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The Near-Death Experience

Part One: The New Age Connection

by J. Isamu Yamoto

Dan was a warm, gentle, talented, outgoing young man. One would therefore think he would be popular. But there were in fact many who hated him -- because of his lifestyle. Eventually he left his Midwestern hometown and moved to San Francisco to join a community of homosexual professionals.

Because he led a very active homosexual life in that community, Dan contracted gonorrhea. His physician offered him two choices: either receive antibiotics daily for ten days or one massive dose by injection. Dan selected the injection. After receiving it he immediately had difficulty breathing. Soon he went into anaphylactic shock and died. He had no pulse or heartbeat. His electrocardiogram was flat.

After everything went black, Dan saw himself lying on the floor while doctors and nurses tried desperately to bring him back to life. He then saw a long, dark tunnel to which he felt drawn. Before entering it, his entire life passed before his eyes. His deceased grandparents, who had raised him, appeared at this time and approached him, expressing their love for him.

After being in the dark tunnel for a while, Dan saw a light that became brighter as he drew closer to it. Finally he left the tunnel and found himself in a beautiful garden, where a fence barred him from going any further. Meanwhile, a brilliant light radiated warmth, love, and peace from the other side of the fence. Dan knew that the source of this light was Jesus Christ.

He wanted to go to the light but the fence prevented him. He then heard a voice come from that light, which said, "It is not time to come into my Father's kingdom. You have not lived as I intended. Go back and glorify me."

At that moment Dan awoke, back in his body, no longer a man living for himself, but now a believer in Christ. From then on, he left his homosexual lifestyle and joined a strong, supportive Christian community. To this day, Dan thanks God for giving him a new chance to live according to His plan and not according to physical desires.

When this story first came across my desk in 1990, I was skeptical about the extent to which Christ was really involved in Dan's life. As book editor at Christianity Today, I was responsible for the content of the books they were publishing that year. Dan's experiences were part of a manuscript that a Christian proctologist (an expert on the physiology and pathology of the rectum and anus) had submitted for one of our chapters in a book on homosexuality. Furthermore, the ten years I had previously spent on staff at the Spiritual Counterfeits Project (SCP) caused alarms to go off in my head while reading his story, telling me that this account sounded New Age.

When I checked the sources behind Dan's story and discovered that his testimony was reliable, I had to rethink my previous assumptions about the issue of near-death experience (NDE). I realized then that my views on this subject were shallow and not carefully thought out. Since many advocates of New Age ideas had openly supported the validity of NDEs, I had reasoned that they were part of the New Age arsenal that was currently bombarding our society. Moreover, because NDEs had not been in my area of responsibility at SCP, I dismissed them as an insignificant phenomenon.

Dan's story, however, forced me to reassess my casual response to NDEs. Many questions emerged in my mind about Dan's conversion experience, but the most disturbing were: "Why would Christ allow an evil spirit to imitate Him for the purpose of bringing Dan into His kingdom? Why would an evil spirit want to do this? Might the spirit who spoke to Dan from the light actually have been Jesus Christ?"

I could not really answer these questions without deliberate research into NDEs, which the Christian Research Institute has given me the opportunity to do. The following is what I have discovered from my research.


Christians are not the only ones wary of those who claim to have had near-death experiences. For many in the medical and scientific communities, their stories are as strange as those tales seen on Rod Serling's "The Twilight Zone." In fact these scientists maintain that either drugs, lack of oxygen, severe psychological stress, or some other explainable disorder causes people to dream or hallucinate, believing they are experiencing an NDE.

Perhaps their Western rational minds have predisposed these scientists against NDEs because they seem too weird -- like the stories of those who insist they have traveled with alien beings in UFOs. Or perhaps the subject of death has become a forbidden topic for the Westerner, and thus anyone who has had a brush with it is ignored out of fear and ignorance. Whatever causes some to avoid this mysterious subject, NDE is still a phenomenon that Christians particularly must understand if they are to share the gospel effectively with those who have experienced or been influenced by it.

To better understand what a near-death experience is, we must go back 17 years to the publication of a book that catapulted this subject into the national limelight -- Raymond Moody's Life After Life. In this small but fascinating book, Moody compiled a massive number of accounts of NDEs and discovered 15 separate elements that are common in these experiences.

(1) Ineffability. Many of those who have experienced an NDE say that no words can adequately or truly describe what happened to them. Their experience, for them, is inexpressible.

(2) Hearing the News. Many of them relate hearing a medical person pronounce them dead. To those around them, all their bodily signs indicated that they had expired, but during that moment, they consciously knew they were still alive.

(3) Feelings of Peace and Quiet. Many people recall feeling sensations of extreme pleasure. Although severe pain normally accompanies a life-threatening injury or disease, they remember feeling only a deep peace and quietness during the NDE.

(4) The Noise. Many relate hearing a distinct sound that occurs either at or near death. In some cases, this noise can be quite pleasant, like rapturous music. In other cases, the noise can be harsh and disturbing, like continuous buzzing or banging.

(5) The Dark Tunnel. Many recollect being jerked through some dark passageway, frequently while hearing the noise. This dark tunnel has been variously described as a cave, sewer, trough, valley, and so on.

(6) Out of the Body. Many remember seeing their physical bodies apart from themselves as though they were "spectators" observing their bodies. Surprise, panic, and a desire to return to their bodies often accompanied the realization that they were separate from their physical form.

(7) Meeting Others. In many cases they encountered spiritual entities who were present to help them through the experience. These beings variously appeared as loved ones who had recently passed away, strangers who had died, or some other spirits who were acting as their guardians.

(8) The Being of Light. Quite a few speak of beholding a brilliant light that, despite its brilliance, did not hurt their eyes. To them, this radiant light is a personal being who emanates irresistible love and warmth and who communicates with them -- through thoughts and not speech -- about the meaning of their lives.

(9) The Review. A number of them recall an instant moment of time during their experience in which they witnessed a vivid review of their lives. These panoramic images provoked in them the importance of loving people and understanding the meaning of life.

(10) The Border or Limit. Some recount being obstructed by some form that often prevents them from going any further in their journey or from reaching that being of light. It can be a fence, a door, a body of water, or even an imaginary line.

(11) Coming Back. All of them obviously returned from their near-death experience, but how they felt about coming back varies considerably. Some wanted to stay with the being of light. Others felt obliged to return to complete unfinished tasks. Some chose to return. Others were told to come back. In any case, the return is often instantaneous -- back through the dark tunnel.

(12) Telling Others. Those who have had NDEs regard their experience as a real event rather than a dream. But since they believe that it was extraordinarily unique and that others would be skeptical, they are quite reticent about disclosing their experience,