Hell and Near-Death Experiences

Question from a Site Viewer
Do you think King David and Job actually died and saw hell and that God brought them back? It is in the Bible if you read it. Also, do you believe you are planted into hell like a tree with roots (like you become hell)? I do. Or do you think people run around in the hell in the Earth? Please let me know and send Bible verses to explain. I’ve had a death experience. I’ve seen heaven and seen and felt God’s presence and experienced His warmth and love and joy and compassion and understanding. I’ve also gone down through a gray smoke-filled tunnel and have been planted into the shorelines of Hell about six feet from the fire rising up out of the pit. But I praise my Father God he brought me back.

Tim’s Answer
Thank you for writing. In answer to your question, I do not believe that David or Job actually died and saw hell and then were brought back to life. I know that there are passages that some may read as saying this, but I think that such is not the best interpretation of those passages. Job tells us that those who go down to the grave do not return (Job 7:9-10; see also 16:22). And while David speaks about going to the grave, a look at the contexts of each of the passages demonstrates that David is speaking not of actually dying, but of being close to death. For instance, in Psalm 18:4-5, David speaks of being surrounded by the sorrows of Sheol but then states in the next verse that he called to God and the passage that follows describes God’s deliverance from the hands of David’s enemies (verses 16-18). In Psalm 30:3 David says that the Lord had brought up his soul from the grave, but then adds immediately afterwards that God had kept him alive that he should not go down to the pit. Again, there is the sense that David had given up hope on life but that God had kept him from actually going to hell. In Psalm 116:3, again the psalmist says (we do not know if this was David or some other writer) that the distresses of Sheol found him but he called on the Lord and the Lord delivered his soul from death. While I understand that one can read the word “from” in similar grammatic constructions in some instances as being taken out of something that one was in, the more common reading is to be kept away from something that someone was near, such as, “The rescuer kept me from falling.” The context here supports a reading of being kept from something, because the verse continues, “. . . that you delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.” The idea with the feet is not that they fell and he was restored back to his feet; but rather that he was kept from falling. In none of these passages is there a sense that the person actually saw hell or tried to write a description of it.

I do not believe that those who see hell ever have a chance to return to life; at least I do not think that Scripture ever supports such a second chance. As Hebrews 9:27 says, it is appointed unto men once to die. Although I understand that some have been raised from the dead, I do not know any who were raised in Scripture who came from hell.

This is not to state that your experience was not real. We all have had many experiences in life. The reality of the experience is not questioned, but the interpretation of it may not be what we think. Just as those who come near the point of death and describe seeing heaven have valid experiences, so those who come near the point of death and describe seeing hell have valid experiences. But I simply note that those who actually have seen heaven have told us very little about it. Jesus came from heaven and yet He provides us no detailed description of the place. Paul was taken to heaven in what He describes as an incredible revelation of God and yet he says nothing about the description of the place, and goes so far as saying that it was not lawful for him to tell us what he he heard there (2 Corinthians 12:1-4). John was taken up to heaven in the Spirit (Revelation 4:1) but even his description of what he saw is relatively sparse on detail, except for his brief description of the throne scene in Revelation 4. Lazarus was raised from the dead after four days and he provides no description for us. Jarius’ daughter was also raised and she provided no description for us.

And I believe the same is true of hell. I do not think that any vision or conception of heaven or hell will do either justice.

There have been studies on the phenomena of near-death experiences. Based on my readings, I believe that some of the phenomena is simply a product of what the brain does when it shuts down. I also believe that it may be possible for God sometimes to intervene in the process and provide a glimpse to the afterlife. Whether God does this, I do not know. What I know is that we experience something that seems real to us. Whether it is real when we are in these states of semi-consciousness is what we cannot know.

We all have had dreams that seem very real until we wake from them and find that they were only dreams. For me, seeing these near-death experiences as being like dreams is the best explanation for them. I reach this conclusion because the details of various near-death experiences often reflect what different people have been taught or have come to believe more than they do a constant reality around the world.

But more important to me, Scripture itself does not give any support for taking such near-death experiences as reflecting actual reality. I do not believe that such experiences only began in modern times. The fact that Scripture does not give any credence to such experiences leads me to conclude that they should not be given undue weight in our lives. The source of our knowledge of heaven and hell comes from Scripture itself. The abiding Word of God always should be our source for truth. It has been tested and tried in ways that dreams, visions, and experiences never can be. And most of all, the pages of Scripture reveal to us Christ Jesus as He really is. No dream, vision, or near-death experience can be equally trusted. If we truly follow Jesus, we will acknowledge with Him that God’s Word is truth.

As far as I know, the only near-death experience recorded in Scripture was in Acts 7 when Stephen was martyred. As he died, he saw Christ standing at the right hand of the father. But he was still very much alive when he saw this, not in some semi-conscious state floating out of his body. And, thereafter, he spoke to the people as he was dying.

I am delighted that your experience has led you to read the Bible. To seek to love and serve Christ is perhaps the best response you can have to your experience. To draw other people to the Christ of Scripture and to help them fall in love with the Bible and the God of the Bible is the greatest work you can do on this earth. And one day, for all those who trust in Christ, we will go to be with Christ forever.

May the Lord Jesus continue to guide you.

a fellow servant,

tim

2 thoughts on “Hell and Near-Death Experiences

  1. David

    Greetings.
    Your answer is about as good as anyone can give to such a complex and sorted question. In 2nd Corinthians 12, Paul speaks of a man who was “snatched” up to the 3rd Heaven. Some think that this could be a near-death event, but Paul states that it was not possible to express to humans what it was like. He leaves it at that, maybe we should too.

    Reply

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