Lee Strobel is a best-selling Christian author of such books as The Case for Christ and The Case for Miracles. In his latest book, The Case for Heaven, he investigates the evidence for life after death. I say investigate because originally, he was an award-winning legal editor of the Chicago Times, and in this book, Strobel looks at the evidence of heaven and life after death with a journalist’s eye. His favorite story is one of the most famous cases of near-death experiences (NDE).
John Burke, in another fascinating book entitled Imagine Heaven, tells the same story in a little more detail, so I will include it here: “Numerous repeated cases in which someone is apparently unconscious in a hospital bed and reported seeing things they could not have seen from that bed prompted many doctors and professors to take these stories seriously. Kimberly Clark Sharp, a noted NDE researcher in Seattle, Washington, reported a case study in which a woman named Maria was rushed to the hospital with a severe heart attack. After successful resuscitation, Maria told Sharp about her near-death experience, including detailed out-of-body observations of her resuscitation. Then she went one step beyond. She claimed to travel outside the hospital, she said, where she observed a tennis shoe on the third-story window ledge of the hospital. Maria provided detailed information about the shoe. It was a man’s shoe, she said, left-footed, and dark blue with a wear mark over the little toe and a shoelace tucked under the heel. Sharp went window to window on the hospital’s third floor looking on the ledges. Finally, she found the shoe, exactly as Maria had described it. As Dr. Long points out, this account offers substantial evidence, despite the attempts of some skeptics to discredit it” (Burke, 2015).
This is not the only case where detailed evidence was presented. Take another example: “‘The Lancet’, one of Europe’s most prestigious medical journals, published the account of a patient who had experienced cardiac arrest and was brought into the hospital comatose and not breathing. As a tube was placed in the patient’s airway in order to ventilate him, it was noted by the medical staff that the patient wore upper dentures. The dentures were removed and tucked into the drawer of a nearby crash-cart while the patient was in a deep coma. After resuscitation, the patient was moved to another room where he remained unconscious. A week later, the patient regained consciousness. When the nurse came in he exclaimed, ‘Oh, that nurse knows where my dentures are.’ The nurse was very surprised as the patient explained: ‘Yes, you were there when I was brought into the hospital and you took my dentures out out my mouth and put them onto that cart, it had all these bottles on it and there was this sliding drawer underneath and there you put my teeth.’ The nurse reported in The Lancet, ‘I was especially amazed because I remembered this happening while the man was in a deep coma and in the process of CPR. When I asked further, it appeared the man had seen himself lying in bed, that he had perceived from above how nurses and doctors had been busy with CPR.’
J. M. Holden, a professor of psychology, studied ninety-three NDE patients who claimed to make multiple verifiable observations while out of their physical bodies. ‘Of these out-of-body perceptions, 92 percent [of these observations] were completely accurate, 6 percent contained some error, and only 1 percent was completely erroneous.'” (Burke, 2015).
Dr. Jeffry Long, a radiation oncologist, read about near-death research, and he “began to wonder if he should pursue the study of NDEs himself. . . . Dr. Long has collected and scientifically studied thousands of accounts from around the world… Dr. Long’s extensive study led him to conclude: ‘NDEs provide such powerful scientific evidence that it is reasonable to accept the existence of an afterlife.(Burke, 2015)'” (Emphasis Mine)
WHAT ARE WE TO MAKE OF ALL THIS?
To start with, let’s remember that you do not create doctrine from people’s experiences. It must be based on the Word of God.
However, these experiences are worth looking at and not just completely ignored. As theologian R. C. Sproul says, “It shouldn’t shock the Christian when people undergoing clinical death and being revived come back with certain recollections. I’ve tried to keep an open mind, and I hope that this interesting phenomenon will get the benefit of further research, analysis, and evaluation. Too many of these experiences have been reported for us to simply dismiss them as imaginary or hoaxes” (Burke, 2015).
What does the Bible say about near-death experiences? Let’s look at the New Testament and some of the references to people raised from the dead during Jesus’ ministry, including Lazarus and the son of the widow of Nain. We have no record of anything these people reported regarding their after-death experience.
We also have the story of the transfiguration when the two men from the Old Testament days, Moses and Elijah, met with Jesus. They had been dead for many centuries, and we have no real record of their appearance.
Jesus Himself. We have the wonderful resurrection stories recorded in the Gospels, which give us a glimpse of what a resurrected body is like and a taste of life after death, including the record of Jesus being touchable and eating with a resurrected body.
Stephen, the first Christian martyr, saw the heavens and the glory of God (Acts 7:54-60) and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. But that is all that is recorded.
The experience of Paul. Probably the most revealing, in some ways, is Paul’s experience. Paul, an enemy of the church, was converted on the road to Damascus and met the Lord (See Acts 9:1-9). However, his experience, as recorded in 2 Corinthians 12, is of interest here. All of it comes after chapter 11 and his description of his perils. He declares a man was caught up in heaven. It is obvious he is referring to himself. “whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2, NKJV).
Note those words “out of the body.” It sounds much like the descriptions we have previously recorded here of near-death experiences. Now, one does not want to push this too far. Just to say, an interesting record of a possibly “out-of-body” experience.
The apostle John. The Bible finishes with the revelation given to the apostle John. In Chapter 4, when he had a glimpse of heaven, John writes, “After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven” (Revelation 4:1, NKJV). However, it does not address near-death experiences.
The teaching of Paul. Now Paul himself bears much witness to life after death which is the promise for all who put their trust in Christ, based upon Christ’s death and resurrection from the dead (See 1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Later, in 1 Corinthians 15, he describes the spiritual body that will be ours in the life to come. Sticking with the basics, we have the promise of God, eternal life with a new spiritual body. As Paul notes, “we shall all be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-53, NKJV). Heaven awaits believers. Yes, there is a life after death.
Charles Spurgeon, the great English preacher of yesteryear, said, “Time is short. Eternity is long. It is only reasonable that this short life be lived in the light of eternity.”
Imagine heaven, our real home for eternity. It awaits all true believers. Ecclesiastes 3:11 declares, “God has set eternity in our hearts.” Yes, in Christ and Christ alone, there is life after death.
The Case for Heaven by Lee Strobel
Imagine Heaven by John Burke
Heaven Is For Real by Todd Burpo
Burke, J. (2015). Imagine Heaven: Near-Death Experiences, God’s Promises, and the Exhilarating Future That Awaits You. United States: Baker Publishing Group.