By Gary R. Habermas
Reports of near-death experiences have occasioned much interest. These reports abound from those who claim to have hovered above their nearly dead bodies and journeyed down dark tunnels toward a beautiful light, often in the presence of deceased loved ones.
The most interesting near-death accounts are the dozens claiming that the dying person, during his turmoil, actually observed events that were later reported and verified. These events may have taken place some distance away and could not have been observed from the individual’s location even if he had been completely well. Sometimes the near-death individual had extended periods without a heartbeat during these observations. On a few occasions, no brain activity was reported. A number of blind persons have also produced accurate descriptions of their surroundings.
Attempts have been made to explain these experiences naturally, especially by medical or psychological factors, such as hallucinations. However, none of these subjective approaches can account for the evidential cases just mentioned. For example, internal brain phenomena cannot explain accurate descriptions of events, particularly when they happened a distance away or when the person’s heart or brain had failed.
How should Christians think about such accounts? To be sure, some tough questions surround this topic. For example, some non-Christians have declared that they had wonderful experiences during a near-death state. But negative experiences, including graphic visions of hell, have also been reported. Further, these persons were not biologically (irreversibly) dead but only near death. So, how can we be sure of their final state? Last, we are dealing here not with the experiences themselves but with personal interpretations of the experiences, which are notoriously inaccurate during highly emotional times. In these cases, serious evidence is lacking.
What about reports of experiences that have satanic or occultic aspects? Undeniably, such do exist and caution is definitely necessary. But it appears that there is nothing inherently occultic about near-death experiences. People are simply reporting their perceptions.
The carefully observed and documented cases provide some evidence for at least the initial moments of afterlife. This is contrary to the dictates of naturalism, which claims that the material world is all there is to reality. So near-death experiences can be both well evidenced and valuable. At the same time, Christians must be careful not to endorse non-biblical interpretations of these experiences or accept them as revealing truth on a par with the Bible.
Adapted from the Apologetics Study Bible, pg 1675