Have you heard about the woman who saw a shoe on the ledge of a hospital when she was inside the hospital, around the corner from the ledge? Not only that, she was dead at the time. This is according to Kimberly Clark Sharp, a hospital social worker who shared this account about a patient named Maria several years ago at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
A Popular NDE Example
I’ve heard this near-death experience (NDE) account a few times. Recently, I heard it from Gary Habermas in an episode of the Discovery Institute’s podcast Intelligent Design the Future. Andrew McDiarmid interviewed Habermas about the scientific evidence for NDEs in connection to the release of the documentary After Death. I’m familiar with much of Habermas’s research on the evidence for the death and resurrection of Jesus and recommend that you check it out — as well as the ID the Future podcast (I’m a big fan of the Discovery Institute).
Gary Habermas included the NDE about the shoe on the ledge in an essay he wrote in 1996 titled “Near Death Experiences and the Evidence.” In that essay, he stated that “the question of external evidence for NDEs is crucial to any conclusions regarding their being evidence for an afterlife.” So, he believes that NDEs can provide evidence of an afterlife. In other words, NDEs indicate that, when you die, you don’t really die; you go on living in some other place, some other form, or both.
Notice that, in his essay, Gary Habermas specified “external evidence for NDEs.” I think that goes along with something he said in the podcast interview — specifically, that he trusts only what he can verify. He said that, for example, he can’t verify claims that people talked to Jesus during an NDE. So, he’s looking for external, verifiable evidence. That’s why he’s interested in Kimberly Clark Sharp’s account of the shoe on the ledge that Maria says she saw.
What Kimberly Clark Sharp Says Maria Saw
Maria was a heart attack victim who was being treated at the hospital where Kimberly Clark Sharp worked. Sharp wrote an article published in the Summer 2007 edition of the Journal of Near-Death Studies titled “The Other Shoe Drops: Commentary on ‘Does Paranormal Perception Occur in Near-Death Experiences?’” In her article, Sharp recounted that Maria “observed a number of scenes during her resuscitation.” Sharp called it “an out-of-body experience while flatlining.”
The scene that stands out most to Sharp, Habermas, and others is the shoe on the ledge. Maria describes, in detail, a worn blue tennis shoe she saw on a ledge of the hospital. Sharp said she looked for the shoe and eventually found it in a place that Maria couldn’t have seen from where she was inside the hospital. Here’s something Habermas wrote about this incident in his essay: “It would certainly seem that the remote viewing of an object during an NDE is the explanation that best accounts for the data.”
Did Maria Really Die?
Let’s recall how Kimberly Clark Sharp described Maria’s experience:
- Maria “observed a number of scenes during her resuscitation.”
- “an out-of-body experience while flatlining”
Let’s consider the possibilities:
- Maria’s experience occurred before she flatlined or after she was resuscitated (perhaps even during her resuscitation as her heart and brain became more active).
- Maria’s experience occurred immediately after she flatlined — when she was clinically dead.
- Maria’s experience occurred when she was biologically dead (beyond clinical death), and then God miraculously raised her back to life.
Possibilities 1 and 2 best fit Kimberly Clark Sharp’s description: “during her resuscitation” and “while flatlining.” These scenarios do not imply an afterlife. It’s understood that a person can remain conscious for a maximum of 20 seconds after the heart stops beating. There’s evidence that something extraordinary happens in our brains when we’re near death and even shortly after clinical death. Then, consciousness and brain activity cease as the person undergoes biological death.
The evidence points to Maria being, at most, clinically dead and not beyond the reach of medical intervention. It would seem that, if Sharp, Habermas, and others believed Maria to be biologically dead at the time of her experience, they would at least mention — if not downright glory in — the supernatural and divine raising of this dead woman back to life. That’s especially true for Habermas, whose primary field of study is the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Perhaps I’ve missed it, but I don’t hear people talking about resurrection in connection with this story. To me, that implies that they believe Maria was at most clinically dead. Therefore, her experience tells us nothing about an afterlife.
The Shoe on the Ledge
So, we don’t have evidence that Maria was beyond consciousness. But, we still have the issue of the shoe on the ledge. Even if she were fully alive, how could she see something on an outside ledge around the corner when she was inside a hospital room? Recall how Gary Habermas described it: “It would certainly seem that the remote viewing of an object during an NDE is the explanation that best accounts for the data.”
Unlike brain activity around the point of clinical death, remote viewing doesn’t have scientific support; it’s considered pseudoscience. So, how do we explain Kimberly Clark Sharp’s claim that Maria saw the shoe on the ledge? Again, let’s consider the possibilities:
- It’s a coincidence.
- Sharp was not being fully truthful.
- God provided Maria with a supernatural experience.
- The devil provided Maria with a supernatural experience.
Let’s look at each of those possibilities.
The first possibility is that it’s a coincidence. This isn’t likely, considering the details Maria provided about the shoe on the ledge.
The second possibility regarding the shoe on the ledge is that Kimberly Clark Sharp was not being fully truthful. I’m not aware of any corroboration of her story. That doesn’t mean there isn’t corroboration; I’m just not aware of any. Also, she admitted to lying about one aspect of the account.
An Admitted Untruth
In Sharp’s article, she talked about two young men from a college in Canada who visited the hospital to learn more about Maria’s NDE. Sharp wrote, “I showed them from outside the building approximately where I had found the shoe because I could no longer remember which exact window it was. … They pushed me so hard for an exact location that I finally pointed to a window fourth over from the corner. Ironically, this location became my ‘truth,’ but it was a window I chose in order to end the boys’ discomforting persistence that I zero in on one specific spot.”
Carelessness with the Truth
I’m afraid this disqualifies Kimberly Clark Sharp as a reliable witness. If this were a court of law, that admission would damage her credibility and call everything she says into question. It reminds me of something I read about another NDE account in the book Waking Up in Heaven: A True Story of Brokenness, Heaven, and Life Again by Crystal McVea. McVea repeatedly tells people that she died and went to heaven. In her book, she wrote this:
“As long as your brain is still functioning, there’s a chance you can be pulled back from the brink. That’s what happened to me. … Still, I always tell people that I died and came back. … Hey, it’s easier to say I died than to start explaining patient-controlled analgesia and brain receptors.”
As I pointed out earlier, clinical death is a far cry from biological death. To quote one of my favorite movies, “There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive.” Crystal McVea is not respecting that distinction.
Carelessness with the truth is a red flag, even if it seems harmless. If Kimberly Clark Sharp or Crystal McVea (or both) believe it’s okay to tell a so-called white lie because it’s easier, it’s conceivable they could believe it’s okay to tell a “white lie” because it gives people hope or comfort. So, it’s difficult to know what we can believe about their accounts. Also, these deceptions are not harmless ones.
I don’t expect Sharp or anyone else to be sinless or infallible, so I’m not saying that we shouldn’t listen to a word she says. But, I also can’t rule out the possibility that her account of Maria’s experience is inaccurate or untruthful to at least some degree.
The third possibility regarding the shoe on the ledge is that God provided Maria with a supernatural experience. Now we’ve crossed a line from natural to supernatural explanations. This isn’t a problem for me, since I believe God is real. I believe there’s spirit as well as matter and that there are spiritual realms typically beyond our access. Supernatural experiences are indeed a thing. But, what exactly happened to Maria?
Frankly, it’s unclear to me. Kimberly Clark Sharp described Maria’s observation of the shoe on the ledge as “an out-of-body experience.” Gary Habermas described it as “the remote viewing of an object during an NDE.” Let’s test this against what the Bible teaches.
An Out-of-Body Experience?
It seems that Kimberly Clark Sharp believes that Maria could see the shoe on the ledge because she was — in some sense — above the hospital, looking down. Maria’s body was inside the hospital, so the implication is that some part or aspect of Maria was above the hospital and had some capacity to see.
The only passage I can think of that talks about someone being out of the body in any sense is 2 Corinthians 12. Paul wrote in verses 3 and 4, “A man — whether in the body or out of the body I cannot tell, God knows — was caught up into paradise and heard inexpressible words not permitted for a man to say.” The context isn’t death; it’s “visions and revelations” (verse 1). Paul referred to a revelation from God that could have been a physical or mental experience.
Consider these representative examples from the Bible. Elijah went to heaven physically — bodily (see 2 Kings 2:11). God gave John a mental vision of heaven (see Revelation 1). These are the two categories of experiences: physical and mental. If “out-of-body experience” means “mental experience,” that’s consistent with what the Bible teaches. While it would be an odd and misleading way to express it, that concept is biblical. But, if “out-of-body experience” means that some part or aspect of you — the soul, apparently — leaves your body, you’ve created a category not found in God’s word.
The Bible teaches that we’re created with bodies (see Genesis 2:7) and that the repentant will live out eternity with incorruptible bodies (see 1 Corinthians 15). It doesn’t describe a disembodied existence, temporary or otherwise. So, there’s no reason to believe that Paul was talking about an out-of-body experience in 2 Corinthians 12. The best explanation is that he didn’t know whether the vision involved a physical experience or just a mental one. Powerful mental experiences can seem real.
I’m not sure why Gary Habermas uses the term “remote viewing” to describe Maria’s experience. It’s a term of pseudoscience, not science or the Bible. Perhaps he prefers this term to “out-of-body experience,” which I just addressed. Maybe he sees remote viewing as the equivalent of visions and dreams that the Bible records. If so, it’s curious that he uses a pseudoscience term rather than a biblical one.
So, I’m not sure how to address this other than to say that neither science nor the Bible supports remote viewing as a valid experience.
What Would the Purpose Be?
When God provides people with supernatural experiences, He does so with a purpose. God gave Pharaoh a dream about seven fat cows and seven skinny cows, and then He used Joseph to explain the dream, warning that Egypt would go through seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine. With this knowledge, Egypt was able to get through a seven-year famine and not have its population wiped out.
God gave visions to Daniel and John that were rich with imagery and symbolism, and He helped them understand what the visions tell us about the future that’s important for us to know.
God used a dream to warn Joseph (Jesus’ father) that he needed to take his family to Egypt because Herod had ordered the killing of all the male children in the Bethlehem area under two years old.
These instances are representative of how God provides supernatural experiences to people. I struggle to understand how seeing a shoe on a ledge fits this pattern. This incident happened decades ago, and there’s still no significance attached to Maria’s observation of the shoe other than it being evidence of an afterlife. However, the evidence does not suggest that Maria was biologically dead. It’s not evidence of an afterlife.
Maybe the significance is simply that it’s evidence of the supernatural. But, that would be an odd way for God to reveal Himself. It doesn’t fit the pattern that we see in the Bible.
Just because an experience is supernatural, it doesn’t mean that it’s from God. The Bible is clear about this. So, it’s possible that the devil provided Maria with a supernatural experience. But, as far as I’m aware, neither Kimberly Clark Sharp nor Gary Habermas presents this as a possibility. That’s a serious oversight.
The Bible warns us about “false and deceptive visions” (Lamentations 2:14) and says that “false christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24).
While I can’t say for sure that the shoe on the ledge experience is from the devil, I can’t rule out that possibility. He would certainly benefit from people believing nonbiblical ideas and trusting their experience over God’s word.
NDE proponents like to use Kimberly Clark Sharp’s account and similar incidents to illustrate that the supernatural is real and death is not the end. But, we can’t be so eager to communicate a message of hope that we latch on to exciting anecdotes that might lead us down a dangerous path. We must examine them closely, ask the tough questions, and hold them up to what God’s word tells us.