“So, did you see anything?”
In other words, did I have a near-death experience (NDE)?
That was probably the most frequent question I was asked after having a near-fatal heart attack and about fifty minutes of CPR.
Indeed, that question was on my mind as well.
And I did see something. Sort of.
After I woke up in ICU, about a week after my cardiac event, I remembered seeing something white on a background of blue. It was fuzzy and there were no details to speak of. I puzzled over it until I was moved from ICU over to the rehab hospital. I was on the ninth floor and near the helipad where I would have landed when they care-flighted me from Greenville to Dallas.
After dark, the mystery was solved (I think).
Outside my window was a large blue and white sign for New York Life.
I’m guessing that the blue and white I remember seeing was the New York Life logo. I could be wrong of course, but it seems to be the most logical explanation.
Other than that, I remember nothing. It’s a total blank.
That puts me in the good company. Even though NDEs garner the most attention, most people who need to be resuscitated do not experience them.
So, I don’t feel like I missed out on anything. However, it does bring up a question.
Are Near-Death Experiences Real?
Since NDEs are obviously real experiences, perhaps a better question would be, “Are near-death experiences genuine evidence of life after death?”
Do they represent something supernatural, a true crossing over into heaven and return? Or are they simply something that takes place in a dying brain?
I can only give my opinion, which probably isn’t worth much, but I don’t believe we can look to NDEs as proof of life after death, or as a vindication of Christianity.
For one thing, near-death experiences are common to all cultures and religions. They are not unique to Christians. They are not even unique to theists. And peoples’ NDEs tend to match their personal background and culture. There are plenty of studies online that document this, so I’m not going to go into more detail here. You can Google it if you’re interested in learning more. But in my opinion, NDEs are not proof of the supernatural or life after death.
That said, I know that many Christians sincerely believe they saw Jesus and went to heaven when they had a near-death experience. What do I say about them?
First, I can’t prove or disprove someone else’s personal experience, and I won’t try.
Second, although I don’t believe that an NDE represents a genuine journey to heaven and back, I don’t rule out the possibility that God can give someone a supernatural vision or that Christ could appear to someone who is in that near-death state. There is ample evidence in scripture that God can do this, and I see no reason to believe that somehow he has stopped.
So, while I don’t affirm NDEs as a true dying and returning experience, I do believe that they could be a means through which God appears to some people.
But the fact remains that it is not a common experience. It’s the exception rather than the rule.
Living by Faith
That brings me back to my own experience (or lack thereof).
I saw absolutely nothing during that week between my heart attack and waking up in the ICU. Does that give me reason to doubt or question my faith?
Not at all.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “For we live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7 NIV).
That verse is part of a larger statement that goes as follows. (I’m quoting it below in the New Living Translation, which clarifies some of Paul’s more obscure terminology.)
5 For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. 2 We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. 3 For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies.4 While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. 5 God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.
6 So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. 7 For we live by believing and not by seeing. 8 Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:1-8 NLT).
I didn’t see anything during the time when my heart was stopped and I was undergoing nearly an hour of CPR, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing after this life. I live by faith in God’s promises, not by my own sight. And I know that if my earthly tent (body) is destroyed, I have a heavenly dwelling from God. I’ve got no idea how that will look, but I do know that whenever I leave this body, I will be “at home with the Lord.”
Lesson Learned: I walk by faith, not by sight.