I Was Close to Death and Had a Vision of Shadows and Flames. How Do I Reconcile This with My Faith in Jesus?

Question from a reader:

Last year I spent three weeks in the hospital with COVID, not expected to survive. As I was dying, I had a very disturbing experience. My bed opened up and flames came shooting out along with several black shadows that tried to drag me down with them. I was unable to call out for help, and then I “woke up.” This is not what I imagined, or expected, to happen as I die, and I have been dismayed by it.

Then I read in Safely Home about Li Quan's dying, and the dark spirits that visited him, even though he was a believer, safe in Jesus. Can you tell me about Li Quan's visitation? What was it? What did it mean?

My only sibling did not survive his battle with COVID. At his gravesite the Lord gave me a sweet picture. My husband had just finished doing the service, placing his cremated remains in the small hole in the earth, and my toddler granddaughter was crouched beside the hole gazing at the white roses that were peeking up over the side. I have this image superimposed over the other one, blotting out that darkness, thanks be to God. Any insights you can share with me would be helpful. Thank you.

Answer from Doreen Button, EPM staff:

I’m so sorry about your brother’s death. COVID has caused so many hard losses.

Your dream and your questions are intriguing.

Seeing flames and black figures trying to drag you down must have been truly terrifying. Randy clarified that his purpose in writing that scene in Safely Home—where Li Quan recognizes that he’s being attacked and rebukes Mogui/Satan—is to show the intensity of the spiritual warfare that God’s people are constantly engaged in.

Satan’s hatred for the fictional Li Quan, and for all real believers, sometimes manifests in discouragement and other forms of oppression that are meant to rob us of our joy. He loves to find any way he can to distract us from our focus on loving, and out of that love, serving and obeying our Father and imitating our Savior. Jesus gave us the most excellent example of how to fight Satan in His wilderness test (see Matthew 4).

Randy pointed out that Li Quan was not dying in this scene, and he was not visited by dark spirits. One possible correlation he sees between your experience and the scene in Safely Home was that any believer can undergo spiritual attack.

The only corollary I know of in Safely Home is when Mao Tse-Tung faces his eternity. Hell is only the destination of those who have chosen to remain lord of their own lives. Those who choose Jesus will never taste that sulfur or feel that total isolation from all that is Good. “And he ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead. He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name” (Peter, in Acts 10:43).

The enemy has a bag of tricks he likes to use against God’s people to wrench—or entice—our attention away from our Sovereign. He doesn’t care which he uses as long as it works. As you said, you didn’t die, so this is not a death experience, though certainly it was frightening.

In my reading this morning, I noticed this passage: “Then you frighten me with dreams and terrify me through visions, so that I would choose suffocation, death rather than my pain” (Job 7:14-15). Job, a man that God called “a blameless and upright man” was talking to God. And in God’s eyes he was peerless—no one else on Earth compared to him (Job 1:8).

Despite his exemplary life choices, Job suffered from panic attacks and nightmares. And when all those troubles came upon Job, he “fell to the ground and worshiped God” (Job 1:20).

My point is, things happen even to the strongest, purest believers that we can’t understand. That sounds like bad news when the things that happen seem bad, but it isn’t because we (I assume from what you’ve written that you truly are a Jesus-follower) belong to a God who isn’t just sovereign, but kind (like the gift of that sweet “picture” of your granddaughter at your brother’s grave replacing the ugly dream), loving, and very importantly also all-knowing.

He knows everything about our circumstances and all the large and small ripple effects. As crazy as it may sound, He sees benefits and uses our traumatic experiences in ways that affect us and others throughout eternity. One possible example might be: your experience caused you to ask these questions which may cause others who read about this to begin thinking about their need to turn to Him to deal with frightening situations.

God invites us to ask questions. He invites us to dig for answers in His Word and trust it over our experiences. He’s very patient and wants interactions with us based on our trust in Him. Asking “Why?” will not annoy Him, especially if you are willing to humbly accept that His answer to you may be similar to the answer Job received, which was essentially, “You’re not God, I AM.”

“If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me” (Jeremiah 29:13). Keep seeking Him!

Photo by Frederic Köberl on Unsplash

Doreen is part of the Eternal Perspective Ministries staff, and helps Randy with editing and answering reader questions. She is a certified biblical counselor.