Tuesday, November 13, 2012

NDEs Hit Close To Home: One Lynchburg Man's Account Sparks Midnight Chatter

The term "ER" for individuals stirs up a lot of feelings and thoughts--for me the first one is WAITING.  Two nights ago, I found myself with a medical condition calling for some ER attention and had to spend almost 9 hours in the ER here in Lynchburg, VA.  What that really meant was 15 minutes of care and 8.75 hours of waiting and thinking.  All around the ER are triggers for thoughts regarding pain, suffering, life's meaning, death and life after death--allowing my mind to wander into such thought, I was abruptly interrupted when a lady suddenly asked "So did you hear about that smart fella from Lynchburg who died and went to heaven in this hospital?  Went to Harvard I think."  I looked around to see who else was listening, first of all, because I was intrigued, but to be perfectly honest I found myself a bit embarrassed to be engaged in talking OUT LOUD in front of the crowded ER about my thoughts on a topic as controversial as life after death---I mean I'm a Christian, but, I was there to potentially get my appendix out, not to proclaim my thoughts on the meaning of life in front of the sick, the attention-seeking, the worried, and the waiting, that night.

It seemed this particular topic had been chasing me lately from classroom to emergency room, so I decided to investigate.  I asked my "smart phone" for a little assistance and found out she was talking about a Harvard professor named Eban Alexander who reports experiencing heaven during a 7 day coma resulting from bacterial meningitis--Dr. Alexander who taught at Harvard medical school and now commutes to the University of Virginia from Lynchburg, VA, reports that while his brain was in a disconnected state (the cortex which is considered the primary location of memory and consciousness was being attacked by the illness) he experienced heaven. (See video link below)

The reality is that reports of such experiences are becoming more prevalent in the academic literature and are considered Near Death Experiences (NDEs)--which can be defined as events in which individuals in cardiac arrest or a state of clinical death (in which functioning of the cortex and brainstem has ceased) experience an out of body experience in which they have advanced cognitive functioning, a sense that they are experiencing a reality truer than the "real world" they have known, may experience an interconnectedness with the consciousness of deceased others, or an awareness of information and events that they would not otherwise be privy to (accidents happening at the time of their physical death which were taking place streets away, etc.) (van Lommel, 2011). As the accounts of such experience come forth in academic journal articles do a wealth of letters to the editor--attempting to explain away the individuals' NDEs as little more than modified experiences of consciousness influenced by hypercarbia, hypoxia, and drugs or other physicological stressors.

However, two elements of a portion of reported NDEs seem to remain inadequately explained in the research I found--the out of body awareness and advanced cognitive functioning including awareness of individuals and events that one would otherwise have no access to in their physical state. Some researchers are concluding that "self" exists independent of the body and is not a product dependent upon brain function--that there is perhaps an immaterial aspect to man afterall (van Lommel, 2011). What strikes this reader as most interesting are the reports of the NDE experiencer 1. seeing a deceased person who was thought to be alive (ex. Uncle Carl died in Alaska and Nephew Sam experienced an NDE in which he was revived and reported seeing Uncle Carl at which point his parents reported Sam having no previous knowledge of Uncle Carl's passing or a call comes in saying Uncle Carl just died). 2. seeing a deceased person otherwise unknown to the experiencer and upon being revived the report is cooroborated that the person existed (ex. the experiencer reports communicating with a "cousin" who unbeknownst to the experiencer was miscarried years before by an aunt.) (Greyson, 2010).

I am not about to jump on one boat or another and say all of these NDEs are true or that they aren't--a tendancy which seems prevalent among some of my friends---What I will say, is that although healthy skepticism may be warranted for such claims, as a believer in Christ and the afterlife He came to bring us, at some point I need to not just say, but also believe that "it's possible" He's given glimpses to others. I need to get over my knee-jerk reaction when someone brings up the topic of the paper-thin wall between this life and the next, and really start thinking and researching biblically through what I believe and why.  I just wish we had a more detailed account from Lazarus of Bethany of his experiences while dead--it might help to see how the accounts we are hearing in pop culture and scholarly research articles line up.


  1. What a great post. I admit to my hope in believing in NDE's because of how it may refute the skeptics and naysayers. However, as a Christian, I must "test the spirits" and make sure that what is reported matches Scripture. It would be a tragedy to have something as amazing as an NDE that one would hope points towards and leads people to Christ to be used as the Enemy's tool to cause dissension and lead people away from the Truth. We are talking of an immaterial aspect of personhood and for Christians that means the spiritual. And we know that Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light, because of that, I am with you not to blindly leap on the bandwagon but rather have a healthy dose of skepticism. All truth is God's truth and He will reveal the truth concerning these things as well.

  2. Here is a great article I think you might enjoy. It talks about how Dr. Alexander might have been able to do what he did from an atheist stand point. I am not in agreement with this article, but I do think all Christians should be aware of the other view point. http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/this-must-be-heaven

  3. Absolutely Zach and Steve---I'm not even necessarily believing that he was truly seeing heaven--or any form of afterlife for that matter--I think we have to be very careful about immediately accepting or rejecting claims like this for sure--I think for me, my problem is the heart of skepticism that immediately rose in me that it was even 'possible', not that it was truly a heaven encounter or not--hopefully that makes sense--I forget that God MAY be at work today in similar ways to the past--my maiden name is Thomas and honestly for years I have felt it fit becuase I immediately discounted and dismissed any claims of the "supernatural" around me...I am sure there are many accounts of NDEs that can be explained away and were actually false--this may even be one of them---but my problem is I often don't even look at them long enough to "test the spirits"--hope that makes sense. I think it's cool this particular man lives nearby--he might be a neat person to come in as a guest lecturer one semester or at least to have a chat with and report the interview to our class.


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