Near Death Experiences

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This is a very difficult and much disputed area. For the grieving, it is also a very relevant one.

We need to go back a little in history. From the earliest of times., there had been suggestions that people on the edge of life and death had remarkable experiences. Elizatheh Kubler Ross made a major contribution in the 1950s bringing evidence together that suggested that some people on the threshold of death had experiences of life, vitality, community and joy that surely presaged some kind of blessed after life, such as was foretold in the Christian scriptures,

This was, rightly, seen as a major challenge to the increasingly dominant materialist culture of the time and was therefore attacked by scientists who sought to show that the psychic benefits of near death experiences were the result of neurological changes in the brain brought about by reduction in oxygen supply. Put crudely, the argument was that the “benefits” of Near Death Experiences were essentially physiological and told us nothing of an alleged after life.

The scientists did not have it all their own way. Not only is it extraordinarily difficult to construct an experiment on these issues that is scientifically watertight, but more fundamentally, the question remains: Even if there are physical explanations of this phenomenon, why did mankind evolve in such a way as to manifest them? There is no obvious Darwinian advantage to having Near Death Experiences at the approach of death: so why is it there? Is it not, as Christians might argue, because a good God wants to make available to us an easy bridge to another form of existence?

But that raises another question. Not everyone has an Near Death Experience. Figures are difficult but one estimate is only 10% of cardiac arrest patients. So why are they thus privileged - and the rest of us deprived?

As you see, this is not an easy area, especially if you are grieving the death of a loved one. We owe it to you to tell you where we stand - for better or worse. We believe in the overall testimony of those who have experienced Near Death Experiences. We recognise the scientific and philosophical difficulties, but we believe and trust in a God who steps forward to meet us in our grief by assuring us of the offer of a way forward.

To say this is not to deny that, in time, scientists (most likely neurologists) will be able to reproduce these Near Death Experience feelings of peace, calm and an identity with all things, artificially, as some are beginning to do - either by drugs such as ketamine or by electrical stimulation of key areas of the brain. The more difficult philosophical and indeed theological question will remain: why do some people have these experiences and, as it seems, not others? Indeed, some have the reverse of the “traditional” Near Death Experience of peace and calm. For this small minority near-death is a time of terror and fear That is certainly hard to reconcile with a loving father welcoming a travelled-stained son to his eternal home.