Near-death experiences are often described as full of light, love and beauty. It begs the question, does anyone ever have a negative experience?



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If people do have negative near-death experiences, does it mean there really is a hell? According to the most recent surveys about the afterlife, while almost 3/4 of Americans believe in heaven, only about 3/5 of Americans believe in hell, even among religious people.[i] No one wants to believe in eternal punishment. It’s a whole lot more pleasant to imagine everyone going to eternal bliss. 

But what if hell is real? Wouldn’t it be a whole lot better to know that it’s real so we can avoid it, rather than just hoping that it’s not true?

Dutch researcher, Dr. Pim van Lommel, among others, believes that the reason we don’t hear about negative NDEs as often is because the people who have experienced them don’t want to talk about them. Not only do these kinds of NDEs result in long-lasting emotional trauma, but they can cause a lot of shame and guilt. While those who have had positive experiences may want to tell everyone they know, those who have negative experiences are too embarrassed or traumatized to share them. Yet, he believes that those experiences are much more common than we realize.[ii] The Handbook of Near Death Experiences estimates around 23% of NDEs are negative ones, ranging from disturbing to terrifying or despairing.[iii] 

What does a negative near-death experience look like? 

Experts have compiled the stories of negative NDEs and categorized them into three categories:

The Void. These NDErs describe being taken away beyond the galaxy where there is no sensation and no sense of any light. Or like a deep nothingness that they were falling deeper and deeper into. They describe this void as unbearable and horrific. All they wanted to do was get back. 

Hell on Earth. Some describe being beaten, abused, and ravaged—literally torn apart—both physically and emotionally, by demons or by other dead people in a dark, terrifying place. They describe a kind of battlefield where people attack each other physically, verbally, and sexually in a kind of hell of their own making. Others describe a place where the dead are tormented by images of things on earth without them that they cannot control or experience. 

The Pit. Others describe the feeling of being locked or trapped in a dark pit, cave, or under the earth. They describe a smell of death—rottenness, feces, or sulfur. They hear moaning, wailing, and crying in sheer agony. They experience extreme cold or extreme heat or fire.

All of these negative experiences are described as terrifying and overwhelmingly evil. One similarity to positive NDEs is that all smells, sights, and sounds are heightened and intense. Those who experience them struggle with emotional trauma for years after coming back. A few share that they cried out to God for help in these experiences and were rescued and healed. Many of those who experience these types of NDEs come back determined to change the course of their lives, becoming pastors or missionaries, to warn others about the reality of hell after death and the reality of a God who loves them and wants to rescue them from it. 


[i] Gallup poll and Pew Research Center 

[ii] The Handbook of Near Death Experiences p. 222

[iii] The Handbook of Near Death Experiences p. 222



of NDErs report negative experiences ranging from terrifying to despairing.


“I’m now down, descending lower and lower into nothingness.”



“I’m now down, descending lower and lower into nothingness.”



Declared clinically dead—no brainwaves, no heartbeat—one of the first things NDErs talk about is seeing their body and knowing they’re no longer in it.



Check out our resources section and see the evidence.


More than one thousand accounts of near-death experiences shaped the insights in this book by New York Times best-selling author, John Burke. If you’ve lost a loved one, received a frightening diagnosis, or wondered about what happens after death, this concise look at the life to come will bring you hope and reassurance.

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