Thursday, April 8, 2010

Heaven and Hell and Near-Death Experiences

Near-death experiences have encouraged some, terrorized others and given rise to numerous books analyzing borderline adventures of those who claim that they’ve seen the Great Beyond in various forms.

The most recent explanation into this misty area is a news article on the Fox News website on April 8 which lists statistics and suggests an explanation. “According to research, between 11 and 23 percent of heart attack survivors report having near-death experiences. The study, which is reported in the journal ‘Critical Care,’ looked at 52 heart attack victims. Eleven had a near-death experience and the common link was a high level of carbon dioxide in the blood.”

The article does leave an open-ended conclusion suggesting further research is needed.

I recall the first explosive book on near-death experiences by Raymond Moody entitled “Life After Life” published in 1973. This secular author recounted several case histories and cited some biblical references. Its foreword was by Elizabeth Kulber Ross, who was at the time an expert on death and dying and whose later involvement with a noted supernatural world cultists tended to mute her authority. Other books followed such as “Beyond and Back” by Ralph Wilkerson with introductions by Pat Robertson and Walter Martin (1977) and Robert Monroe’s “Journey Out of the Body” (1978).

The book I found most credible was published in 1978 by a medical doctor, Maurice Rawlings. He traces his nominal Christianity until one of his patients was diagnosed as being on the verge of a massive heart attack, which then occurred and from which Rawlings attempted to revive the patient. While slipping away, the man screamed that he was experiencing Hell and vividly described the pain and flames. Several comebacks followed by subsequent near departures that elicited similar terror.

On one of the patient’s “returns,” Rawlings gathered his meager theology into an explanation of the Gospel, telling the man that he could avoid Hell by receiving Christ, and he believed in Jesus as Savior. After some time unconscious, the man revived and even recovered to live for several years.

Rawlings recounts how, a brief time after his stable return, he quizzed the man on his “hell” experience. The man had absolutely no recollection and only after profound probing did the heart patient recall any unpleasantness.

Rawlings offers an amazing insight noting that if people who have a near-death or out-of-the-body experience are questioned immediately on their return, roughly 50% declare they have seen hell and 50% say they have seen Heaven. However, if they are questioned long after the experience, they all say they have seen Heaven. Evidently hell is so frightful that the mind blocks it out.

Very little is declared in Scripture about these “near-death” experiences. However, in Luke 16, Christ indicates that there are two places of Paradise (also called Abraham’s bosom, which was removed to Heaven after Christ’s resurrection) and Hell (also called Hades).

As a biblical example, Moody cited Paul’s Damascus Road account and Paul’s later revelation of a spiritual body in I Corinthians 15. A better example would have been Paul’s account of being stoned and taken up to “the third heaven” as he heard unspeakable things (II Cor. 12). Perhaps as the things of earth temporarily fade, some do see Heaven or Hell. But all come back later to say the experience was a happy one.

In Matthew 7:21–23, Christ, speaking of those who claimed salvation in His day through prophecy, exorcism and miracles indicates that people would still be appealing to these in “that day,” which would be a day of judgement not yet come—a span of nearly 2,000 years. The consciousness of Hell is evidently so bad that, even after centuries, a hellish experience is still erased by the rebellious, deceptive, unregenerate mind. This aligns well with Rawlings’ statistics.

The truth is that only Jesus Christ and a very few others have ever come back from death, and no one has ever come back from actual death in Hell, though Christ pulled the curtain back to reveal the rich unbeliever there (Luke 16:23).

If we could have a good chat with resurrected Lazarus as recorded in John 12:9, it would reveal lots of things. Barring that, we will trust the word of Christ, who did come back and is coming again. “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:1-4)

In view of past trust, present position and future removal, Ephesians 2:4-10 declares, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together (past), and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (present), that in the ages to come (future) He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

By receiving Christ, we have the guarantee of eternity in Heaven and need not ever fear death.

Dave Virkler

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