritchie, Return from tomorrow, Fleming H. Revell, 1978, p. 63-64.

[28] Ibid., p. 66.

[29] Ibid., p. 113.

[30] Ibid., p. 68-71.

[31] Ibid., p. 72.

[32] Eileen Gardiner, Visions of Heaven & Hell before Dante, Italica press, 1989, chap. Drythelm’s vision.

[33] Jacques Collin de Plancy, Légendes de l’autre monde, Henri Plon, 1863, chap. 47.

[34] José Maniyangat, Life After Death Experience, 2005, http://www.frmaniyangathealingministry.com/

[35] Claude Carozzi, Le Voyage de l’âme dans l’au-delà d’après la littérature latine (Ve-XIIIe siècle), Publications de l’École française de Rome, 1994, chap. 3.1.

[36] Olga, Testimony of Olga, 1996, http://www.hissheep.org/

[37] Emmanuel Senayon, The Mystery of Heaven and Hell, 2013, http://www.nairaland.com/

[38] Ibid.

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2 réflexions sur “The near-death experience (NDE)

  1. There seems, to me, to be absolutely no contradiction between the strikingly similar events that are reported in the myriad instances of NDE’s and Sacred Scripture, provided that the latter is being interpreted by the sole authority who has been charged with the proper interpretation of Scripture – the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. As a Catholic, I reject the notion of « sola Scriptura, » or « Scripture alone » as the primary and only source of Divine Revelation. My reason for this has everything to do with a very simple, common-sense axiom that an effect cannot be greater than it’s cause. Or, put another way, how is it that the infallible, inspired and innerrant collection of books, letters and other writings that collectively comprise what we refer to as « Sacred Scripture, » – written by different authors over the course of centuries – be the product of a group of fallible men, not inspired themselves whilst choosing the books that would comprise the Bible? Scripture can only be inspired and inerrant if the persons who wrote and assembled these writings were inspired themselves. Thus, the Sacred Living Oral Tradition of the Church, which may be defined as the Spirit of God working in, through and with the members of Christ’s Mystical Body, was inspired and guided, by the same Spirit, to put down on paper those truths which had been revealed by God to His People, throughout both the Old and the New Covenant, or the Old and New Testaments respectively.

    Why go off on this tangent regarding the prominent and necessary role of Sacred Tradition? Firstly, to explain how we could never have an inspired and inerrant effect (Sacred Scripture) emerge from an « uninspired » cause or source (the Magisterium, or, the bishops in union with the Pope); and secondly, to explain that the events reported by persons who’ve had NDE’s are in perfect accord with what the Church teaches about death. Specifically, the Church distinguishes between a « particular judgement, » that each individual experiences at the moment of death (which is said to include a « life review, » which is precisely what is described by those who’ve had NDE’s) and the « Final Judgement, » which shall take place at the end of ages, and is written about in the books of Daniel, Matthew and Revelation.

    In short, it is the estimation of this author that the author of the above article, in failing to recognize the reality of the « Particular Judgement, » has come to the erroneous conclusion that the reported phenomena of NDE’s are not congruent with Biblical theology and, for that reason, ought not be regarded as credible. Yet, in failing to adhere to the sound teaching of the Magisterium of the Church, who alone is the sole body that has been entrusted, by Christ, with the task of definitively interpreting Sacred Scripture, the author of the « NDE » article above has come to the erroneous conclusion that NDE’s have no place in Christian Theology. Quite to the contrary, it is the conviction of this author (Jay Brunelle) that such experiences both support the teaching of the Church on this issue and attest, from a phenomenological vantage point, to the credibility of the existence of life after life.

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