Near Death Experiences

Today’s question comes from Stevie.  She writes:  “Today I watched an interview with a woman who had a 37-minute near-death experience four years ago during childbirth. Her short experience was that of a pure and good spirit separated from her body. It has given her a new outlook on life. She believes that our spirits are pure, and travel into our bodies at birth and leave again at death, and that all sin and evil are earthly. I found that an interesting take. Have you ever known anyone who has had a near death experience?

I have not had a near-death experience myself or personally known another person who has reported having such an experience. I say it that way intentionally because your question raises an important point for our consideration.

As a pastor, there have been many times over the years when I’ve been asked whether or not I believe in a particular spiritual manifestation. I’ve been asked, for instance, if I believe in ghosts or demons or particular manifestations of the afterlife that have been reported by those who have reported experiencing such things.

The pressure in such moments is for me to say either, “I believe in them” or “I don’t believe in them”. Such a response seems to miss what I consider to be the real point.

I say that because one’s position on such matters is more than simply an intellectual assertion; I believe one’s position is primarily based upon one’s personal experience. If I have a first-hand experience of a supernatural event, then I will say I believe in it. If I don’t have a first-hand experience of the phenomenon, then more than likely I’ll say I don’t.

Of course, there are some who will assert or deny a position because of their need to assert or deny a position based upon their spiritual or philosophical beliefs. In my experience, however, this has not been true of most people. Most people who ask and genuinely curious and searching.

So, when asked about such supernatural experiences, I say, “I have not personally had that experience.” That is my way of doing two things simultaneously: (1) honoring the other person’s experience; and (2) acknowledging my own modern, science-based way of thinking – which tends to be suspicious of supernatural reports.

That approach has helped me stay in conversation with many people whose personal experiences and conclusions are radically different than mind. It also keeps me humble as I admit that at any given moment my thoughts and experiences are limited. It challenges me to remain open to ideas and experiences to which I might be skeptical today.

So how about you? What does Stevie’s question raise for you?

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 54-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, CA with his black Labrador Retriever named Max. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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2 Responses to Near Death Experiences

  1. Stevie says:

    I like your response, and love that as a pastor you don’t discount things just because you haven’t “been there.” I don’t know what I believe. As I’ve said to you before, my faith in general is based on my experiences, and that could be called supernatural, too, don’t you think? Very tough subject. Thank you for your usual wise answer.

  2. Beverly Marshall Saling says:

    Even the “modern, science-based way of thinking” tends not to speak in absolutes, but in terms of best available knowledge. Some things, like the existence of God or theories about what the afterlife is like, are not rigorously testable and rely on unscientific faith to “fill in the blanks” of what we could not, as human beings, experience in a scientifically testable, consistently repeatable way even if they were true. So saying “That’s not within my experience” is indeed the scientific thing to say as well as the humble, kind one.

    It’s also possible that, given the many and diverse paths humans take in life, that whatever afterlife there may be is similarly varied, and that different people will experience it differently. Even though as an atheist I am not expecting to experience any kind of afterlife for myself, I like to imagine that my mother, who recently passed, is enjoying the kind of heaven she believed in and deserved.

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