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In the afterlife

Q: Archbishop J, why do you believe that God exists (part 12)?

Consider the ultimate question! What happens when you die? Is there just an exhale and then nothing? Or is death one step towards a new world, a new stage in our evolving consciousness? This is a question that every one of us must contemplate.

Those who believe there is nothing or are not sure of what happens in the afterlife, live as best they can. Those who believe there is a loving God who is the unifying consciousness of the cosmos connecting all things and bringing all things together in the Godhead see life very differently.


Dr Mary Neal

Dr Mary Neal, spinal surgeon, and author of To Heaven and Back, a #1 New York Times bestseller, and ‘Books for a Better Life’ finalist, had a near-death experience in 1999.

She was pinned beneath 8–10 feet of water at the base of a waterfall while kayaking. Dr Neal was without oxygen for 30 minutes before CPR was initiated. She awoke in a state of shock, having been sent back to her body from Heaven.

During her unconsciousness, she was taken through a life review that had little to do with judgement, and everything to do with understanding, compassion, and grace. She was shown the beauty that came from every heartbreak, every challenge, and every disappointment of her life.

In Heaven she was greeted by a group of people who have always loved her. Then she was taken down a beautiful pathway that exploded with colour and flowers and the aroma of flowers.

She saw her purple bloated body being pulled from the river by her friends and CPR being administered. She recognised her body and knew she was dead. She wanted to stay and was told that it was not her time, that she had more work to do. Then she was given a list of things she had to do. She says that none of it was pleasant. Particularly difficult was the news of the coming death of her 10-year-old son who was hit by a car ten years later. This experience changed her fundamentally.

She was a well-trained scientist, doctor and surgeon who did not need God. She was a humanist or cultural Christian. But through her experience God became real, more real than anything she had ever experienced.

She trolled through the scientific knowledge of drowning, and nothing explained the experience she had. The God she encountered was larger than life and the experience propelled her to notoriety and has shaped her life since then.

Through the near-death experience (NDE) people speak about the purity of divine love and the interconnectedness of all living creatures. These experiences are too common to discount or gloss over. (See video, ‘Death Brings Context to Life’ with Dr Mary Neal, TEDxJacksonHole).


Near Death Experiences

Science cannot explain these life-changing experiences. Colton Burpo was only four when he had a NDE and then described Heaven in the most elaborate of terms.

Through his experience, he learnt about a deceased sister for the first time. He met his grandad and recognised a picture of him as a young man. In Heaven no-one is old, and no-one wears glasses.

Colton’s vision of Jesus was unlike any image he had seen before; that is, until he saw an image of Jesus, painted by eight-year-old Akiane Kramarik who claimed to have had visions from God.

John C Hagan III, MD, FACS, FAAO, in his article, ‘The Near-Death Experience: Diagnosis and Treatment of a Common Medical Syndrome’, November 2018, published by Clinical Oncology gives a good overview of the science. He was editor of a series on NDEs by top medical practitioners from around the world, which was subsequently published in the book, The Science of Near-Death Experiences.

They estimate that between 8–20 million Americans have experienced an NDE. People who have NDEs lose their fear of death. If their story is accepted by those around them, they are greatly transformed and become focused and connected with God. Some 75 per cent of atheists who have had an NDE, encounter a being that they call Jesus or God.

Discernible stages of the NDE can now be identified—Peace, Body Separation, Entering the Darkness, Seeing the Light, Entering the Light, and Return. These have been studied by doctors, right after the patient awakes and before any contamination of the story has taken place.

Not all people have a positive experience. Hagan reports: “Approximately 20% of people who have an NDE undergo a dark or distressing NDE that has a hellish or perdition theme. From its very onset, the person perceives a malevolent universe that is the antipode of the positive or redemptive NDE. These people especially need the physicians’ help after such an event. They often spend the rest of their lives using three adaptive patterns: 1) becoming hyper-religious and ‘getting right with God’; 2) trying to convince themselves that they imagined the distressing NDE, and it was not real; or 3) engaging in long-term psychotherapy.”

What is noteworthy is that it is not all bright light and we do not understand why people have a different kind of experience. Even more important is that consciousness is not dependent upon the functioning brain.

The ability of people to describe minute details of what happened in the Emergency Room during an episode raises serious questions about human consciousness. But also, Dr Hagen’s article “reports of deaf people hearing conversations and blind people seeing events.” This pushes the bar considerably.

He states: “We offer no explanation for these events, but some chapter authors, such as Drs van Lommel and Alexander, believe that consciousness does not reside in the brain, which they call ‘non-local consciousness’.”

So, what is consciousness? Why do people with NDEs see the interconnectedness of all things? Why do so many report the extreme peace they are plugged into? Why do so many report experiencing God as pure love?

There is much more to this world than science can explain. Part of the capacity for the spiritual is the capacity to enter into mystical union with God. What people with NDEs experience, people who meditate and pray experience—the interconnectedness of all things.

Why do we have consciousness at all? If all is simply matter, consciousness makes no sense. People with NDEs and mystics like Meister Eckhart and John of the Cross have the same picture of the world. People have come back from the dead, will you believe?


Key Message:

NDEs speak to consciousness beyond our brain and beyond our material self to a spiritual reality that is completely amazing. If the story was only matter and evolution, it would make no sense. That unifying consciousness we call God.

Action Step:

Read the article by John C. Hagan III, MD, FACS, FAAO ‛The Near-Death Experience: Diagnosis and Treatment of a Common Medical Syndrome’. Look at the TEDx by Mary Neal and others on NDEs

Scripture Reading:

John 12:9–11