Near Death Experiences and the Gospel

When people refer to “Near Death Experiences” in a spiritual context they are generally referencing a phenomenon that happens across cultural, religious, and social contexts where people who are close to death experience some sort of numinous experience. What exactly an NDE consists of varies from experience to experience, but there are some common themes: 

  • A feeling of overwhelming peace and love
  • A bright light
  • The sensation of being lifted out of their body
  • Meeting loved ones
  • Meeting some kind of a divine being who reviews their life

The themes match up enough with Latter-day Saint thought that I’m open to there being something there. People who have undergone NDEs often experience major positive changes to their life outlook and priorities afterwards, valuing relationships and spiritual matters more than this-worldly concerns. For a small minority their purported glimpses of the other side are darker. 

NDEs are common and well-established enough that they are one of those extremely rare spiritual experiences that lend themselves to empirical investigation and are considered legitimate and real by scientists (and not in the same way that you can find a handful of scientists willing to take ESP seriously, for example). 

NDEs are a real thing, now what they are is what divides the believers from the naturalists, with more naturalistically inclined people attributing them to some explosion of chemicals that might happen near death, and more spiritually inclined people attributing them to more spirit than body. Of course, per my Latter-day Saint beliefs, maybe it’s both. Among believers they can be controversial, since it provides an extra-institutional mechanism for divine knowledge. 

As a natural believer, my sense is that they are indeed glimpses of the other side, but that they are glimpses. Highly personal, impactful lessons of basic truths (love, the presence of others, reviewing our life), but not every detail experienced in an NDE is gospel truth. That would be quite difficult logically, because in many cases the NDE components follow patterns from the person’s respective religion, so Catholics might see Mary or Muslims might glimpse Jannah. Still, I’m willing to grant NDE experiences a certain extra consideration for what the afterlife is like, even if I don’t feel personally bound by any one interpretation, but taken as a whole the phenomenon seems to sit right with me as a message from the other side. 

We Latter-day Saints in particular have well documented cases of NDEs in our early as well as more contemporary history.  Dr. Top from the BYU religion department wrote an excellent synopsis. One late-hand source even suggests that Joseph Smith may have had an NDE when he was being tarred and feathered, and a more contemporaneous source (Willard Richard’s diary) records Brigham Young as having an NDE.

A whole book has been written compiling 50+ NDE experiences from early Latter-day Saint history and many articles about NDEs from a Mormon perspective have been published in a variety of outlets (cursorily searched list below, in which I discovered that the great Massimo Introvigne, one of the Godfathers of New Religious Movement studies, published a piece in Dialogue!). 

While the characteristics of NDEs fit quite well with Latter-day Saint thought, a fairly strict “NDEs are a glimpse of the Celestial Kingdom” view would not explain why the Buddha or Krishna makes an occasional appearance. Still, my vote would be that NDEs do indeed tap into some reality beyond our own, and that God can speak to people through the religious and spiritual frameworks they are expecting when it comes to the particulars, but that the general themes in NDEs support everything I’ve come to feel is true about the hereafter. 


Christensen, Kevin. “” Nigh unto Death”: NDE Research and the Book of Mormon.” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2, no. 1 (1993): 1-20.

Introvigne, Massimo. “Embraced by the Church? Betty Eadie, Near-Death Experiences, and Mormonism.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 29, no. 3 (1996): 99-119.

Lundahl, Craig R. “A Nonscience forerunner to modern near-death studies in America.” OMEGA-Journal of Death and Dying 28, no. 1 (1994): 63-78.

Lundahl, Craig R. “The perceived other world in Mormon near-death experiences: A social and physical description.” OMEGA-Journal of Death and Dying 12, no. 4 (1982): 319-327.

Lundahl, Craig R. “Near-death experiences of Mormons.” A collection of near-death research readings (1982): 165-179.

Lundahl, Craig R. “Mormon near death experiences.” Free Inquiry in Creative Sociology 7, no. 2 (1979): 101-107.

Top, Brent L. “Thought Communication, Speed of Movement, and the Spirit’s Ability to Absorb Knowledge: Near-Death Experiences and Early Mormon Thought.” Journal of Near-Death Studies 15, no. 3 (1997): 203-216.

9 comments for “Near Death Experiences and the Gospel

  1. A glimpse into the Celestial Kingdom? Probably not. A glimpse into spirit paradise or prison? Maybe. I expect those places have many different regions and are inhabited by many spirits claiming some form of deity.

  2. Having experienced the other side myself, I have read/studied NDE’s for 40 years. Not deep dive study but have read and listened to many peoples experiences in and out of the church. I just read the following books and would highly recommend them.

    – Gaze into Heaven (book Steve links/mentions above)

    – Visions of Heaven by Jane Moe (written by a non member that became a member because of her NDE)

    – Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander (written by a non member Neurosurgeon who has his own NDE and can explain why its not just the brain)

    I will add another common theme that ND experiencers have…they dont fear death.

  3. President Oaks in a commencement speech given in 2008 at BYU Hawaii mentioned the NDE experience of George Ritchie. I would highly recommend reading both the speech and the book containing the NDE experience.

    One of the things mentioned in the book, is what appears to be a description of the the 3 Degrees of Glory. Very interesting.

  4. I also recommend the Return From Tomorrow book. First NDE book I ever read actually. The book has lots of LDS beliefs but the writer was not a member. (at least that is how I remember it) He actually is shown what we would consider the Tel and Ter kingdoms and is told there is another one that is far better but does not get to see it. Excellent read. My personal NDE was just in the “lobby”, this guy got the full tour! (figuratively)

  5. I believe NDEs are real. What if, perhaps some of the time at least, NDEs are a deception? Someone claiming to be a deceased relative or angel?

  6. @TBM – Based on my experience and study, deception does not happen on the other side. (I am no expert here so just my opinion) The term “Near death” is really misleading IMO, it should be something like “Died and then came back to tell about it.” We didn’t “nearly die” we died, (or in my case an out of body experience) experienced the other side, and came back. Some people that are in the last stages of life experience hallucinations that are completely real to them. Not sure if they are seeing another realm or its just the mind. Many see loved ones right before death.

  7. One thing I would add to my “Nigh Unto Death”: NDE Research and the Book of Mormon” if I were writing it again would be that Brigham Young likely had a near death experience at Winter Quarters. Besides his famous conversation with Joseph Smith on that occasion, I think it is behind the kinds of things gathered in “The Spirit World” chapter in the Brigham Young priesthood manual, that go beyond what we have in the scriptures, but are in many cases comparable to things we get from, for example, from George Ritchie’s Return from Tomorrow. Indeed, an important but neglected detail of Jedediah Grant’s NDE, as reported by Heber C. Kimball at a General Conference, were his first words on coming back. “Why, it was just as Brigham has told us many times.” When I was researching “NDE Research and the Book of Mormon” the most challenging and insightful book I used was Carol Zalesky’s Otherworld Journeys, which attempted a cross cultural look at the NDE, comparing modern and Medieval accounts. I would also refer to Howard Storm’s experience, which LDS readers will notice has much that is reminiscent of Alma.

  8. I wouldn’t describe an experience I had as an NDE as I was fully conscious when I had it, but I will use that term. Before my NDE, I was a hardcore Nihilist Atheist. I wanted to be dead because life was meaningless and ceasing to exist felt like a pleasant thing. After my NDE I wanted to be dead because the afterlife is beyond expression in its goodness and love. My goal after the NDE was to shape my life in a way where I can bring heaven to Earth and live my life experiencing those heavenly feelings. (read: to make life so great that I no longer want to be dead.) We are all truly in for a treat a hundred years from now after we’ve all passed on. I will also confirm what a previous commenter said, the fear of death vanishes.

  9. JV – your experience sounds incredible! How did your experience change how you felt about religion?

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