As a pastor I am asked many questions. Questions about doctrine, theology, apologetics and even sports (which are my favorite ones to answer). Then there are questions that take a little more time to respond to. Which is why I am finally responding to a question that has been asked of me many times; “Pastor, what is your take on the movie and book ‘Heaven is for real'”?
At first take it was quite easy for me to make a final analysis as to what I thought concerning this story. I had my opinion(s). Better yet, I could easily take and hold to the responses of some of Christianity’s top theologians and preachers and adopt them as my own (response by David Platt). However that still wouldn’t suffice as my personal response. So instead of making assumptions and opinions that I knew nothing about, I thought I’d go see the movie for myself and start from there.
I do realize that the book and the movie are a bit different. Different in the fact that the book will give more of an elaboration of detail in which this little boy (Colton Burpo) experienced and saw. With this in mind, I wanted to write down certain “specifics” that stood out to me in the movie. Specifics that occurred in the life of this 4 year old boy. So instead of reaching for the popcorn, I reached for my iPhone and began to jot down notes during the movie. Due to many details in this story I could not write them all down. Instead I noted the particular experiences described in the movie that stood out to me the most.
Before I begin allow me to give some personal thought. What makes a movie and story like “Heaven Is For Real” difficult to contest, is the fact that it is an intimate testimony of someones life. How do you tell an individual or a family, “No, you didn’t experience that, it was all in your psyche”? If we were not personally present in this families life during this occasion, how could we truly know what they actually experienced and went through? With this in mind I had to approach the indicated as an investigator as well as a theologian. I could not allow emotions to get in the way of dividing this story from “fact to experience”. It was very easy to feel the emotions and struggles of a pastor and his family trying to make ends meet due to the fact that they were in ministry. I know how that personally feels all too well. It was also very easy to feel the emotion of loving parents that aspired to protect and support their children while others talked about them behind their backs (even that I know all too well). To feel the pain of the pastor when his church council board sat him down and told him they were in the stages of searching for another shepherd, allowed the viewer to get a better grip of understanding the challenging season that the pastor and his family were going through. However being in ministry and being able to relate to a families struggles does not grant a concession to this story to being authentic and sealed tight. Emotionalism could not and should not play a role in trying to find facts and developing a conclusion.
Therefore we must approach these stories and experiences with caution. As believers in Christ we must learn to not take our “experiences” and put them up against God’s Word. Instead we must put God’s Word up against our “experiences”. Will the Scriptures answer every unexplainable event or incident? No. Will Scripture give us an answer for every supernatural happening people forbear? Not at all. What we can be assured of is that Scripture is consistent and can help one to discover as to what is truth and what is mere experiential. That being said, here are the few instances in the movie that stood out to me and merit a response.
During the movie there was a funny scene when the family was singing the song “This little light of mine” while driving in their car. While they were singing, Colton asked, “can we sing ‘We Will Rock You’“? The family then proceeded to sing “We will rock you” (keep this instance in mind). After his out of body experience to heaven, Colton began to relive his experience through words. He spoke about and explained how he saw hundreds of angels that were around him. He made it clear that when the angels saw him (Colton) that the angels begin to sing to him. In hearing the angels singing to him, Colton responded by asking the angels, “can you sing we will rock you?” This leads me to ask this question; do angels sing to the saints in heaven? Are there any Scriptural references of angels singing songs to humanity? I would possibly understand a little better if Colton were to have said that the angels sung for him. However he said they sung to him. Ironically I could not find any Scriptural implication that angels sang or sung to the saints of God. On the contrary, in Scripture we only find angels singing to one person alone, that being God (Job 38:7; Luke 2:13-14; Revelation 5:11; 5:8-11; 5:13; 15:1-3). Another thing we must consider is would a person (a 4 year old boy included) have the mentality to ask the angels of heaven to sing a song like “We will rock you” in the presence of complete holiness? Would a secular song be in the minds and consciousness of individuals that have entered the presence of a righteous God? It would be fair to say that, even though I have not been to heaven myself, that anything of this world, its philosophies, ideologies or its worldviews would be obsolete and absolutely non-existent in the domain of God’s Kingdom. Therefore music that would not give God glory would not be in the conscience or sub-conscience of an individual (or angel) who would be in the presence of the One to be praised. We would no longer have the mind of the world but the mind of Christ that very instant!
As Colton continued to explain his experience in heaven, he indicates that he was introduced, by Jesus, to certain people. One of which was his sister that was never born. During the movie we come to learn that his mother had an unfortunate miscarriage and thus lost their first born child while in the womb. According to Colton, while helping his mother fold clothes, he surprises her by telling her the story of meeting his sister. The mother proceeds to ask Colton to describe what her child looked like. He mentioned that she was young and had red hair (like her mom). As the mother went to tears in hearing the story, she then asked, “what was her name”? Colton goes on to mention that she (his sister) did not have a name because her mom and dad did not name her. As we step back to consider this part of the story, one could easily come to the logical conclusion that according to Colton, there are people in heaven that possibly do not have names! Especially little babies that were never born nor given a name by their parents. Is this biblically possible? Is it possible that there are saints in heaven that are nameless? Amazingly enough according to Scripture, the Lord not only knows us, but He has called us by our name (Isaiah 43:1; John 10:3; Jeremiah 1:5)! If Jesus was to truly introduce siblings, it would only seem logical that He would introduce the each of them by name. In a recent interview with Megyn Kelly on Fox News “The Kelly File”, now 14 year old Colton, described how he met his sister for the first time in heaven (watch here). What will stand out to you during this interview was how he responded in his body language when his sister came up to hug him (starts at time 1:40). While in heaven he states that as his sister came to hug him, he not being the hugging type, relented back from returning the hug. Again this detail happened while in heaven. Thus the question must be asked; wouldn’t heaven be the place that joy, peace and indescribable excitement take over our being and emotions? Even at 4 years old wouldn’t the response of anyone hugging you be one of hugging back and rejoicing that you are in the presence of the Savior? Wouldn’t there be a sense of family? Would any reactions that we once held on earth (reluctance, hesitation, diversion, caution, etc) be acted upon in heaven? Especially in the presence of God? I would concur that it would not. I would think that meeting your sister (though you didn’t know her) would bring joy! Even if you were 4 years old. Our emotions that we once held in the flesh are now taken over by the Spirit of God in the presence of God.
The big moment that I think people awaited was Colton’s reaction to meeting and seeing Jesus for the first time (at least it was mine). His story about meeting Jesus, the Savior of the world, was not what I expected. In describing this meeting with his dad, Colton stated, “I saw Jesus. He was very nice”, while getting to sit on His lap. That was it. Nothing more. He not only met Jesus and described his meeting with Him, but he also met his great-grandfather. In reacting to meeting his great-grandfather “Pop”, he tells the story to his dad and states, “I met Pop. He was very nice”, while also sitting on his lap (sound familiar?) Why would this part of the testimony stand out to me? Because it would seem that there would be an absolute different response between meeting a great-grandfather and meeting the person Jesus. Would the response “very nice” be used to describe the meeting of both a great-grandfather and the Creator of all mankind? Or would seeing the real Jesus bring forth a completely different response and emotion altogether? Granted I realize that Colton was 4 years old, but in the presence of Christ, age would only be a number. There would not be a “process” of maturing in heaven. In other words, 4 year old boys would no longer think or comprehend like 4 year old boys. We would now have the mind of Christ! We will be like Him! When we truly see the Lord for the first time, according to Scripture we will see Him as He is. 1 John 3:2 states, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” Jesus will not be seen as the “humanoid version” as now 14 year old Colton described Him on Fox News’ Hannity (see interview here. Statement is found at time 2:50). He will be seen as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords!
The Picture Of Jesus
During the ending of the movie there was a clip of the dad (Todd Burpo) in the backyard on his laptop watching an interview on CNN of a girl in the Netherlands by the name of Akiane Kramarik, that allegedly had a near death experience herself. It was said that since the time of her experience she began to draw detailed pictures of what she saw in heaven. One of which was a drawing of Jesus (see below). As the clip of the CNN interview with Akiane was shown in the movie, the camera panned to Colton’s face while he was watching the interview with his dad. When Akiane’s picture of Jesus came up, Colton gasped and stated, “That’s Him..that’s Jesus”. What’s ironic to me is how most pictures of Jesus look almost the same. Long or wavy hair, beautiful eyes, flawless skin, and white. Yet Jesus was from Nazareth. Middle eastern. It is possible that He could have had olive skin color. The Bible however describes Jesus in this way. Isaiah 53:2, “For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” (Other Scriptures to reference: Revelation 1:15; 1:13-14; Daniel 10:5-6; Genesis 49:10-12) If the accounts of both Akiane and Colton are true, then their description of the person of Jesus absolutely contradicts the Scriptures altogether. Unfortunately people assume that we will behold 33 year old Jesus when we get to heaven. That would not be the case at all!
Finally at the conclusion of the movie, the scene is now on the dad (Todd Burpo) preaching a sermon at his church. In the sermon he described his sons experience in heaven and made this comment, “Was Colton in heaven? Yes! He was in the heaven that God showed him”. The heaven that God showed him? The question now must be asked; would God show us a different heaven? Or a different form of heaven? Or show heaven to a 4 year old boy just to again release him back to earth? As Jesus made mention in the Gospel of John chapter 3 verse 13, “No one has ascended into heaven, but He (meaning Jesus) who descended from heaven: the Son of Man”. We must also keep in mind what John 14:2-3 states, “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would not have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also”.
Therefore, what would be the purpose of giving a glimpse of heaven just to return? We just read that when we are with Christ, we will be with Him forever! I don’t biblically see where Christ will let someone, even a 4 year old boy for that matter, sit on His lap, show him heaven and all the grandeur of the Kingdom, just to send him back. I recognize that we all desire to know what heaven will truly look like. I realize that there is a part of us that wishes this story was “real”. Unfortunately when we place Scripture against this experience, despite the amazing testimony, despite the detailed occurrences of that interesting day, it still does not coincide with nor match up to Biblical interpretation. So what was it? How do we explain it? Was he lying? Are we too closed minded as to what God is able to do? My response to these questions; stick with Scripture, for it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). We might not be able to have answers to everything in life, but what we do have is the Word of God, and the truth that when we see Jesus for the first time, we won’t have to come back to earth, for we made it HOME! Heaven is for real…
Until Next Time- Pastor Sammy