The movie Heaven Is for Real that opened in theaters a few weekends ago is based on the book of the same title written by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent. It tells the story of Colton Burpo’s brush with death and subsequent visit to heaven during a serious bout with appendicitis when he was almost 4 years old. Tales of “near death experiences” are nothing new and continue to be met with both skepticism and certitude in equal measure. Instead of automatically discrediting or endorsing these stories, they should be evaluated in light of Scripture. The Bible is God’s Word to us and is infallible. Any personal experience, near-death or otherwise, that contradicts Scripture must be abandoned. It must not be clung to or placed on equal terms with the inspired Word of God.
I haven’t seen the movie so I don’t know how closely it follows the book. However, I did read the book Heaven Is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back. As told in the book, Todd and his wife Sonja did not learn of Colton’s visit to heaven until several months after his ordeal in the hospital. And it came out in a quite nonchalant way as they were in the car going on a trip. In the ensuing months, Colton’s parents delved deeper into his experience being very careful not to place thoughts in his head or words in his mouth. The more details he gave them, the more amazed they were. He told them things that he couldn’t have known such as his mom had miscarried a baby before he was born and his father was in a room alone praying while he underwent surgery.
People debate whether or not these things could have really happened. Some people are adamant that they could not. Just as many are adamant that they could and have happened. As I read Heaven Is for Real, I thought about 2 passages in the Bible. One is found in the book of Ezekiel. In Chapter 8, Ezekiel is in Babylon where he has been a captive for about 5 years. He is “caught up” and taken where he can see what is taking place in Jerusalem and even inside the walls of the Temple there. The other passage I think of is found in 2 Corinthians 12 where Paul talks about being taken up to heaven. He isn’t sure if he had a vision or was actually physically transported there, but either way the effect was the same. He saw things he couldn’t even articulate. So it seems clear to me that God can and has transported individuals to both earthly and heavenly places in ways that may be difficult for us to understand.
After reading the book Heaven Is for Real, the only real scriptural problem I have with it is Colton’s claim that everyone in heaven has wings just like the angels. I believe that the Bible clearly teaches that human beings and angels are different. People do not become angels and receive wings when they go to heaven. They do receive glorified bodies that seem to be similar to earthly bodies, only without the effects that sin ravages on those bodies in the way of diseases and aging. Examples in Scripture indicate that people with glorified bodies are somehow recognizable as who they were on earth.
In a nutshell, I don’t see anything unbiblical in the book (other than the aforementioned wings in heaven). I believe the Burpo’s have shared their son’s story to glorify God and His miraculous ways and not in order to bring any notoriety to themselves or their son. Colton himself, even at the tender age of 4, was adamant that a person must have Jesus in his heart in order to go to heaven which is absolutely biblical. (John 14:6 – “Jesus said, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.'”)
I would encourage you to be careful about judging the Burpo’s story if you’ve only seen the movie. Based on some of the reviews I’ve read, I think the producers have taken some liberties with the story and watered down the message of the book. Read the book and get the real story. Read the book and line it up with Scripture. Read the book and see the glory of the amazing God of the universe. I believe that’s the real message here and the intention of the Burpo family. It’s not about them, their son, or even a miracle. It’s about the God of Miracles!
The Apostle John says it best: “Many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” John 20:30-31