For some decades now there have been books published about people who have seemingly died but come back to life with accounts of what they have experienced during the period they were technically speaking dead. Like many tales of adventures beyond this physical world they seem to me to combine truth and falsehood or, better put, truth and illusion. I have not made a study of these stories principally because they do not come from saints and sages but ordinary people, and, without casting aspersions on ordinary people, that is not the quarter from which you would expect great spiritual insight. I am not doubting the honesty or integrity of these people nor the validity of the experiences, but how able are they really to process all this in a way to do it proper justice without a deeper spiritual understanding?
As I say, I have not made a serious study of NDEs as they are called but I have read a little about them and they seem to follow a roughly similar pattern. To begin with, the subject leaves his body and finds himself still conscious but outside the corporeal frame. Gradually he is aware of others coming to meet him, deceased friends and relatives who comfort and reassure him. Before this he may have gone down a tunnel or crossed a bridge, obviously symbolic of going from one plane of consciousness to another. He finds himself in a beautiful location bathed in light which does not come from an external source such as the sun but is part of the fabric of the region in which he now exists. Here what are generally described as beings of light take him through a review of his past life though in a completely non-judgemental way. He feels that he is surrounded by love and beauty, and when he is obliged to return to the physical world there is a great sense of loss and regret.
What could be wrong with that? Does it not confirm that we live in a universe of goodness and love and that we shall all be rewarded once we leave this sorry vale of tears? It does, but that is the problem I have with these accounts. They are all sugar and no salt let alone vinegar. Are we to believe that everyone goes to heaven after death, regardless of how they have lived their life, believer and atheist, saint and sinner alike? This is how a God of love would behave, or so goes the modern attitude with its egalitarian ethos. But I find this approach to be one in which quantity rather than quality is determinative, and that is a materialistic approach, quantity relating to matter as quality does to spirit. It is also quite at odds with the teachings of Jesus and the Christian tradition. We might think that actual experience trumps that but what exactly is this experience? Note that nobody actually dies for they all come back. They may appear to die but their experience is interrupted and we cannot know how it would have proceeded in the event of a permanent death.
For what it's worth I do believe these experiences are genuine as far as they go but I also think they give a faulty impression or, at least, an incomplete one. I am sure that we are surrounded by love in the afterworld and when we are judged, as we surely are, that is without condemnation. But it is not without consequence. Nobody gets to heaven, the real heaven rather than some astral version of it, without rigorous purification which I would compare to the episode in C.S. Lewis's book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader when the insufferable brat Eustace, who has turned into a dragon, is stripped of his reptilian scales by Aslan who literally digs his claws into Eustace's body and tears them off. This is agonising. Similarly, when we are stripped of our sins there will be pain and suffering. This is the essence of purgatory. Moreover, it is not everyone who goes to heaven. I would surmise that what most of these NDE people experience is not heaven at all but what is known as limbo which is certainly a more ethereal level of consciousness than than that of the physical world but is still outside the true spiritual world.
One must also be careful about the beings of light. As every Christian knows there are many different sorts of spirits, good and bad, and Satan is specifically described in 2 Corinthians as someone who masquerades as an angel of light. That is not to say these beings are demons but the spiritually illiterate, which, to be frank, is what most modern people are, should be careful of accepting anything on the face of appearance alone. The average soul newly transitioned to the next world has not much more understanding of his environment than a baby just arrived in this world. Certainly such a soul would have the benefit of an adult mind but it would be a complete neophyte with regard to the structure of the world and its inhabitants. It would also not necessarily know that the lower levels of the next world are the ones in which lesser beings are most likely to operate. One shouldn't make the opposite error, which some Christians do and assume that all spirits are demons but one should exercise caution and discrimination without having a closed mind.
Death is the most important part of life and we should take it very seriously. It's not like children going away to the seaside for a holiday. There are weighty matters involved. All religions recognise this and the modern spiritual but not religious tendency to wrap it in pink cotton wool is a mistake. Yes, the higher worlds are worlds of love, beauty, glory and magnificence but God is not a fairy godmother. Aslan is not a tame lion. That makes the beauty far more beautiful and the love far more intense but it also means that the soul must become perfect if it is to enter into the realms of glory, and this spiritual perfection is not automatically gifted to everyone regardless but requires hard work and sacrifice. It must be earned. God does bestow his grace on everyone but only the fully opened flower can properly receive the rays of the sun.