Life After Death – Part 3
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2004|
|What messages do people receive during Near-Death Experiences? Do these messages undermine the biblical view of salvation? Can such peaceful, loving experiences be spiritually deceptive?|
Life After Death—Part 3
Does the Near-Death Experience undermine the biblical view of salvation?
Not only does the Near-Death Experience [NDE] remove the fear of death, but also it simultaneously inhibits biblical repentance and salvation. The biblical concept of sin has little or no relevance to the “Light”:
- …in most cases, the reward-punishment model of the afterlife is abandoned and disavowed, even by many who had been accustomed to thinking in those terms. They found, much to their amazement, that even when their most apparently awful and sinful deeds were made manifest before the being of light, the being responded not with anger and rage, but rather only with understanding, and even with humor.
And when a person becomes convinced of complete acceptance by the Light (“God”), receiving Christ as his or her savior from sin becomes almost irrelevant. For example, one spirit told a person during his NDE, “There are no sins. Not in the way you think about them on earth. The only thing that matters here is how you think.”
The warmth of the “being of light” and the feeling of all-accepting love strongly conveys the message that one is accepted and forgiven wholly apart from personal faith in Christ. Thus people who have NDEs, whether in childhood or adulthood, universally lose the fear of death even though they remain non-Christians: “After the event, NDErs no longer fear death…. [and] Fear of hellish punishment for earthly deeds is no longer a problem for many.”
Those who have an NDE may also be commanded to disseminate the message that God will save everyone: “Nancy says that the Light told her in these ‘exact words’: ‘With the gift you have now received, go forth and tell the masses of people that life after death exists: that you shall all experience my PROFOUND LOVE.’”
No one can deny that many people are dramatically changed as a result of their NDE. They often become zealous converts to religion. But, as we will see, the religion they become converted to is not Christian.
One NDEr was told that her new mission was to communicate the particular knowledge given her in the NDE in order to bring a “proper” understanding to mankind concerning the “true” nature of death. She recognized this message was incompatible with biblical teaching and so abandoned her Christian upbringing:
- Stella was raised in a fundamentalist tradition, and yet she still is reluctant to identify the being she saw as Christ. At this juncture, however, Stella’s story takes a most unexpected turn. While communicating telepathically with the being of light, she was told that she was Jewish!… it facilitated the already accelerating process of Stella’s awakening to a full realization of her own authentic identity—first suggested to her by the being of light. Since that time there have been many changes in her life. Not only has she formally converted to Judaism (which proved quite a shock to her fundamentalist family) and divorced her husband, but also this formerly shy…woman has become a successful business woman, has served on the White House Council on children and youth, and has become actively involved in local politics.
In essence, the need for biblical salvation is repudiated by many NDEs through the following means: (1) the teaching that death is something good; (2) the trivializing of sin; (3) the strongly communicated perceptions of preexisting divine forgiveness and the experience of an “all encompassing love”; (4) the profundity and authority of the experience itself over “dead” literature such as the Bible; and (5) the tendency toward personal works righteousness found in many experiences, which moves a person toward a kind of “social gospel” wherein the Light (“God”) or the experience itself conveys the idea that one must seek good works, the welfare of humanity, the improvement of world conditions, peace and love, and so on.
How could such peaceful and loving experiences be something spiritually deceptive?
Researchers are fond of pointing out that the NDE and its aftermath are characteristically benign. Not only is the experience itself indescribably wondrous—full of love, peace and joy— but also the results of that experience in a person’s life are characteristically good. People become more concerned about other people. They become kinder, gentler, more understanding and compassionate. As Dr. Raymond Moody points out in The Light Beyond,
- On the whole, the NDE changes a person for the positive…. In my twenty years of intensive exposure to NDErs, I have yet to find one who hasn’t had a very deep and positive transformation as a result of his experience…. All of the scholars and clinicians I have talked to who have interviewed NDErs have come to the same conclusion: they are better people because of their experience.
Most NDErs claim that the result of the experience was to encourage them to love more. “‘Have you learned to love?’ is a question faced in the course of the episode by almost all NDErs. Upon their return, almost all of them say that love is the most important thing in life. Many say it is why we are here.” As “the Light” told one NDEr, “Love is the key to the universe.”
So how could such a wonderful experience with such positive results be spiritually evil? Perhaps it would help to remember that there are many things in life that can initially seem wonderful and yet be deceptive or destructive—such as illegal drugs and promiscuous sex. Nor should we forget that the Bible teaches that Satan and his demons can appear as “angels of light” and “servants of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:14,15). Finally, in the NDE the content and meaning of the word “love” must be evaluated. When “the Light” tells people they must love more, what does this mean?
The general teaching that people should “love more”—without specific content to the word love—may be a frequent teaching of the spirits, but it is still not biblical. Unless love is defined biblically (e.g., 1 Cor. 13; 1 Jn. 3:16; 4:7-15), it does not come from God. Without proper content and action, “love” is a vague emotion or relative belief that has little of lasting value. Even genuine love for other people may be deficient when genuine love for the one true God is lacking.
No one is saying that the NDE isn’t often wonderful or that the results aren’t in some sense positive. We are only saying that both the experience and the results are fundamentally deceptive from the perspective of biblical teaching. Being kinder, more compassionate, and more loving to others is good. But this does not gain one entrance to heaven. Nor does feeling love for an unidentified “being of light.” Only receiving Christ as one’s Savior from sin provides entrance into true eternal life (Jn. 1:12; 3:16).
Unfortunately, the positive value changes in most NDErs—more love, more concern for others, a quest for meaning, a more positive self-image—become to varying degrees integrated with an unbiblical worldview. In other words, these positive changes support a fundamentally false spiritual philosophy. Thus, without the biblical corrective, even these positive aspects can become something negative because they undergird a powerful experience that is spiritually misleading.
There is a human tendency, in both researcher and layman alike, to avoid the unpleasantness of death. Dr. John J. Heaney is Professor of Theology at Fordham University and author of The Sacred and the Psychic, a book accepting the integration of Christian theology and the occult. He writes,
- I find nothing demonic in NDEs. The effects of the experience satisfy the criteria one looks for in judging the validity and fruitfulness of mystical experience, at least in its broadest sense: a sense of peace and joy, a change of horizon toward the spiritual, a lasting reformation of one’s life, and a greater sense of charity and of the need for growth.
But again if the spiritual context in which these events occur is anti-Christian, even the good results can become tainted. What must also be remembered is that pleasantness alone is not always a legitimate criterion for that which is good or true. Indeed, even experiences of outright demon possession can be indescribably pleasant, blissful and loving. Reports from those who have been spirit possessed reveal that demons have the capacity to manipulate the mind quite in the same way drugs do—very powerfully and positively. This is supported by modern American occult testimonies, the research of Malachi Martin in Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Living Americans, and in any number of anthropological studies of spirit possession. Mediums, spiritists, channelers and other occultists who describe their possession by spirit beings or spirit guides frequently report loving, blissful, wonderful encounters. That is, after all, what one should expect: if the devil is serious about deceiving people over spiritual truth, he will do what is needed.
What the NDE does is powerfully reinforce a common, if mistaken, theme in modern culture—that God loves all persons unconditionally and will grant everyone entrance into heaven on the basis of their being “good” people. The NDE communicates that God is more concerned with a person’s good deeds than He is with their particular religious beliefs. But this is wrong biblically. The Bible teaches that death leads to judgment, not bliss (Heb. 9:27), and that God is very concerned with what a person believes religiously. In fact, apart from personal belief in the true Christ, no one will enter heaven (Jn. 3:16,36; Acts 4:12; 1 Jn. 5:11-12).
However, because the NDE is so profoundly “spiritual,” good and full of loving experiences, the vast majority of people assume that the experience itself must be divine—something from God. But these wonderful experiences lead to theological error: they almost always convey the false assurance of Universalism (that all will be saved at death), and they almost never bring biblical repentance. In other words, they never cause people to see themselves as sinners who need salvation in Christ. But if the primary message God seeks to communicate to men is that they need salvation in Christ (Matt. 28:19-20; 1 Tim. 2:3-7), how could these experiences possibly originate from God? An experience that leads people to reject God’s salvation cannot be divine, no matter how pleasant.
All this fits with what the Bible teaches about the nature of spiritual warfare: that spiritual evil commonly imitates that which is good and righteous in order to deceive people concerning the truth of what God has revealed in the Bible. Again, the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 11:14,15 that “even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” and his ministers as “servants of righteousness.” Therefore, it should surprise no one that the devil can imitate a “being of light” or that his demons frequently do the same.
The following examples prove that the NDE, in spite of its appearance, can be something fundamentally deceptive concerning the most important issue in life (personal salvation), and therefore is also something fundamentally evil (1 Jn. 2:18-26).
Moody comments that while NDErs tend to become “spiritual,” this does not mean they enter the Church—“to the contrary, they tend to abandon religious doctrine purely for the sake of doctrine.” As one NDEr commented, “A lot of people I know are going to be surprised when they find out that the Lord isn’t interested in theology.” Likewise, after her NDE, a very devout and “doctrine abiding Lutheran” concluded that God “didn’t care about church doctrine at all.” And a pastor who preached on hell was told by the “being of light” “not to speak to his congregation like this anymore.”
Biblically, of course, God is interested in doctrine (or theology) because He is a God of truth. The Bible is full of God’s commands that His people be very concerned about “correct doctrine” (e.g., Tit. 1:9; 1 Tim. 6:3).
But whether the NDEr is a secularist or a religious person before his experience, the end result is the same:
- Both groups emerge with an appreciation of religion that is different from the narrowly defined one established by most churches. They come to realize through this experience that religion is not a matter of one “right” group versus several “wrong” groups. People who undergo an NDE come out of it saying that religion concerns your ability to love—not doctrines and denominations. In short, they think that God is a much more magnanimous being than they previously thought, and that denominations don’t count.
Thus, “What is the basic message that the NDEr comes away with? That knowledge and love are the most important things. It is the formal religions that have added all the dogma and doctrine.”
But can gaining more knowledge save people from their sins? And again, who defines what love is? Who places the moral limits on knowledge or love? The spirits?
Either through the verbal instruction of the spirits or by mystical illumination, the NDE teaches people to pursue knowledge but to avoid doctrine. Unfortunately, this simultaneously opens people to learning the occult while inhibiting their acceptance of Christian teaching.
While knowledge by itself may or may not be valuable, right knowledge or true doctrine is very important to God because it leads to godliness. This is confirmed throughout the New Testament, as in Titus 1:1 where Paul says that “the knowledge of the truth… leads to godliness.” When the “being of light” that NDErs encounter asserts that he is not interested in doctrine he again reveals he is not the biblical God or the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, what is not communicated by these experiences is the biblical truth that love for God and sound doctrine are inseparable (1 Jn. 2:3-6; 5:3,9-12).
We can know that the NDE represents a spiritual deception because it leads people away from God’s salvation and into a reliance on their own good works, which, coupled with the removal of the fear of death and the experience of the all-loving “being of light,” makes them convinced that nothing else is needed to enter heaven at death.
- Raymond Moody, Life After Life: The Investigation of a Phenomenon—Survival of Bodily Death (Atlanta: Mockingbird, 1976), p. 70.
- Kenneth Ring, Heading Toward Omega: In Search of the Meaning of the Near-Death Experience (New York: William Morrow, 1985), p. 62.
- Raymond Moody, The Light Beyond: New Explorations by the Author of Life After Life (New York: Bantam, 1989), pp. 38-39.
- Ring, Heading, p. 265.
- Ibid., pp. 112-113.
- Moody, The Light Beyond, pp. 38-30.
- Ibid., p. 41.
- Ring, Heading, p. 265.
- John J. Heaney, “Recent Studies of Near-Death Experiences,” Journal of Religion and Health, Vol. 22, No. 2 (Summer 1983), p. 127.
- E.g., Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil (New York: Bantam, 19877), pp. 132-135. See also Moody, The Light Beyond, p. 197.
- Moody, The Light Beyond, p. 49.
- Ibid., p. 88.
- Ibid., p. 39.
- Ibid., pp. 87-88.
- Ibid., pp. 162-163.