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Discover the Truth about Near-Death Experiences

Have you ever wondered about people who have died and come back, telling of adventures in the afterlife?

Have you ever wondered about people who have died and come back, telling of adventures in the afterlife? Dr Bruce Greyson, an expert scholar on Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) and the Chester Carlson Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia, defines an NDE as follows: “Near-death experiences are intensely vivid and often life-transforming experiences, often occurring under extreme physiological conditions such as life-threatening trauma, cardiac arrest, or deep anesthesia in which no awareness of sensory experience of any kind should be possible, according to our current understanding of brain function.”[1]

We are told by those who have experienced an NDE that they were more alive in their afterlife experience than they ever have been. After resuscitation, many give an account of the afterlife or provide information that they were not privy to during a state of unconsciousness. Most NDEs are life-transforming. And many people describe their experience of indescribable love, acceptance, peace, and beauty. However, there are also distressing NDEs which according to research make up between 10–20 percent. Researchers suggest that they are less common because these horrific experiences are suppressed, or experiencers are too ashamed to talk about them. People who have these experiences are so terrified by them that many of them make significant changes to their life for the better.

One would be forgiven for thinking that an NDE is at best pseudoscience. But while it is not the same kind of science as chemistry or physics, it has nevertheless become a bone fide field of research where scientific research methods are employed, furnished with its own academic journal: The Journal of Near-Death Studies, a quarterly peer-reviewed academic journal devoted to near-death studies, published by the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS). There is also the Near-Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF).

Despite the controversy surrounding NDEs, they are now generally accepted among medical professionals. People who research NDEs are often professional scholars with PhDs, and many of them have medical backgrounds. This is not to say that they all agree with one another, or that all of them are religious. Indeed, they don’t all agree, and neither do all of them hold religious convictions, although many do.

There are countless NDEs out there. You can read about them on the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) and the Near-Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF) websites. Of course, you can’t believe everything you read on the internet. Yet, while there are common characteristics that run through many NDEs, almost everyone is unique, and some of them are quite quirky.

Although NDEs are interpreted and experienced differently by people, they nevertheless share common characteristics. Here is a catalogue of common characteristics of NDEs.

1. Having an out-of-body experience, seeing their corpse below, and a profound detailed awareness of the surroundings.

2. Traveling extraordinarily fast through a tunnel with a bright light at the end of it.

3. Encountering God as the great being of light, often at the end of a tunnel.

4. Having a sudden and profound sense of peace, unconditional love, and acceptance.

5. Having a detailed life review.

6. Encountering beings of light like Jesus and angels.

7. Meeting family and friends who have died.

8. Having a tour of heaven (this is uncommon).

9. Hearing heavenly music.

10. Enjoying heightened senses.

11. Having to decide to return or being told, “It’s not your time.” [2]

So, how can we know NDEs are real? (1) Blind people who experience an NDE see in the afterlife, even if they were born blind, and likewise, deaf people hear. (2) NDE people know things they could never otherwise have known, for example, the location of items, conversations in another room, and operation procedures. (3) As is very common in NDEs, people meet their family members who have already died. In some accounts, people meet others whom they did not know had died, for example, an uncle who died recently or a sibling who died during a miscarriage. (4) NDE accounts are remarkably consistent. Whether the account is retold 6 months after the NDE experience, 3 years, or 20 years later, the details of a genuine NDE always remain consistent as if it happened yesterday. This is different from other experiences where details usually change over time due to loss of memory of that event. (5) NDEs don’t end abruptly, as in a dream. In other words, there is often a message and closure to the NDE. (6) Although there might be some shared characteristics between an NDE, a dream, and a hallucination, an NDE is still very different. For those who have experienced all three, they say that an NDE is more real than their experience of a dream or hallucination, not to mention, as I said, NDEs don’t end abruptly. (7) Almost everyone changes their lives for the better after they have experienced an NDE, so profound was their experience. (8) Perhaps somewhat controversial, people change after experiencing an NDE, they look younger, their IQ improves dramatically, and they acquire skills or gifts which they did not have previously; children become more mature, and adults become more childlike.

NDEs are fascinating, and most of us want to know what happens to us when we die. What we discover is that the afterlife, at least according to NDEs, generally aligns with the teachings of Scripture. And while there is little that contradicts Christian theology, there are some things that, if we are to be honest, are rather surprising or perhaps even fanciful. We should not build a theology from NDEs; they are merely people’s experiences in the afterlife. But we ought to consider them, nonetheless, especially when most of them seem to be legitimate experiences and the explanatory models that try to explain them away don’t offer a rigorous challenge against these experiences. On the contrary, more features seem to confirm NDEs as legitimate experiences in the afterlife. Yet, any conclusions that are drawn from studies of NDEs ought to be tentative. So, let’s enjoy reading the NDE accounts, but let’s also not get carried away, and continue to keep Scripture as our compass for eternal truth.

This blog post is an edited section from a chapter titled The Light at the End of the Tunnel in my book, Embodied Afterlife: The Hope of an Immediate Resurrection. If you found this discussion interesting and would like to read the entire book, click here.

The hope of the resurrection

Embodied Afterlife is a groundbreaking new book that explores the concept of the afterlife and what it means to be resurrected in a physical body. Written by South African theologian, Dr. Robert Falconer, this book is a must-read for anyone seeking answers to the age-old question of what happens to us after we die. In this book, Falconer presents a compelling argument for the idea that our souls are at once resurrected in new physical bodies after we die, rather than waiting for some distant future resurrection. Drawing on a wide range of theological, biblical, and philosophical sources, he presents a compelling case for the hope of an immediate resurrection. He also explores the practical implications of this hope, from how we should live our lives in light of the hope of resurrection, to how we can find comfort and solace in the face of death.

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Image of balloon, sea, and clouds by ELG21 available here.

[1] Greyson, Bruce. 2021. “Near-Death Experience Resources,” Bruce Greyson, [2] Distressing or hellish NDEs have their own characteristics, namely: An acute awareness that the individual does not exist; A feeling of utter loneliness in a pitch-dark void; A hellish and ominous landscape; Demonic beings; Loud and annoying noises usually from others in extreme distress; Endless fire; Terrifying creatures; A very real feeling of being grotesquely tormented. Out-of-body experiences and tunnel experiences may, however, be common to both distressing and pleasant NDEs.


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