How do you explain the out-of-body tunnel-like experiences many people claim to have had before being revived?

I’m not sure I can explain the so-called Kübler-Ross phenomenon. There’s been a significant amount of research on this. I’ve heard reports saying that as many as 50 percent of those who have suffered clinical death and have been resuscitated through CPR or forms of medication report some kind of a strange experience that may be called an out-of-body experience. They report the sensation of looking down from the ceiling as their soul is leaving the body and seeing their own body lying in the bed and the doctor pronouncing them dead or a nurse not finding a pulse. Then they talk about going through this tunnel and seeing this marvelous light. The vast majority of those who have been researched have a very positive recollection, although there are some who don’t see lovely lights at the end of the tunnel but very ghastly and horrendous things that gave them pause about what might be beyond the veil.

I don’t know how to answer these questions. There are various possible answers. One could be that a person who is near death can have a short circuit in the electrical nervous system of their brain and can get their time sequences all messed up. They could be recalling a dream that was very vivid and intense that makes them feel as if they really lived it. All of us have some dreams that are qualitatively different from others, that become so intense that you feel as if it had actually happened. It could be the result of medication or the lack of oxygen to the brain.

To deal sufficiently with those possible explanations would require a competent physician who can talk about whether it’s possible for such short circuits to take place and whether it could be explained in natural terms. I haven’t ruled out the experience.

The other possible explanation is that people do, in fact, have a glimpse of something that’s about to take place in transition from death to wherever we go after death. We as Christians do believe that we have a continuity of personal existence and that the cessation of physical life is not the end of actual life. Whether we’re good or bad, whether we’re redeemed or unredeemed, we’re going to continue in a living state though not biologically alive. It shouldn’t shock the Christian when people undergoing clinical death and being revived come back with certain recollections. I’ve tried to keep an open mind, and I hope that this interesting phenomenon will get the benefit of further research, analysis, and evaluation. Too many of these experiences have been reported for us to simply dismiss them as imaginary or hoaxes.

©1996 by R.C. Sproul. Used by permission of Tyndale.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. ©1982 by Thomas Nelson.
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