The Other Side of Life

Do you believe in life after death?{1}

Picture the operating room of a large hospital. A man is dying. As the doctors frantically try to save him, here is what he perceives and thinks:

“I am dying. I hear the doctor pronounce me dead. As I lie on the operating table, a loud, harsh buzzing reverberates in my head. At the same time, I sense myself moving very rapidly through a long, dark tunnel. Suddenly, I find myself outside of my own physical body. Like a spectator, I watch the doctor’s desperate attempts to revive my corpse.

“Soon I encounter a ‘being’ of light, a loving, warm spirit who shows me an instant replay of my life and helps me evaluate my past deeds.

“Eventually, I learn I must return to my body. I resist, for my afterlife experience has been quite pleasant. Somehow, though, I am reunited with my physical body and live.”{2}

This composite account of a near-death experience or “NDE” is adapted from the best selling book, Life After Life, by Dr. Raymond Moody, who brought these experiences to wide public awareness. Often the episodes involve out-of-body experiences or “OBEs.”

While writing a book on this subject, I interviewed people with some fascinating stories. A Kansas woman developed complications after major surgery. She sensed herself rising out of her body, soaring through space, and hearing heavenly voices before returning to her body. An Arizona man in a coma for five months after a motorcycle accident said he saw his deceased father, who spoke to him.

Actress Sharon Stone has described her own close call with death. She was hospitalized with bleeding from an artery at her skull’s base. “I feel that I did die,” she relates. She tells of “a giant vortex of white light” and says “I kind of poof sort of took off… into this glorious bright…white light. I started to see and be met by some of my friends. people who were very dear to me. It was very, very fast, and suddenly I was back. I was in my body and I was in the room.” Stone says the experience affected her “profoundly” and that she “will never be the same.”{3}

What do these near-death experiences mean? How should we interpret them? This article offers a biblical perspective.

Interpreting Near-Death Experiences

What are some possible explanations for the NDEs? Hundreds of people claim that they have died and lived to tell about it. Are their near-death and out-of-body experiences genuine previews of the afterlife? Hallucinations caused by traumatic events? Or something else?

Some patients have been pronounced clinically dead and later are resuscitated. Others have had close calls with death, but were never really thought dead (such as survivors of automobile accidents). Still others did die permanently but described what they saw before they expired.

Determination of the point of death is a hotly debated issue. In the past, doctors relied merely on the ceasing of the heartbeat and respiration. More recently they have used the EEG or brainwave test. Whatever one considers the point of death, most would agree that these folks have come much closer to it than the majority of people living today.

A number of possible explanations for the OBEs have been offered. Different ones may apply in different situations.

The physiological explanations suggest that a “physical” condition may have caused some of the out-of-body experiences. For instance, cerebral anoxia (a shortage of oxygen in the brain) occurs when the heart stops. The brain can survive for a short while (usually only a few minutes) without receiving oxygen from the blood. Anoxia can produce abnormal mental states.{4} Patients who recover from heart failure and report OBEs may be merely reporting details of an “altered state of consciousness,” some say.{5}

Electronic brain stimulation can produce out-of-body sensations. Researchers at the Universities of Geneva and Lausanne in Switzerland placed electrodes in the brain of a woman suffering from epilepsy. As they stimulated her brain’s right angular gyrus, she reported sensing she was floating about six feet above her body.{6}

The pharmacological explanations say that drugs or anesthetics may induce some of the near-death experiences. Some primitive societies use drugs to induce OBEs in their religious ceremonies.{7} LSD and marijuana sometimes generate similar sensations.{8} Even many medically accepted drugs have produced mental states akin to those reported by the dying. Ketamine is an anesthetic that is administered intravenously{9} and produces hallucinatory reactions.{10}

Psychological and Spiritual Explanations

How should we interpret near-death experiences? What do they mean? So far this we have examined physiological and pharmacological explanations, that is, causes involving the body or drugs. Consider two other categories: psychological and spiritual explanations. The psychological explanations suggest that the individual’s mind may generate the unusual mental experience. Sigmund Freud, writing about the difficulty of coping with the thought of death, said it would be more comfortable in our minds to picture ourselves as detached observers.{11} Some modern psychiatrists theorize that the OBE is merely a defense mechanism against the anxiety of death. That is, since the thought of one’s own death is so frightening, the patient’s mind invents the OBE to make it seem as if only the body is dying while the soul or spirit lives on.

Other psychologists wonder if the patient may be confusing his or her interpretation of the experience with what actually happened.{12} The conscious mind needs an explanation for an unusual vision; therefore, it interprets the event in familiar terms. Thus, say these psychologists, resuscitated patients report conversations with deceased relatives or religious figures common to their culture.

The spiritual explanations view many of the OBEs as real manifestations of the spiritual.

Many have noted that earlier reports of NDEs seemed to contradict some traditional Christian beliefs about the afterlife. All of the patients Christian and non-Christian reported feelings of bliss and ecstasy with no mention of unpleasantness, hell, or judgment.

However, further research uncovered negative experiences. For instance, Raymond Moody wrote of one woman who was supposedly “dead” for 15 minutes and said she saw spirits who appeared “bewildered.” “They seemed to shuffle,” she reported, “as someone would on a chain gang not knowing where they were going. they all had the most woebegone expressions. It was quite depressing.”{13}

Dr. Moody observed, “Nothing I have encountered precludes the possibility of a hell.”{14}

Some have felt that OBEs are inconsistent with the biblical concept of a final judgment at the world’s end. No one reports standing before God and being judged for eternity. Dr. Moody responds that “the end of the world has not yet taken place,” so there is no inconsistency. “There may well be a final judgment,” he says. “Near-death experiences in no way imply the contrary.”{15}

So, is there a life after death?

Is There Life After Death?

The spring of my sophomore year in college, the student living in the room next to me was struck and killed by lightning. For some time after Mike’s death, our fraternity was in a state of shock. My friends were asking questions like, “Is there a life after death?” and “How can we experience it?”

Is it possible to know whether there is an afterlife? What method would you use to find out?

Some suggest using the experimental method of science and applying it to the near-death experiences. However, these events normally are not controlled, clinical situations. They’re medical emergencies. Even if scientists could establish controls, we have no mind-reading machines to verify mental/spiritual experiences. And think about recruiting subjects. Would you volunteer to undergo clinical death for research purposes?

Some suggest relying on personal experience to answer the question. But the experiential method has its drawbacks, too. NDEs can provide useful information, but the mind can trick us. Dreams, fantasies, hallucinations, drug trips, drunkenness, states of shock all can evoke mental images that seem real but aren’t.

What if we could find a spiritual authority, someone with trustworthy credentials, to tell us the truth about afterlife issues?

Following Mike’s death, I encouraged my friends to consider Jesus of Nazareth as a trustworthy spiritual authority. As somewhat of a skeptic myself, I’d found the resurrection of Christ to be one of the best-attested facts of history.{16} If Jesus died and came back from the dead, He could accurately tell us what death and the afterlife are like. The fact that He successfully predicted His own resurrection{17} helps us believe that He will tell us the truth about the afterlife.

Jesus and His early followers indicated that the afterlife would be personal, that human personalities would continue to exist.{18} Eternal life would be relational, involving warm, personal relationships with God and with each other.{19} Eternal life would be enjoyable, defying our description and exceeding our imagination. “No mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him,” wrote one early believer.{20} And eternal life would be eternal. It would never end. “God has given us eternal life,” wrote one of Jesus’ closest friends, “and this life is in His Son.”{21}

The sad thing is that some people don’t want to take advantage of eternal life.

How to Be Sure You’ll Live Forever

Maurice Rawlings, M.D., a cardiologist, tells of a patient who had a cardiac arrest in Dr. Rawlings’ office. During the attempted resuscitation, the patient screamed, “I am in hell!” “Don’t stop!” he begged in terror. “Each time you quit I go back to hell!”{22}

The biblical hell, or Hades, is the current home of those who do not accept God’s forgiveness. The final abode of those who refuse forgiveness is called the “lake of fire.”{23}

Not a pleasant subject. But remember, God loves you and wants you to spend eternity with Him.{24} He sent Jesus, His Son, to die and pay the penalty for our sins (attitudes and actions that fall short of God’s perfection). We simply need to receive His free gift of forgiveness we can never earn it to be guaranteed eternal life. “Whoever hears my word,” Jesus says, “and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”{25}

How should we interpret the near-death experiences? Here’s my perspective as one who believes the evidence supports Jesus’ and biblical reliability.{26} If a given NDE contradicts biblical statements or principles, I do not accept it as being completely from God. If the experience does not contradict biblical statements or principles, then it could be from God. (Body, drug or mind could also influence it.)

A given NDE could be completely spiritual and yet not be from God. Jesus spoke of an evil spiritual being, Satan. We are told that Satan “disguises himself as an angel of light,”{27} but Jesus called him “a liar and the father of lies.”{28} I’m not accusing all near-death experiencers of being in league with the devil. Just a friendly word of caution that some may be being deceived.

Once a nightclub near Cincinnati was packed to the brim. Suddenly, a busboy stepped onto the stage, interrupted the program and announced that the building was on fire. Perhaps because they saw no smoke, many of the guests remained seated. Maybe they thought it was a joke, a part of the program, and felt comfortable with that explanation. When they finally saw the smoke, it was too late. More than 150 people died as the nightclub burned.{29}

Are you believing what you want to believe, or what the evidence shows is true? Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies.”{30} I encourage you to place your faith in Jesus if you haven’t yet. Then you, too, will live, even if you die.


  1. This article is adapted from Rusty Wright, “One Minute After Death,” Pursuit magazine, Vol. V, No. 2, 1996; Rusty Wright, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the End, Collegiate Challenge, Vol. 17, 1978, pp. 2-5; and Rusty Wright, The Other Side of Life (Singapore: Campus Crusade Asia Limited, 1979, 1994).
  2. Adapted and paraphrased from Raymond A. Moody, Jr., M.D., Life After Life (New York: Bantam, 1976), 21-22.
  3. Carolyne Zinko, “When Stone saw the light, San Francisco Chronicle, November 28, 2002, The Features Page. The article relates Stone’s description of her experience to NBC TV’s Katie Couric.
  4. Stanislav Grof, M. D., and Joan Halifax-Grof, “Psychedelics and the Experience of Death,” in Toynbee, Koestler, and others, Life After Death (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976), 196.
  5. Daniel Goleman, “Back from the Brink,” Psychology Today, April 1977, p. 59.
  6. Olaf Blanke, et al., “Stimulating illusory own-body perceptions,” Nature, Vol. 419, 19 September 2002, p. 269.
  7. Michael Grosso, “Some Varieties of Out-of-Body Experience,” Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, April, 1976, 185,186.
  8. Grof and Halifax Grof, op. cit., pp. 193-195; Stanislav Grof, “Varieties of Transpersonal Experiences: Observations from LSD Psychotherapy,” The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 4:1, 1972, p. 67; Russell Noyes, Jr., M.D., and Roy Kletti, “Depersonalization in the Face of Life-Threatening Danger: An Interpretation,” Omega: Journal of Death and Dying, 7:2, 1976, p. 108.
  9. Moody, Life After Life, p. 157.
  10. Louis Jolyon West, M. D., “A Clinical and Theoretical Overview of Hallucinatory Phenomena” in R. K. Siegel and L.J. West (eds.), Hallucinations: Behavior, Experience, and Theory (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1975), 292.
  11. Sigmund Freud, “Thoughts for the Times on War and Death” (1915), Collected Papers, Vol. 4, Basic Books, 1959; quoted in Russell Noyes, Jr., M.D., “The Experience of Dying,” Psychiatry, May 1972, p. 178.
  12. Dr. Charles Tart in Robert A. Monroe, Journeys Out of the Body (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1971), 6,7.
  13. Raymond A. Moody, Jr., Reflections on Life After Life (New York and Covington, Georgia: Bantam/Mockingbird, 1977), 19-21.
  14. Ibid., 36.
  15. Ibid., 36, 37.
  16. See, for instance, Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands A Verdict (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers), 1999.
  17. See, for example, Jesus’ resurrection predictions in Luke 9:22 and 18:31-33; their fulfillment in Luke 24.
  18. See for example Luke 23:42-43; Matthew 8:11; 2 Samuel 12:23; Matthew 17:1-8.
  19. John 14:2-3; Philippians 1:23; John 17:3.
  20. 1 Corinthians 2:9 NIV. See also Revelation 21:4; Hebrews 12:2.
  21. 1 John 5:11 NASB.
  22. Maurice Rawlings, M.D., Beyond Death’s Door (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1978), 19-20.
  23. Revelation 20:11-15.
  24. John 3:16.
  25. John 5:24 NIV.
  26. See, for example, McDowell, op. cit.
  27. 2 Corinthians 11:14 NASB.
  28. John 8:44 NASB.
  29. “They Didn’t Believe It,” The New York Times, May 30, 1977, p. 16; Hal Bruno, “The Fire Next Time,” Newsweek, June 13, 1977, pp. 24, 27.
  30. John 11:25 NASB.

©2003 Probe Ministries

Rusty Wright, former associate speaker and writer with Probe Ministries, is an international lecturer, award-winning author, and journalist who has spoken on six continents. He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively.

What is Probe?

Probe Ministries is a non-profit ministry whose mission is to assist the church in renewing the minds of believers with a Christian worldview and to equip the church to engage the world for Christ. Probe fulfills this mission through our Mind Games conferences for youth and adults, our 3-minute daily radio program, and our extensive Web site at

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