The book, Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife, has brought near-death experiences back into the public eye. Decades before this, in the late seventies and early eighties many books were written on this phenomena. Despite all of these books, I have yet to see a logical and Biblical explanation of near-death experiences. I will give one in this article.
A near-death experience is an experience that someone has when he or she is "dead" and then resuscitated. Most experience nothing during this time, but some do. Some even claim that while they were "dead," they went to heaven. Such is the case of the author of Proof of Heaven.
Christians are expected to accept the idea that near-death experiences are forays into heaven or hell. Those who oppose this are viewed as taking sides with the enemy. But there are some problems with the idea that they died and went to heaven or hell.
The first problem is a contradiction of terms. When someone goes through a near-death experience, they do not call it a death experience. They call it a near-death experience.
Yet as the patient is describing the experience, he usually explains that at a certain point in time, he died.
What? Which is it? Did he die? Or did he nearly die?
He doesn't call it a death experience because if it were that, he would not be alive to tell about it. Death is final. There is no coming back from it.
"It is appointed unto men once to die..." (Hebrews 9:27 KJV). People do not die two or three times. They only die once.
If a person's heart stops beating and he is resuscitated, that is not a death. It is a near-death (in actuality other parts of his body, like his brain, were still alive).
The second problem is a contradiction of experiences. Ask two people who have gone through near-death experiences what happened and you will get two different stories. Some remember nothing. Some entered darkness. Some had an out-of-body experience. Some saw a light. Some saw relatives.
How can so many people have gone to heaven, but all experienced something different?
The third problem is a contradiction to what Jesus said.
Jesus was responsible for at least two near-death experiences. He did not cause their near-deaths, but He did bring them back to life.
One was the synagogue ruler's daughter. Everyone said she was dead. But Jesus said that she was sleeping. They laughed at Him for making such a foolish claim. (Matthew 9:24; Mark 5:39; Luke 8:52) Why did He say she was sleeping when it was obvious she was dead?
The second near-death experience was that of Lazarus.
Jesus and His disciples were in Galilee, which was a couple days journey from where Lazarus lived when they received a message from Lazarus' sisters saying that he was sick.
"When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby." (John 11:4 KJV)
It seems that Jesus was wrong because Lazarus did die. He was dead and in the grave for four days. Why did Jesus say that this sickness would not cause death?
Jesus waited two days and then told His disciples that they were going to Judea.
"...Our friend Lazarus sleeps; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.
Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well.
Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep.
Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead." (John 11:11-14 KJV)
Why did Jesus say Lazarus was sleeping when he really was dead? Why did He say the synagogue ruler's daughter was sleeping when she was dead?
Jesus said they were sleeping because He knew they would be coming back to life soon. In people's eyes they were dead, in medicine's eyes they were dead, but Jesus knew different. Jesus was not fooled by a lack of breath or the absence of a heartbeat. He knew the future. If they were going to come back to life, it could not be death.
Near-death experiences are not death experiences in God's eyes. To Him these people are sleeping. Since God knows they are sleeping, He does not take them to heaven or hell. He allows them to remain where they are and sleep.
What are near-death experiences? Are they real? Are they made up? Are they heaven experiences?
Near-death experiences are exactly that, NEAR-death experiences. In God's eyes these people are not dead. For this reason, He does not take them to heaven or hell.
God knows the future. He knows when a person is truly dead. He is not fooled by the emergency room doctor when he brings a person back to life. Gabriel does not have to ashamedly go up to this person as he is enjoying heaven and confess with a red face, "Uhh, we made a mistake. We did not think they would resuscitate you, but they did. You must go back." That happens in Hollywood and in cartoons. It does not happen in heaven.
Near-death experiences are not death experiences and so they are also not heaven or hell experiences.
Death is final. Near-death is not.
Jesus did say that people in a near-death state were sleeping. We can conclude from this that near-death experiences share characteristics with sleep.
Just as sometimes when people sleep, they dream and sometimes they don't, so sometimes when people's hearts stop beating, they have a near-death experience and sometimes they don't. And just as dreams are different, so near-death experiences are different.
Near-death experiences are similar to dreams, but they are also different.
There is a difference between near-deaths and regular sleep. In regular sleep people do not stop breathing. Their hearts do not stop beating. Their bodies do not start shutting down. In near-death they do.
As the body shuts down, its grip on the soul is relaxed. Most people are not aware of the constant drag, pain, and suffering, the body puts on them (Romans 8:20-23). Coming close to death releases people from the pain of their bodies.
This causes peace and a sense of well-being, the most common element of near-death experiences. It is a great and unexplainable peacefulness and painlessness. Many do not want to leave it.
This is often mistaken for being in heaven, but it is not. It is just what a person feels when he does not have to lug his body around, when he becomes disconnected from the flesh.
This peacefulness is not heaven. Most people who feel this peacefulness in near-death experiences do not think they were in heaven and did not have a heaven experience. In fact, in a study of seventeen suicide survivors who reported having a near-death experience, only four of them reported seeing a light or being aware of another world, while nine reported entering into darkness. Yet they all experienced a feeling of peace and well-being. (A Collection of Near-Death Research Readings, p.185) They felt this way because their body had shut down. The flesh influence was gone.
Near-death experiences are not death experiences and so they are not experiences of heaven. They are dreams influenced by peace and a sense of well-being that is felt because the flesh influence is temporarily paused.
Near-death experiences are real, but they are not proofs of heaven. Instead they are close glimpses at this side of death's door.