Recently a neurosurgeon and Harvard Medical School professor claims to have been to the other side. Dr. Eben Alexander who claimed to be a nominal Christian now claims to have had a near-death experience. He is now saying “that heaven is indeed real.”
During the fall of 2008 Dr. Alexander had contracted a very rare form of bacterial meningitis. It was a type that usually attacks newborn babies. The E. coli bacteria had begun to eat away at his brain. As his neocortex shut down he slipped into a coma. For a week his brain had ceased to function. From a medical standpoint he should have been incapable of any kind of conscious activity; he should have died. Yet on that seventh day something happened.
While his physical state should have made it impossible to sense anything, he claims to have undergone a “hyper-vivid and completely coherent odyssey.” As he ascended from this world in the company of a female companion they traveled above “big, puffy, pink-white” clouds where he saw “transparent, shimmering beings arced across the sky, leaving long, streamer like lines behind them.”
He was able to communicate with his escort in a manner “that transcended language.” They rode together on the wing of a butterfly surrounded by millions of butterflies as he heard these transparent beings chant “You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever. You have nothing to fear. There is nothing you can do wrong.” He was introduced to “an immense void, completely dark, infinite in size, yet also infinitely comforting” and he took this void to be the home of God.
Dr. Alexander quickly admits there will be skeptics, “had someone-even a doctor-told me a story like this in the old days, I would have been quite certain that they were under the spell of some delusion.” Nevertheless, he has written a book based on his experience entitled Proof of Heaven: A neurosurgeon’s journey into the afterlife. The book is scheduled for publishing in late October.
Obviously I have not read the book, but one of my first thoughts is, how does Dr. Alexander hope to prove objectively what was a very subjective experience? I do not doubt that his experience is very real to him, but how is the skeptic world to determine in any objective sense whether his experience is real or as he has already suggested the product of a delusion?
Before we dismiss Dr. Alexander’s experience completely we might want to consider that this event will be added to a long and growing list that is known as NDEs, near-death experiences. Though each NDE differs in the specifics they all seem to share a core of commonality. Those who have experienced an NDE have come back from the dead; have claimed to have received a glimpse of the other side, and have returned in a tranquil state of mind, unafraid of the prospect of death. These events convey the idea that the afterlife is a place of universal, unconditional acceptance.
That view clashes with the words of Christ, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me (John 14:6).” Our entrance to heaven is predicated on our relationship with Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice. To think heaven can be gained apart from Christ is a delusion.
In the final verses (19 through 31) of the sixteenth chapter of Luke we find the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Each dies and poor Lazarus goes to Abraham’s bosom and is comforted, and the rich man goes to hell. The rich man asks Abraham to let Lazarus dip his finger in some water and cool his tongue “for I am in agony in this flame (v.24).” Abraham explains to the rich man this cannot be done.
The rich man then informs Abraham he has five brothers and asks if he could send Lazarus to them to warn them of the reality of hell. Abraham tells him “They have Moses and the Prophets [the Scriptures]; let them hear them.” The rich man protests “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!” Abraham replied, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.”
An NDE, someone coming to us from the dead, is more likely to mislead someone rather than persuade them there are two destinations on the other side. Trusting an NDE will not get you to heaven, it awaits those who repent and trust Christ.