It doesn’t matter if they nearly died in an auto accident or a drug overdose, giving birth or attempting suicide.

Among the thousands of people who chose to share their near-death experiences with the Near Death Experience Research Foundation, the report is often the same: They come back with a profound understanding of God’s love.

Theologians sometimes talk about the omnibenevolence of God, the idea that God’s grace and charity is unlimited or infinite. For many who talk about encountering God, this term comes closest to the reality they describe. Here is a sampling of what some NDErs had to say about God’s love:

  • “No human can ever love with the love I felt in that light. It is all-consuming, all-forgiving. Nothing matches it. It is like the day you looked into the eyes of your child for the first time magnified a million times. It’s indescribable.”
  • “I felt the presence of pure love. This is very hard to describe. Everything made sense: God exists, God is love, we are love, and love creates all that is. … I was surrounded by pure love. First I was cold and in pain, but then I was warm and comforted.”
  • “I know that love is all there is and that God loves all of His children deeply and equally. There are no stepchildren in the family of God. We are all divine.”
  • “God loves us all infinitely.”
  • “I felt God as an all-encompassing presence — complete, total, and unconditional love in its highest form! I was surrounded by God’s unconditional love, which was so much greater than human love. I was given the knowledge that God is real and loves me unconditionally — He exists and is real, and He is love.”
  • “I came to realize that God is more loving and caring than I could ever imagine.”
  • “The entire encounter was about God, the ultimate power of God, and God’s forgiveness. The message was, ‘Love is the greatest power in the universe.’ ”

Love is clearly an important part of near-death experiences. This experience of deep love often carries within it an affirmation of unity or oneness between all people or even all things.

About 400 people volunteered answers to a long survey we offered, including this question: “During your experience, did you encounter any specific information/awareness regarding love?”

The results: 58.1 percent of those volunteers said yes, 32.4 percent said no and the rest were uncertain.

In the anecdotal responses they provided, I was struck by the remarkable consistency. This consistency could not be explained merely by the NDErs’ preexisting cultural or religious beliefs, since they represented a wide spectrum of those from various faith traditions or no faith at all. They wrote:

  • “I knew that the being I met was composed of a substance I can only call ‘love,’ and that substance was a force or power, like electricity. Love is the only word I have, but it’s not the right word here.”
  • “I knew that love was the greatest force around us and that we are all love, and love is the only thing that is real, that hatred and pain and hurt and all the negative things are not really the way it is, that we just create these negative thoughts.”
  • “Love was everywhere. It permeated the afterlife. It was incredible.”
  • “I was loved unconditionally despite my faults and fears.”
  • “This love was unique. I felt completely safe; nothing bad could happen. I was no longer in pain, and all my worries and fears were left behind with my body. Not many can get even the slightest idea of what this love is like.”
  • “These incredible emotions were centered in the solar plexus — the most incredible mixture of peace, joy, love, acceptance . . . so strong I still cry thinking about it — that overwhelming melting pot of pure positive emotion: love, joy, acceptance, kindness, gentleness.”

These transformative experiences of a unique love — a love that is total, unconditional and enormous — speak not just to what happens after we die, but to what matters while we live. These people described their encounters with death, but the message, instead, is one about the meaning of life.

Excerpt adapted from God and the Afterlife, the first in-depth analysis of thousands of self-reported accounts of near-death experiences, published by HarperOne this week.

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