By Steve Wallace
Luke 16:19-31 contain an inspired account of life after death. Both Lazarus and the rich man died. The Bible re- cords what happened to them afterwards. We, by faith, look at this and other inspired accounts to learn God’s teaching about the afterlife.
We are presently experiencing an explosion of information regarding another supposed source of knowledge about life after death: The Near Death Experience or NDE. In 1994 the recent history of the NDE was chronicled from the standpoint of books in print:
As a publishing phenomenon, it all began with Closer to the Light, written a few years ago by Melvin Morse. That book sold well and so was soon followed by his sequel, Transformed by the Light. Mr. Morse did not claim an otherworldly encounter himself but soberly catalogued the stories of hundreds of near-death cases. Next came the classic of the genre, Betty J. Eadie’s 1992 Embraced by the Light, so successful that even now it tops the bestseller lists. Then Saved by the Light, by Dannion Brinkley, also a bestseller. He sees Mrs. Eadie one up by having died not merely once but twice, returning each time with various prophesies we ignore, he warns, at our peril. And now we have Beyond the Light, by Phyllis Atwater, who has trumped Mr. Brinkley with a third trip to higher realms (The National Review, September 12, 1994).
Suffice it to say that it will help us if we prepare to confront the NDE phenomena in people to whom we try to teach the gospel. We will likely meet people who have been in some way influenced by it.
While NDEs of many people contain similarities it must be pointed out that researchers have found differences in almost every story in spite of similarities. Cases have been found where people had negative NDEs in which they imagined themselves in hell or in a very unpleasant place. Others have had NDEs that are compatible with the teachings of Hinduism. An atheist reported having an NDE and continued on in his unbelief after being resuscitated. In another case, a criminal who confessed to having killed two people had an NDE where he saw himself among saved people. Still another woman who had an NDE said that she now believes in reincarnation but not in God. Others have switched religions or become more religious. There is no consistent message from NDEs.
By contrast, the Bible speaks against the NDE as a source of knowledge about matters pertaining to God, the afterlife, and salvation. To show this we offer the following points:
1. Near death, not dead. People who have had NDEs were brought back from being clinically dead. They were clearly not dead in the Bible sense of the word (Jas. 2:26; Eccl. 12:7). Biblically, a person only dies once (Heb. 9:27). The Bible teaches that we go to the afterlife after death, not near death (Luke 16:19ff). Hence, reports from NDEs are similar to someone coming back from a ride in a balloon and telling what they saw on the moon!
In light of the above facts, the next point logically follows.
2. NDEs are born of one’s subjective feelings. They are not found in the Bible. The NDE is our age’s contribution to the “religious experience” common among denominationalism. For centuries, people have claimed to have had some sort of “salvation experience.” Today, people are simply going a step further, claiming not only to have been saved, but to have gone into the spirit-realm of saved beings. The same verses that answer the claimed “religious experiences” of our denominational friends answer the experiences claimed by those resuscitated from near death (Jer. 10:23; Prov. 16:25). God’s people should not let NDE claims bother them anymore than the traditional claims people have made in past. They all come from the same source: the mind of man.
3. People who claim to have had NDEs are not Christians! Do you know a N.T. Christian among the people claiming to have had a “positive” NDE? (I do know that one man who had such an NDE had killed two people!) How can a person who has had an NDE claim to have the comfort of the knowledge of salvation when God has said he has fallen short of what it takes to enter heaven (Matt. 7:21)?
4. Reports from NDEs are inconsistent with Bible cases of people returning from the afterlife. Paul was forbidden to reveal what he heard in “the third heaven!” (2 Cor. 12:1-7). Further, there is no account of any resurrected person — in either the O.T. or N.T. — telling what he experienced while dead! This is especially noteworthy when we consider the number of people raised from the dead in the Bible (1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:18-37; 13:20-21; Mark 5:35-43; Luke 7:11-16; John 11:1-54).
5. There is no value in those really dead returning. The rich man thought it would be a good thing if Lazarus went back from the dead and spoke with his five brothers. Abraham told him otherwise (Luke 16:26-31).
6. God communicates to us today through his word. The many books being written about NDEs and the messages of comfort they contain are like so many denominational creed books. They represent another gospel, separate and apart from that found in the N.T. (Gal. 1:8-9; 2 John 9-11). It is the gospel of Christ that holds the power of salvation for all men today (Mark 16:15; Rom. 1:16). Let us do our best to turn people away from the message of the NDE and to the inspired word of God.
There is only one credible testimony regarding what happens when we die. It is the Bible. In a precarious world, we are all potentially “near death.” Are you near heaven or hell? The Bible will both answer this question for you and tell you how to prepare to go to heaven and avoid hell.