Thursday, September 28, 2006

Near death experiences

I recently heard a radio program on which the host and a panel were discussing "near death" experiences (NDE). Stories of such experiences are of great interest to Christians and non-Christians alike. Perhaps few are immune to concerns about life-after-death. Even Christians feel drawn to hear the testimony of someone who's "been there", regardless of what testimony the Bible might afford. Some of these testimonies commend themselves to us because we know the person providing the testimony.

There are many popular and not-so-popular books on the subject, both pro and con. A book that that has caught the imagination and interest of folks in our area is 90 Minutes In Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life by Don Piper (With Cecil Murphey). Piper is a Southern Baptist minister, who, according to the publisher, "On the Way home from a conference, Don Piper's car was crushed by a semi truck that crossed into his lane. Medical personnel said he died instantly. While his body lay lifeless inside the ruins of his car, Piper experienced the glories of heaven, awed by its beauty and music. Ninety minutes after the wreck, while a minister prayed for him, Piper miraculously returned to life on earth with only the memory of inexpressible heavenly bliss." Piper said, "Simultaneous with my last recollection of seeing the bridge and the rain, a light enveloped me, with a brilliance beyond earthly comprehension or description. Only that. In my next moment of awareness, I was standing in heaven." Piper's book does not spend a lot of time dwelling on his heavenly experience, but uses the experiences of his physical recovery to attempt to comfort both the suffering and the bereaved.

Piper's book probably has a much greater appeal to Biblical Christians than many others that are available. Many NDE books tend to run toward new age, mysticism and occulticism. On the other hand, there is If I Should Wake Before I Die: The Medical and Biblical Truth about Near-Death Experiences by H. Leon Greene, M.D. Dr. Greene believes that medical and scientific evidence can explain the near death experience, and also shows how he feels these experiences do not fit Biblical teachings.

A speech by the
Prince of Wales illustrates the experiential appeal of the NDE: "The important point is that whatever position modern science may take on near-death experience, the subjects themselves are a) convinced of survival of death when they come back and b) they are transformed towards the valuing of love and the pursuit of wisdom."

In the
Christian Research Journal, Summer 1992, J. Isamu Yamoto wrote, "There are two important reasons why we should turn to the Bible as we try to understand the NDE phenomenon. First (and quite obviously for Christians), the Bible is the supreme authority in guiding the lives of believers. It conveys what God declares essential for humans to know about truth and how to please Him. Therefore, whatever the Bible has to say bearing on near-death experiences must be thoroughly and objectively examined."

"In addition, we must turn to the Bible because NDE advocates also turn to the Bible to support their interpretations of this phenomenon. Since many of these advocates believe in the universality of all religions, they naturally seek passages from as many religious texts as they can find that seem to parallel the near-death experience, including one particular biblical account that they assert describes some NDE elements. What NDE advocates claim to find in this biblical account must not be taken at face value, however, but must be studied also in contrast to the total NDE model that they have established. (page 14)"
Christian Research Journal, Spring 1992, Part one


Jim1927 said...

The medical people agreed on what constitutes death for practical purposes, BUT they have not really determined what death is. My daughter in Florida is a forensics pathologist and deals with human death all the time. SHe tells me of the difficulties they have at times, but for legal reasons they class an event a death. The body continues to function after the heart stops........and body shows all the signs of physical death. The brain, however, continues to function, so is the person dead? It has been witnessed that the brain appeared dead, and yet there was actual brain activity when measured under a brain scan. Was the patient dead?

Frankly, I think the person did not really die, and the mind has an overactive function in either fabricating what they want to believe, or re-inventing actual instances in their life...whether real or imagined.

Not an easy topic, to be sure.



R. L. Vaughn said...

Jim, to my way of thinking, you are probably right on. The person is pronounced clinically or medically dead, but really are not yet. So the mind can be experiencing whatever it is experiencing in such a state. I don't say that for certain but it seems reasonable, especially in light of the fact that many, if not most, of these NDE's don't line up with God's Word. And non-Christians often have them that seem to verify their own belief system.

I think we may have two problems here: (1) some of the medical/scientific community outright reject the Biblical notions of spirit, death, etc., so believe death can be measured in physical, "visible", "testable" results, and (2) they cannot see/measure the spirit anyway. James says the body without the spirit is dead, but who in the physical realm can pronounce the departure of the spirit -- the absence of breath and heartbeat, yes; the absence of brain activity, maybe; the absence of the spirit, no.

amity said...

I have some anecdotal information from friends who know a woman who works in a hospice. She says of all the people who she has seen die, few were troubled, and most died ecstatically happy.

Consciousness ends within seconds after the heart stops beating. Brain cells cease all metabolic activity about 3 minutes after circulation ends. Working in EMS, I saw two people resist medical treatment a minute or more after their hearts stopped beating (grabbing paramedic's hands, saying "no!").

I am not sure what conclusions to draw from this, but I do believe NDE's are genuime. And they are not all pleasant, either.