Increasingly there are news reports concerning those who have had “mystical” experiences in which they claim to have visited the “other side,” i.e., they died for a short period of time during some health crisis, and then returned to tell all about it.
Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (1926-2004) was highly acclaimed for her work with the terminally ill. Some of her research has been valuable in that she has carefully analyzed the emotional states (e.g., fear, anger, etc.) through which many people pass when they learn that their death is imminent.
The doctor, however, ventured far afield from her area of expertise in speculating about human immortality.
Kubler-Ross once believed that death was the end of human existence. She later changed her opinion on mortality—but solely as a result of the testimony of some patients who were pronounced clinically dead, but who later were revived to tell of amazing after-death experiences. Over the years, her views (and others of a similar nature) have received considerable attention.
Some religionists have appealed to Kubler-Ross’s assertions as an example of scientific evidence for life after death. We confidently affirm that this so-called “evidence” is worthless.
Consider the following observations:
Hospital Resuscitation, not Resurrection
Is it not remarkably strange that these alleged out-of-body experiences generally transpire under hospital conditions—as physicians are making heroic efforts at resuscitation? Moreover, it is consistently the case that the alleged resurrection occurs within a very abbreviated span of time.
Where is the person who was “clinically dead,” (i.e., really dead, as in the case of Lazarus [cf. John 11:17]—no respiration, no pulse, flat EEG, for four days) who has been revived and can testify of his return from the other side? There is not a single example of this sort that can be documented.
Identical Experiences for Everyone
Dr. Kubler-Ross describes the postmortem emotional experiences of the religious and the non-religious as being precisely identical. Supposedly, the deceased had feelings of wholeness and peace. She declared,
“None of the patients who have had a death experience, and returned, are ever again afraid to die.”
This notion is totally foreign to the teaching of the Bible. Are we to believe that the apostle Paul and Charles Manson will have the same after-death environment? Compare the post-death experiences of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19ff). The rich man certainly did not claim to have feelings of “wholeness and peace.”
Only God Can Bestow Life
The fact is, God alone can bestow life (Acts 17:25). Once the spirit has actually left the body (James 2:26), only the Lord (not medical science) could bring it back.
Though there are resurrections mentioned in the Bible, they were quite exceptional. They were designed exclusively to confirm the revelation of divine truth (Mark 16:20), and not merely to bring folks back to an earthly domain.
Such signs are not being duplicated today. (See our essay on What Does the Bible Say About Miracles?.)
The general rule is: “It is appointed to man once to die” (Hebrews 9:27). Moreover, even those who were raised in the era of miracles never spoke a word concerning their after-death experiences! They never mentioned a “bright light at the end of a dark hallway,” or floating above their bodies, observing the scenes below!
The Testimony of Scripture
The Scriptures affirm that once a person dies they have no further portion of anything that is done “under the sun,” i.e., on the earth (Ecclesiastes 9:6). This clearly indicates that once one dies, he or she does not return to this earthly realm.
The only evidence for life after death is the historical testimony of the Holy Scriptures (cf. 2 Timothy 1:10). But that is ample proof, for the Scriptures can be shown to be the inspired revelation from God.
The issue of life beyond death does not pertain to the arena of modern science.