The plethora of narratives surrounding near-death experiences (NDEs) raises intriguing questions. Are these accounts real? Can we validate them? And if they are real, what implications do they hold for us?
The Afterlife: Heaven and Hell
Countless people claim to have seen the splendors of heaven or the depths of hell during a near-death experience, only to return to the realm of the living. While these testimonies may be compelling, we face two fundamental challenges: verifying the veracity of these accounts and reconciling them with the biblical narrative. In the Bible, there is no mention of anyone dying, experiencing heaven or hell, and returning, save for Jesus Christ himself and the cryptic account of Apostle Paul, who recounts a man “caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows” (2 Corinthians 12:3-4). But this account remains shrouded in mystery, as Paul is forbidden to relay the inexpressible details of this experience.
Understanding Near-Death Experiences
Near-death experiences are distinct from actual death experiences. They refer to a state in which someone approaches death without succumbing to it entirely. These experiences often trigger profound personal revelations, which are then shared with others. While these recollections may seem remarkable, we must remember that validating each account is a herculean task. Furthermore, even if we accept their occurrence, their theological significance remains ambiguous. We cannot form doctrines based on these experiences if they contradict biblical teachings.
Are Near-Death Experiences Real?
Only God holds the definitive answer to the authenticity of near-death experiences. While some cases have been exposed as frauds, others remain inexplicable. Such experiences could, indeed, be vivid dreams of heaven and hell so intense that individuals genuinely believe they were there. However, our focus should be on the Bible and Jesus Christ, not these accounts. A preoccupation with NDEs may distract us from the truths God has revealed in His Word. The Word of God carries the power of salvation (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18), while human experiences, although potentially inspiring, are not divinely inspired.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the surest truth we have about life after death. Christ endured death for us all so we could escape the second death—the eternal separation from God as described in Revelation 20:14-15. And how can we avoid this second death? Apostle Paul provides the answer in Romans 10:9-13: confess that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead. If you have placed your faith in Christ, then death is no longer an obstacle between you and God, and nothing can ever separate you from His love (Romans 8:38).