Source. Krishna. All-That-Is. Allah. The Great Spirit. Supreme Being. Elohim. All names representing the same concept: the singular, universal source of creative power, wisdom and moral rulership over the universe.
God. With a Capital G.
Today, when the western world refers to God, it usually represents the monotheistic God of the Abrahamic religions of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. The influence of these three religions has shaped and colored our cultural understanding of God as a jealous and temperamental male; a human-like entity who demands constant worship and intervenes closely in the lives of man (and possibly nations). God answers prayers (or not) depending on His will, is merciful or judgmental depending on our sins, and ultimately judges our fate after death, either welcoming us into a blissful heaven or casting us into the lake of unquenchable fire to burn for eternity.
The wrath of God is a prominent theme of the Abrahamic vision of his character and each of the three religions have various ways of dealing with it. Christians believe they are protected from the wrath of God because of their divine intermediary, Jesus Christ. The Jews and Muslims, lacking a messiah who can intercede, must instead follow complex rules for social, moral and personal behavior in order to stay in God’s good graces and secure their place in paradise.
The God of Abraham could be merciful as well; provided that all of the conditions and expectations for behavior were met. God was the supreme judge of man, and most people who believe in this version of God also believe that God intervenes in their personal lives, granting mercy or doling out punishments as warranted by behavior. When bad things happen to good people, it is said that it is God’s will, and we could never hope to understand His reasons anyway.
There are many problems with characterizing God in this way. A personal God who is said to intervene in the lives of ordinary humans must then be responsible for striking down innocent children with cancer, or starving an entire population with famine, or allowing evil to persist. In the case of the Texas girl in ‘Miracles from Heaven’ who was cured from a terrible disease when she fell into a tree, her devoutly Christian parents claimed God was responsible for the miracle. All I could think of is the many other devoutly religious families with suffering children who haven’t been granted a miracle. If God can choose to cure one little girl in Texas, why would he allow other children to suffer? Does God play favorites?
The question of why a supposedly merciful God allows evil and suffering is one that theology has struggled with since antiquity, and it is the major problem of characterizing God as a human-like being with human-like feelings, grudges, moods, and conditional love. Yet, the ‘personal god’ model is still the most prevalent understanding of God in the world.
But what if religion has God all wrong?
Dr. Jeffrey Long is an oncologist, near-death experience researcher and founder of the Near-Death Experience Research Foundation. His recently published book “God and the Afterlife: Groundbreaking New Evidence of Near-Death Experience” describes the results from ‘The God Study’ in which he analyzed the near-death experiences of people from all types of backgrounds and initial beliefs who have claimed to actually meet God in their NDEs.
Some of the research questions that are addressed in ‘God and the Afterlife’ are as follows:
- The similarity of a NDEr’s perception of God to their religious beliefs
- The overall prevalence of God in near-death experiences
- Changes in how a NDEr viewed the definition of God after their experience
- The character of God that is experienced during an NDE.
Does This Prove Anything About Life After Death?
A study of this sort is likely not meant to prove that near-death experiencers are truly meeting God or present any proof for the survival hypothesis. However, whether near-death experiences are a neurological anomaly or a glimpse into an alternate reality, much can be gained through this study as it relates to either our biological or spiritual natures. For example, if NDErs all experience a similar conception of God, it might be argued that we are somehow wired for religion, a branch of study called neurotheology. On the other hand, a similar experience of God during NDEs despite differences in belief, culture and background might suggest an objective spiritual experience is occurring.
Dr. Jeffrey Long sourced his research subjects using the thousands of near-death experiences that have been submitted to his founding site, nderf.org, the Near-Death Experience Research Foundation. Submission of a near-death experience requires filling out an extensive survey of more than 100 questions designed to fully explain and categorize the experience. The criteria for selection for The God Study included a Greyson scale score of at least 7, which is used to judge the depth of an NDE against the 16 most common and prevalent features associated with a near-death experience.
For more information about the Greyson Scale and the common elements of a near-death experience, please visit this page.
Dr. Long avoided bias by selecting NDEs sequentially as they were submitted, instead of selecting based on content. No NDE was excluded due to content and all NDEs included in the study are available on the nderf.org site for independent evaluation.
The God Study included 420 NDERF questionnaire responses in English submitted from November 11, 2011 to November 7, 2014. NDE subjects must have had their experience during a time of “severe physical compromise that met the definition of an NDE.”
As a physician and a scientist, I knew that I had to put aside my personal preexisting beliefs about God and publish what I found in the God Study, whatever those results might be. I did not know where this journey might take me, but my overriding motivation was to learn the truth about God in near-death experiences. This was not to be a study of beliefs or opinions about God that NDErs may have developed at other times during their lives. The God Study was to be about exploring the evidence gathered directly by NDErs who encountered God during their experiences (Long, 2016).
Why Study NDEs as Evidence of the Afterlife?
In “God and the Afterlife”, Dr. Long offers several reasons why NDEs cannot simply be discounted as dreams, hallucinations or the result of ‘a dying brain’. For example, it is impossible for people who are unconscious, comatose or clinically dead to have “highly lucid experiences that are clear and logically organized.”
Additionally, the elements of NDEs are consistent across ages, genders, ethnic, social and demographic difference which “helps refute the possibility that NDEs have any relation to dreams, hallucinations, or cultural projections. Dreams often skip around and lack a logical flow. NDEs are almost always a consistent narrative.”
Out-of-body experiences as part of NDEs are realistic, and events that occur while the patent is unconscious or clinically dead “can usually be verified as having actually happened, even if they are physically far from the body”
Lastly, NDEs cannot be solely attributed to hypoxia (lack of oxygen), too much or too little anesthesia, medication or other single-causes because NDEs occur in high frequency over a very diverse set of physical circumstances, with the same ultra-realistic, logical and ordered experience. A person who is sedated in preparation for cancer surgery, a person who collapses suddenly from a heart attack and a near-drowning victim have similar NDEs despite the differences in their physical and mental state before their near-death experience.
For more in-depth information about both the proponent and skeptical arguments for NDEs, please see my page on The NDE Debate
Results and Statistics from ‘The God Study’
40% of experiences included in the study indicated that they “were aware of the existence of God or a supreme being during their NDE.” According to Long, this is “greater than the percentage of NDErs reporting a tunnel, encountering deceased loved ones, or having a life review.”
At the time of their NDE, 64% of respondents believed that God either definitely or probably exists, whereas afterwards, the figure rose to nearly 82% indicating that belief in God increased significantly after a near-death experience.
Common Elements in the Experience of God During an NDE
Earlier in this post, we examined how the prevalent religious view of God describes a being that is judgmental on a personal level, has human characteristics of anger, love and jealousy, intercedes in our personal lives, and can be variously merciful or vengeful depending on whether we’ve met certain conditions, such as moral behavior or sin.
In the God study, love is the prevailing and defining experience with God that NDErs describe. God has been described as ‘pure love’, ‘infinite love’, ‘complete, total and unconditional love’, all-consuming, all forgiving [love]’.
58.1% of survey responses answered ‘yes’ when asked if the NDEr encountered specific information/awareness regarding love.
Dr. Long also brings up an interesting point about how the respondents describe the love that they felt. It was completely unconditional and yet very intimate and personal. It was if God knew all of their faults, sins and crimes and loved them anyway.
Another aspect of love that is experienced by NDErs is universal love – the kind of love that assures us that God loves all aspects of creation – there are no conditions for this love; it is given freely to all, regardless of the rules and dogma and orthodoxy that religion has created in God’s name.
On a personal note, I’ve never read a near-death experience where God was disappointed in a person who didn’t keep kosher, or pray 5 times daily, or missed church regularly. God seems to be far bigger than the petty, spiteful God of many religions who requires constant adoration. God’s love is unconditional, period.
No words can describe my time with God and His perfect love. The type of love God exudes and is all about is beyond human comprehension. God, love, growing spiritually, serving in love, uniting in love are our goals. Our lives are only approximations of what we can achieve through God and His love. Our love is immature and ‘seen through a glass darkly.’ The answer is in God’s light and love. The total bliss (Long, 2016).
The Appearance of God in NDEs
The most common description of the feeling of God is The Light. In Dr. Long’s study, he uses several NDE narratives as examples that describe God as a type of living, communicating light energy that radiates pure love. From my own research of NDEs, it seems that only very rarely do people describe God as a human figure. God is more often considered the primal source energy, variously described visually as ‘the light’ and at other times described as the source of the light energy.
When a near-death experiencer sees ‘God’ as a human, it’s typically an appearance that will comfort the experiencer. One example used in Dr. Long’s study saw God as a wise elderly man with beautiful soft white hair and a beard, wearing a kaftan. Others have seen the figure of a man or woman in a ball of energy, and in another example, “an aurora borealis crystalline mist in the shape of a man’.
Unlike many religions that see God as a separate entity from the more humble and fallible creation of man, near-death experiencers commonly express complete oneness with God.
“I didn’t see God with eyes, but God was everything and everywhere. There was no separation felt (Long, 2016).”
The Meaning of Life
Dr. Long’s God Study also explored insights into the meaning of life that was communicated to near-death experiencers. Each of us has a life purpose that is significant in the overall tapestry of the human experiment. Relationships are also an important part of our experience on earth, according to the respondents, for they teach us about love, selflessness and compassion.
Earth is described as a school – a place where we can learn through immersion in a limited environment. For example, could a person truly understand compassion for others if they had never experienced loss, pain or suffering themselves? How could love be at all defined unless we also experienced the lack of love? Exploring the complexities of living in a world without the explicit guarantee of immortality and the difficulties of survival give all of us the opportunity to make certain choices with our free will – the choice to love or the choice to choose fear, hate and subjugation of others.
The problem of evil, as described earlier, makes far more sense if God is not understood as human being that judges and intervenes in our affairs. Instead, humans have free will to make our own choices and learn from the consequences in order to understand the greater value in constructive creativity through love. The origin of tragedies, whether through chance or soul agreements, is a topic beyond the scope of this article. But they are undoubtedly opportunities for learning, growing and demonstrating patience, strength and hope.
Judgement During the Life Review
Life reviews are another component of near-death experiences often associated with a higher being. During a near-death experience, the person is presented with a review of their major life events and the emotional repercussions of certain choices. During the life review, respondents often say that they were not judged by God for their acts, but rather they judged themselves from a detached perspective that enabled them to understand how their decisions affected others.
My life review was all about my relationships with others. I felt what they felt in my relationships with them. I felt their love, and also their pain and hurt from things I had done or said to them. Their hurt made me cringe, and I thought, “oh, I could have done better there.” But mostly I felt love. No one was judging me; I felt no disapproval – only my own reactions to it all. The feeling of unconditional love saturating me continued; I was judging myself – no one else was judging me. I was told that the earth is like a big school, a place where you can apply spiritual lessons you have learned and test yourself to see whether you can “live” what you already know you should do. Basically, the earth is a place to walk the walk and live the way it should be done. It was made clear to me that some people come to the earth to work one or more aspects of themselves, while others come to also help the world as a whole. The other side doesn’t have the kind of pressures that the body imposes. Here on earth, we have to feed and clothe our bodies and provide shelter from the elements. We’re under continual pressure to make decisions that have a spiritual base. We may be taught on the ‘other side’ what we are ‘supposed to do’, but can we live it under these pressures on earth? (Long, 2016)
If human souls are not judged by God, then the idea of divine morality comes into question. One NDE used as an example in “God and the Afterlife” illustrates that even without direct judgement from God, there is a built-in function for consequential learning. The popular idiom “what goes around comes around” seems to be universal, as this particular NDEr was told that they should be careful of what thoughts and emotions they put into the universe because it will always come back to them in some form later on.
What about Distressing or Hellish Near-Death Experiences?
Distressing NDEs are generally pretty rare, less than 1% of all NDEs shared with NDERF, according to Dr. Long. The fact that they happen at all is perplexing to many researchers and spiritualists. Eager to paint God as only a loving entity, many wonder why some people experience the worst depths of hell in the NDEs. Could hell be real?
There are several interesting aspects of hellish NDEs that might give us a clue as to the function of these experiences. First, no NDEs in the nderf.org database have described a person being cast into hell by God or other religious being. In fact, in a large majority of cases, when a person who initially finds themselves in a hellish or terrifying place calls out to God for mercy, they are immediately rescued from the situation and delivered into a beautiful and peaceful scenario. Understandably, the rescue scenario is extremely instructive and impactful to the experiencer after they return to life. Hellish NDEs can inspire such a powerful transformation in the experiencer that they later consider it a gift; the most profound experience of their lives. A study done by Barbara Rommer M.D. show that frightening NDEs “result in substantial positive life changes including a greatly reduced fear of death. (Long, 2016)”
Although there has been no official study comparing a person’s pre-NDE qualities with the positive changes that occur after their experience, my own completely non-scientific review of frightening near-death experiences has shown that many people who have these frightening experiences were initially living what might be considered a troubled life. Howard Storm published a book about his famously terrifying NDE and can be considered the perfect example for pre and post-NDE transformation. When describing his personality before his famous hellish NDE (and subsequent rescue by a being he describes as Jesus) tells of a man who was mean, cruel, greedy, prideful and had little care or concern for others. After his NDE, he became ordained as a reverend and became ‘a different man’ to his family; one who was now kind, loving and caring towards others. Other frightening or hellish NDE stories came at the consequence of suicide, or an overdose from drugs or alcohol. In each of these cases the hell experience was a wake-up call to make better choices in their life when they returned.
In answer to my earlier question, do hellish NDEs mean that hell exists? Of course, no one living today can really answer that question, but spiritual literature over the last two centuries and visions of the afterlife experienced by out-of-body experts would suggest that the answer is both yes and no. There does seem to be dimensions of the afterlife that are dark, depressing and downright hellish. However, spirits only go there after death if they choose to or feel that they are deserving of such a fate. Spirits who prefer to be hateful, angry, violent and evil may choose to be in the company of spirits of the same ilk. We do have free will, after all. However as soon as we wish to redeem ourselves, soften our hearts, and participate in the more creative and collaborative aspect of love and service to others, we are free to rise into more beautiful regions of the afterlife. All it takes is to call out for mercy and to let go of the dense negative emotions that led you into that place to begin with.
For more information about dark and dismal areas of the afterlife as described by other sources, please see my post on The Multidimensional Afterlife, Part II
A New Vision of God
Dr. Jeffrey Long’s exploration of God through the God Study shows that people who have near-death experiences consistently characterize and experience God almost exactly the same way, regardless of their initial belief or lack of belief before the experience. Although some NDEs may have aspects of religious imagery (likely because this is in the best interest of the person having the NDE), God isn’t shown as fearful or judgmental. For those who believe that near-death experiences are just a product of the brain, one would imagine that our belief systems would clearly color and influence how God is experienced, and yet this is not the case. Doctrines, orthodoxies and religious characterizations of God do not widely influence the content of NDEs.
According to near-death experiencers, God is described in the following ways:
- God is omnipresent
- God is infinite
- God’s love for us is unconditional
- God is infinitely forgiving
- God appears as energy or light and can appear in any shape
- God is a part of everything that exists
- God grants and respects our free-will
- God is not male or female
- God is not judgmental
- God is pure love
Dr. Long includes an NDE in ‘God and the Afterlife’ by Natalie Sudman. Although he doesn’t include her last name, her NDE is well-known. She was stationed in Iraq and struck by a roadside bomb. Her incredible NDE included this insight about God which Dr. Long published in his book:
All That Is can be perceived simultaneously as a force and as a consciousness that exists within each in individual consciousness and yet is separate from each consciousness or being. It might be called God, but the ideas of gods that we have are a pale and incomplete shadow of the All That Is that I perceived. We project an idea of a god or gods upon that infinite creative/// consciousness, which inevitably limits our understanding of the All That Is in ways that reflect the limited comprehension that we have of ourselves and the physical universe. The word “God” carries a lot of baggage, and out ideas of “God” are currently deeply inadequate and inaccurate (Long, 2016).
God is Love
Love is the paramount experience of God in near-death experiences. Religions get caught up in many false doctrines and forget this one simple but powerful teaching.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”John 3:13
The vision of God as introduced to us through near-death experiences is not a person or a personality, but rather the essence of creativity, the spark of life, the embodiment of pure love. God does not belong to a religion, nor has God reproached or judged any near-death experiencer because of their belief or lack of belief, culture, sexual orientation, sins or otherwise. This God does not require adoration or worship. This God doesn’t require a certain dress code, particular foods or sacrifices to be made in his/her/its honor. God doesn’t even require you to believe in him/her/it. God simply wants you to be the best you possible, for then all of creation is benefited.
God knows you well for he/she/it exists in every atom and molecule that creates you. God knows your worries, your fears, your joys and your hopes. God knows your prayers before you speak a word, and yet whispers in your heart the guidance you seek, if you dare to listen. You and God are one – there is no separation, no special intermediary or building that brings you any closer for the very fiber of your being is created of God himself.
Whether you are a part of a religion or an unbeliever, spiritual or unsure – you do not need to ‘do’ anything in order to develop a relationship with God. Your relationship with God has always existed and will always exist. There cannot be a separation from God, because God is All That Is. Recognize God’s presence in everyone you see, in the trees, flowers, stones, animals and clouds. God unites us all.
How can you affirm and acknowledge your connection to God? Evaluate your choices to determine if they are being made on the basis of love, or on the basis of fear. Listen to your intuition, for that is the god-source in you.
“My earthly body, the container or vessel of my soul, had been shed. I was God along with everyone else, and yet God was still a universal power that was gentle and kind, humble and pure. God lives in me; the soul of God was breathed into my dead body when I chose to live. We were in and through and with each other. It was humbling, beautiful beyond beauty and powerful in the most gentle and kind way. Everything seemed to be clear- languages, death and life, God creation, love, peace, joy, sorrow. I knew the infinity, oneness, flexibility, and omniscience of all beings; I knew that our physical bodies separate us from the One that we are. We are like water poured from a pitcher into individual glasses, where we stay until we die and return to the whole. The purpose I received was to circulate this knowledge – the knowledge that love is the purpose, or that the purpose of love is life. (Long 2016)”
See also my post A Description of God by Two Non-Physical Entities
Long, Jeffrey, M.D., Perry, Paul. (2016). God and the Afterlife: The Groundbreaking New Evidence For Near-Death Experiences New York, NY: HarperOne