Tronson du Coudray art 'Autumn pointers' reflecting such issues
Who wouldn’t be fascinated by tales of people crossing over to the other side and coming back to tell the tale? Near-death experiences, or NDEs, have been reported throughout history and across the world and while they have been studied widely overseas, only a small amount of research has been done in this country.
But that changed nearly five years ago when two academics from Massey University in Palmerston North (NZ) undertook our first large-scale, retrospective and quantitative study, seeking, in part, to find out whether our NDEs matched those reported elsewhere.”
“In 2010 psychologist Dr Natasha Tassell-Matamua and sociologist Dr Mary Murray put out a call for participants and received more than 600 responses. They published some of their findings this year and continue to work through the more than 200 accounts they recorded.
Tassell-Matamua herself had what she describes as a “near death-like” experience at the age of 18. Feeling unwell, she lay down on her bed and suddenly found herself travelling at tremendous speed down a long tunnel towards a light. At the end of the tunnel she could see a being waiting for her.
“I remember communicating to the being that I’m not quite ready just yet. And at that moment I was propelled back through the tunnel and into my body. I didn’t know what had happened to me. I’d never heard of a Near Death Experience before that. And I didn’t tell anyone about it.”
Tronson du Coudray art 'Ocean Waves' reflecting such issues
Research shows 15%
You might be surprised to learn how common NDEs are. Around 15% of people who experience clinical death and are revived report having had them. One recent study suggested that 25 million people have experienced an NDE in the last fifty years alone. These have been reported throughout history and across all cultures, age groups, genders, socio-economic groups and religious or philosophical traditions.
Explanations for NDEs abound, from hypoxia to neurochemicals as well as psychological explanations and religious belief, but arguably no explanation has yet been able to fully account for them.
New Zealand’s ethnic diversity and indigenous population provided a useful and manageable-sized base from which to ascertain whether NDEs really were common to all kinds of people. The Massey University study indicates that the NDEs reported in New Zealand matched accounts from other nations. Mary Murray says that is a good result.
‘It corroborates other people’s research and it corroborates people’s experience. Certainly, when people recounted their experiences to us they were quite genuine.’
Often, they were afraid to talk about those experiences. When people put themselves forward for our studies they were welcoming an opportunity to talk about experiences that had been deeply meaningful for them.
There was one interesting difference. People who identified as Māori reported deeper and more intense NDEs. There is a hunch amongst researchers that people with strong cultural beliefs are more inclined to accept the fact of an NDE happening to them and to relax into the experience more than a skeptic or an atheist might. But NDEs clearly don’t respect your beliefs – or lack of them.
There is now an ever-increasing number of books about NDEs, two of the most famous are by Raymond Moody and Piet van Lommel.
Tronson du Coudray art 'Harlequim' reflecting such issues
NZ's Rev. Michael Cocks
Michael Cocks asks, what does the Massey research suggest about Resurrection and the New Testament? It helps to confirm what St Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15, that when our physical body dies, we find that we have a spiritual body.
In many NDEs, the hearts of the patients on the operating table stop, and the patients find themselves conscious, near the ceiling of the operating theatre, seeing, hearing all that is going on.
They describe the frantic efforts to revive them, and report what is said. I have several friends who have had NDEs. One of them, a former lecturer in theology, had the same experience, and to his joy he found himself greeting “dead” relatives, and also some former students, who had passed on. It was a joyful experience, which he was reluctant to leave, as the doctors began to resuscitate him.
NDE’s potentially add some credence to St Paul’s theology of the resurrection, where he states that our natural human bodies will be raised as spiritual bodies (1 Corinthians chapter 15 verse 44). The clearest reference we have in Scripture of what our raised existence will be like is with the resurrection of Jesus, who appeared to (and disappeared from) the sight of his disciples. Jesus clearly had a raised physical body that resembled his former earthly body, and could be seen and touched after his resurrection, yet it was not limited to the physics of this world because he could appear in a locked room (John chapter 20 verses 26-27).
However that transformation happens, what Scripture reveals, and what NDE’s suggest, is that the ceasing of our heart and brain functions does not terminate us as people. We live on. Furthermore, followers of Jesus can rest assured that his promise to the thief on the cross is ours too when we leave our natural human bodies, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke chapter 23 verse 43), and we can expect to receive our own resurrected spiritual body—one that will never die.
Rev Michael Cocks
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html