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Ex-Atheist Artist Nearly Dies, Recalls Jesus Saving Him From Hell—And Returns to Paint Pictures of the Lord

A former atheist attests to how his belief system was shaken to the core when he experienced meeting Jesus during a near-death experience. He recalled his savior transporting him from a hellish realm to the kingdom of Heaven for a glimpse of what could be earned in life. It was here that he also realized the grave error of his old ways.

Howard Storm, now 75, admits that he had an obsession with success in his earlier years. Raised in a suburb of Boston, he attended school in California before taking a job as an art professor at North Kentucky University in 1972. He became a renowned painter and sculptor, and that pursuit consumed him. Today, Storm is a retired ordained minister and lives with his wife, Marcia, in Fort Thomas.

“I Was My Own God”

“I was an atheist. I thought that lives were short and sweet and then you die, so the whole point was to be as successful as possible,” he told The Epoch Times. “I was an alpha male … I was totally self-absorbed. I considered myself to be a good person because I didn’t flagrantly break the law, rob, steal, or murder anybody. I was my own God.”

But on June 1, 1985, at the age of 38, a brush with death changed Storm’s outlook on life completely.

Epoch Times Photo
A painting by Howard Storm; (Inset) Howard Storm in his early life and more recently. (Courtesy of Howard Storm)

He said, “I was taking a group of art students, along with my wife, on a three week tour of Europe. We spent our last week in Paris. The last day … I exhausted the students, taking them to galleries and museums and some archaeological sites.

“At the hotel … I collapsed to the floor with the worst pain I’ve ever experienced in my life. My wife called the hotel desk, they called the emergency services, and a doctor came in quite promptly. With a great deal of effort, he got me off the floor and examined me … I had to have surgery immediately, or I would die.”

Storm had suffered a perforation of the duodenum, the first part of the small intestine where gastric acids enter the digestive system, and was at risk of having sepsis. The cause of this was never determined, but Storm believes his life of excess—alcohol, overeating, and stress—was to blame.

He was rushed to a Paris hospital. Storm has since conferred with doctors in the United States who suspect that he had only two or three hours to live. Yet he survived ten hours; it was a Saturday, and there were no surgeons on the ward. He had to wait in agonizing pain.

Between Life and Death

“I spent hours begging for drugs,” he recalled. “About once an hour, the nurse would come in and ask me how I was doing, and I would say, ‘I’m dying, I need morphine.’ She’d say she was sorry but no—no doctor, no orders.”

Struggling to breathe, Storm felt he was nearing the end. Tearfully, he and his wife said their goodbyes, before Storm lost consciousness.

“I don’t know how long I was unconscious, but the next thing I knew I was sitting next to the bed and I felt wonderful,” he recalled. “I felt better than I ever felt in my whole life. I was overjoyed, amazed, thrilled, excited. … The next thing I noticed was that my senses were heightened. I could see better, hear better, taste better, feel better—much better than I ever had before.”

Storm performed a “reality check” on his body, feeling his way from his feet to his head. He felt “real.” He tried to communicate with his wife and ward mate; despite raising his voice and even yelling, they stared right through him. Next came a troubling vision: a lifeless body in the bed beside him.

“The sheet went up over the shoulders, the neck, and the head was turned away from me. I bent over and looked at the face of the body, and to my complete horror and surprise it looked like me,” he said.

The horror continued when Storm realized he was not alone in this realm of what he found out was the afterlife.

The Hell Realm

“I heard people calling me outside the room,” he said in a video testimony. “There was a group of people in the dark hallway, back in the shadows, maybe eight … They said, ‘We know all about you, we’ve been waiting for you for a very long time, and it’s time for you to come with us.’”

Storm wanted to believe these were medics, but as he followed the group into a dark abyss their professional demeanor changed, their numbers increased, and their words became cruel, blasphemous, and mocking. Storm became scared and lost.

He said, “I’m going back!” But the figures wouldn’t have it, and they beat him into a crumpled heap on the floor. He found himself in a hellish place, and Storm was compelled to call out to Jesus, despite his atheism. He remembered the format from Sunday school as a child.

Epoch Times Photo
A painting by Howard Storm depicts the strange figures who tormented him in a hellish realm during his near-death experience. (Courtesy of Howard Storm)

“The prayer was very simple: Jesus, please save me. My prayer was from the heart, out of pure desperation, and it was simple and direct,” Storm told The Epoch Times.

In answer to this, a man in a white robe appeared, causing the cursing figures to retreat. The robed figure had “a beard and long hair,” Storm recalled. He was “very well-built, very athletic” and “exceedingly gentle and kind.” This was Jesus. He led Storm to a safer place, bathed in a comforting light.

A Glimpse of Heaven

“He gave me a tour of Heaven but I was never admitted, I was strictly a tourist,” Storm said. “He said, ‘You don’t have the character to fit into heaven, and that’s why life is the way it is.’

“When I asked Jesus, ‘Am I going to go back into the pain?’ He said, ‘Yes, but you will learn from that. You will suffer a lot.’ He wanted me to fulfill the purpose with which I was brought into this world in the first place: to be a loving, kind person.”

Storm woke up, certain in the knowledge that Heaven is vast and ruled by God’s love, and all that is good, and ever will be, is already there. But he had not yet earned his place with his savior.

Epoch Times Photo
A painting by Howard Storm depicts a path with a divine destination. (Courtesy of Howard Storm)
Epoch Times Photo
A painting by Howard Storm depicts Jesus leading his people. (Courtesy of Howard Storm)

An hour later, Storm was on the operating table. Upon his return to the United States, he was readmitted to the hospital for two months, with complications, before being sent home for a months-long recuperation.

Weak and bed-bound, he had time to contemplate his spiritual experience.

“The only thing I could do was read,” he said. “I got my wife to get me a book on Buddhism, and on Hinduism, and I had a Bible. I came to the conclusion that the Bible was much closer to what I’d experienced than the other books, so I decided that I was going the way of Christianity.”

When Storm was strong enough to walk, he took an old colleague up on an invitation to join her at a local church. Storm attended with his wife, and quickly felt at home in the company of others seeking God. Yet finding his own spiritual path was easier than convincing his friends and colleagues in the art world.


“Everybody made fun of me and told me I needed to see a psychiatrist,” he said. “All my friends, all the other university professors were atheists. One of our favorite topics was making fun of people that were religious, as they were the equivalent of adults who believed in fairy tales.”

To be loving toward those who attack you and do not share your same values is a life-long journey, he added, but Heaven is the final destination.

“We’re just really raw amateurs at love,” he said. “When we go to Heaven, as we become perfect, are holy, sanctified, fully and wholly in love, we are given responsibilities. In time, we may be ruling and working in cooperation with God over other systems: people, maybe some cities, maybe some countries, maybe some worlds.”

Epoch Times Photo
(L) A depiction of Jesus by Howard Storm; (R) A recent photo of Howard Storm and his wife. (Courtesy of Howard Storm)
Epoch Times Photo
A heavenly landscape painting by Howard Storm. (Courtesy of Howard Storm)

The year after having his near-death experience, Storm returned to the university. In 1989 he left to attend seminary, eventually becoming an ordained minister. His longest service was 14 years at Zion United Church of Christ in Norwood, Ohio.

His work, he said, even involved exorcising “demonic entities,” counseling people following “demonic attacks,” and championing the power of prayer. “It’s got to be sincere, it’s got to be from the heart, it’s got to be forceful,” he said.

Now retired, Storm works with a village mission in San Victor, Belize. He has written four books based on his experiences: “My Descent into Death” (2005), “Befriend God: Life with Jesus” (2019), “Lessons Learned: A Spiritual Journey” (2014), and “It’s All Love” (2014).

He has rendered several oil paintings about his experience, including portraits of Jesus. But capturing the luminous eyes of the Lord escaped him. “They are radiance, coming from His love and light, and I haven’t figured out how to depict them,” he said.

Today, Storm’s doctrine is simple. He echoes the words of his savior: “Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

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