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A neurosurgeon experiences the afterlife

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Crepuscular rays of light shining through clouds near the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. (Credit: AndyPham300 via en.wikipedia.org)

Eben Alexander has taught neurosurgery at Harvard Medical School and currently at the University of Virginia.  He believed that near-death testimonies are the result of trauma to the brain, not actual out-of-body experiences.

Then came the week his conscious brain stopped.

Dr. Alexander’s story is making headlines today, as the cover story of Newsweek and the subject of his upcoming book, Proof of Heaven.  In the fall of 2008 he contracted a very rare bacterial meningitis.  For seven days he lay in a deep coma, his body unresponsive and his higher-order brain functions totally offline.  During the days his conscious brain ceased to function, he was given an “escort” through the afterlife who communicated to him, “We will show you many things here.  But eventually you will go back.”  He returned with the knowledge that life after death is as real as life before death.

His experience cannot be dismissed as wish-fulfillment, since he had no belief in the afterlife before his coma.  Nor can it be explained physiologically: “There is no scientific explanation for the fact that while my body lay in coma, my mind—my conscious, inner self—was alive and well.  While the neurons of my cortex were stunned to complete inactivity by the bacteria that had attacked then, my brain-free consciousness journeyed to another, larger dimension of the universe: a dimension I’d never dreamed existed and which the old, pre-coma me would have been more than happy to explain was a simple impossibility.”

What does Scripture say about Eben Alexander’s story?  He was not a “born-again” Christian before his near-death experience, so how could he have gone to heaven?  He does not report meeting God.  If his story is true, it seems to me that the Lord permitted him to experience enough of the afterlife to show our skeptical culture its reality, but not the judgment before God which leads either to heaven or to hell (Revelation 20:11-15).  At the very least, this famed neurosurgeon’s story should give pause to all who deny the reality of the “spiritual.”

Dr. Alexander agrees: “Today many believe that the living spiritual truths of religion have lost their power, and that science, not faith, is the road to truth.  Before my experience I strongly suspected that this was the case myself.  But now I understand that such a view is far too simple.  The plain fact is that the materialist picture of the body and brain as the producers, rather than the vehicles, of human consciousness is doomed.  In its place a new view of mind and body will emerge, and in fact is emerging already.  This view is scientific and spiritual in equal measure and will value what the greatest scientists of history themselves always valued above all: truth.”

Once again, Jesus is proved right: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).