Now retired, though still currently a pastor, Howard Storm was the former Professor and chairman of the Art Department at the Northern Kentucky University, and is best known for his book My Descent into Death which details his life changing near-death experience (NDE) (1). Storm’s NDE is a widely known one within the academic field and has been cited by numerous scholars writing on the subject of NDEs (2) (3) (4) (5) (6). He has also told his story to numerous audiences and has appeared on NBC’s Today Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, 48 Hours, Discovery Channel and Coast to Coast AM.
Storm has a very interesting reason for his conversion. In its most simple form he says that he died in a hospital bed and that in his death he was rescued by Jesus Christ and even got to dialogue with spiritual, non-material beings. What makes this particularly striking is that Storm was an avowed atheist for most of his life up until that moment. He certainly felt that what he had experienced was very real and reason enough to transition to belief in Jesus Christ. I also understand that his experience will bring up many questions, and quite naturally so, and that many Christians will possibly disagree with some, if not much, of his testimony. Atheist naturalists, on the other hand, will unsurprisingly reject the testimony out of hand and try to justify that in any way possible. But, in a hope to exercise some charity, we want to let Storm speak for himself, and that is what we will be doing here. Also bear in mind that Storm does answer many objections to his own experience as well as NDEs in general in an interview.
That moment in the face of death has been forever etched into Storm’s mind. He remembers struggling to say goodbye to his wife and how within those final moments, or so he thought would be his final moments, he wrestled with his many painful emotions, “Telling her that I loved her very much was as much of a goodbye as I could utter because of my emotional distress. Sort of relaxing and closing my eyes, I waited for the end. This was it, I felt. This was the big nothing, the big blackout, the one you never wake up from, the end of existence. I had absolute certainty that there was nothing beyond this life – because that was how really smart people understood it” (7).
This was quite consistent with his atheism that he had embraced for most of his life, “I was quite committed to the notion that there was no God. I didn’t have any doubt in my mind that it was true. And because I was a university professor, and I’m out with other professors with the same worldview, we all shared and supported one another in those views …I was very committed to an Atheist point of view” (8). Storm even concedes that he was hostile to every form of religion and those who practiced it. He also found that he suffered from a lack of joy and easily fell into bouts of anger. He was committed to “science” (better known as scientism) and that was, he thought, enough to justify skepticism over belief in God and religion. Clever people just didn’t believe in ancient superstitions.
However, in 1985, and at the age of 36, everything would change as Storm would have a NDE in hospital that was brought on by a perforation of the stomach. He remembers falling into an unconscious state after which he then unexpectedly opened his eyes, “This wasn’t what I expected, this wasn’t right. Why was I still alive? I wanted oblivion. Yet I was looking at a thing that was my body… Now knowing what was happening, I became upset. I started yelling and screaming at my wife, and she just sat there like a stone. She didn’t look at me, she didn’t move – and I kept screaming profanities to get her to pay attention. Being confused, upset, and angry, I tried to get the attention of my room-mate, with the same result. He didn’t react. I wanted this to be a dream, and I kept saying to myself, “This has got to be a dream.””
Storm was well aware that this wasn’t a dream though, “I knew that it wasn’t a dream. I became aware that strangely I felt more alert, more aware, more alive than I had ever felt in my entire. All my senses were extremely acute. Everything felt tingly and alive… Then I heard my name. I heard, “Howard, Howard – come here.” The voices calling his name came from outside the hospital room. He recalls following these voices believing that they were taking him to a doctor. He couldn’t quite understand what the hell was going on. However, he followed the voices and saw what he describes as pale humanoid creatures that urged him to go down the hallway, “They were more like silhouettes, or shapes… they appeared to possess no special non-human or super-human abilities.” However, the creatures were evasive and became increasingly hostile, “It seemed to be, almost, a game for them, with me as the center-piece of their amusement.” They began to strike at and bite him. After enduring this for a while he then heard a voice from inside him saying “Pray to God.” His responded to that, “”I don’t pray. I don’t know how to pray”… The situation seemed utterly hopeless, and I seemed beyond any possible help whether I believed in God or not. The voice again told me to pray to God.”” So, finding no alternative, Storm prayed to Jesus and the hostile beings backed away, “It was dark, and I was alone yelling things that sounded churchy. It was pleasing to me that these churchy sayings had such an effect on those awful beings.” He recalls lying in this state for a long time, “I was in such a state of hopelessness, and blackness, and despair, that I had no way of measuring how long it was… I knew then that this was the absolute end of my existence, and it was more horrible than anything I could possibly have imagined.”
However, after some time he called out for Jesus, someone whom he had never believed in and thought was mostly just religious superstition, to save him, “Then a most unusual thing happened. I heard very clearly, once again in my own voice, something that I had learned in nursery Sunday School. It was the little song, “Jesus loves me, yes I know …” and it kept repeating. I don’t know why, but all of a sudden I wanted to believe that. Not having anything left, I wanted to cling to that thought. And I, inside, screamed, “Jesus, please save me.” That thought was screamed with every ounce of strength and feeling left in me.”
When Storm did that he saw a tiny light emerge in the darkness, “Not knowing what it was, I presumed it must be a comet or a meteor, because it was moving rapidly.” But he then realized that it was coming toward him rather quickly, and the closer it got the brighter it became, “When the light came near, its radiance spilled over me, and I just rose up – not with my effort – I just lifted up. Then I saw – and I saw this very plainly – I saw all my wounds, all my tears, all my brokenness, melt away. And I became whole in this radiance. What I did was to cry uncontrollably. I was crying, not out of sadness, but because I was feeling things that I had never felt before in my life.”
Storm suddenly “knew a whole bunch of things” about this odd light, “I knew that this light, this radiance, knew me… I understood that it knew me better than my mother or father did. The luminous entity that embraced me knew me intimately and began to communicate a tremendous sense of knowledge. I knew that he knew everything about me and I was being unconditionally loved and accepted… I could feel it holding me. But it was loving me with overwhelming power… After what I had been through, to be completely known, accepted, and intensely loved by this Being of Light surpassed anything I had known or could have imagined. I began to cry and the tears kept coming and coming. And we, I and this light, went up and out of there.”
In his full testimony he explains how this light, which he believes was Jesus, took him to a place where other holy and spiritual beings were present though he was quite certain where he was taken to wasn’t heaven, “I never saw God, and I was not in heaven.” He interacted with these beings even though he felt very ashamed of being in their presence because of their holiness. But these beings loved him, accepted him, and dialogued with him for what seemed like a very long time, “It felt like they were closer to me than anyone I had ever known.”
Then something happened to Storm that I find to be quite interesting: these beings wished to talk about his life, “To my surprise my life played out before me, maybe six or eight feet in front of me, from beginning to end. The life review was very much in their control, and they showed me my life, but not from my point of view… They were trying to teach me something, but I didn’t know it was a teaching experience, because I didn’t know that I would be coming back. We just watched my life from beginning to the end. Some things they slowed down on, and zoomed in on and other things they went right through. My life was shown in a way that I had never thought of before. All of the things that I had worked to achieve, the recognition that I had worked for, in elementary school, in high school, in college, and in my career, they meant nothing in this setting. I could feel their feelings of sorrow and suffering, or joy, as my life’s review unfolded. They didn’t say that something was bad or good, but I could feel it. And I could sense all those things they were indifferent to… What they responded to was how I had interacted with other people. That was the long and short of it. Unfortunately, most of my interactions with other people didn’t measure up with how I should have interacted, which was in a loving way. Whenever I did react during my life in a loving way they rejoiced… Every time I got a little upset they turned the life’s review off for awhile, and they just loved me. Their love was tangible. You could feel it on your body, you could feel it inside you; their love went right through you. I wish I could explain it to you, but I can’t.”
Storm asked these beings a number of questions relating to the Bible, his skepticism, the future, war, free will, suffering, as well as some other things. They patiently took the time to explain and answer his questions of which Storm gives in his testimony. Eventually a time came when these beings said that he needed to return to Earth. But he didn’t want to go back and thus he resisted but was nonetheless sent “And, just like that, I was back. Returning to my body, the pain was there, only worse than before.”
Many people, notes Storm, remain skeptical of his experience, “It’s pretty painful when people tell me I’m crazy, or I hallucinated, or I’m fabricating all this, or I’m doing all this for profit.” But Storm says that he not only knows what he experienced was real but that he also needed the lesson because of the life he was living, “God allowed me to experience that, and then removed me, because he saw something redeeming in putting me through the experience. It was a way to purge me. People who are not allowed to be pulled into darkness, because of their loving nature, are attracted upwards, toward the light.”
Storm ended up rejecting the atheism that he had embraced for so many years, and went on to become involved within a church, entered the seminary, and was ordained. He also became a pastor, “consequently, I became very involved in the church and felt that I was called in the ministry of the church. So after my experience I went back to the university and after a few years I left the university and went to seminary so I could be trained and qualified for the ministry. I went to Methodist seminary for three and a half years and graduated. I was ordained in certain churches as a full-time pastor for 22 years.”
1. Howard Storm Official Website. Available.
2. Ring, K. & Valarino, E. 1998. Lessons from the light.
3. Cressy, J. 1994. The near-death experience: Mysticism or madness. p. 19-34.
4. Gibson, A. 1993. Echoes from Eternity: New near-death experiences examined. p. 258, 270, 305; Gibson, A. 1994. Journeys beyond life: True accounts of next-world experiences. p. 210-229, 258; Gibson, A. 1999. Fingerprints of God: Evidences from near-death studies, scientific research on creation, and Mormon theology. p. 101-102, 188-189, 209.
5. Atwater, P. 2007. The big book of near-death experiences. p. 245.
6. Mays, R. & Mays, S. 2008. “The phenomenology of the self-conscious mind” in the Journal of Near-Death Studies, 27(1), 5-45. p. 33.
7. Storm, H. Reverend Howard Storm’s Near-Death Experience. Available.
8. Tsakiris, A. What happened when this atheist art professor had a near-death experience? Available.