Heaven is For Real, a movie currently in theaters brings to the screen the 2010 New York Times best seller book with the same title. It depicts the true story of a 4-year-old boy’s visit to heaven. Colton Burpo, the son of a Nebraska based Christian pastor experienced a near death experience while undergoing an emergency surgery. After his life saving surgery Colton shared that while he was unconscious he visited heaven and met Jesus.
The movie highlights the intellectual struggle Todd Burpo, the father played by Greg Kinnear, endures during the recounting of his son’s miraculous outer world visit. Although Burpo is a pastor who teaches the lessons of the bible every Sunday he has a hard time believing his son and is at a loss of what to do with the information his son shares with him. Not only does Colton describe intricate details of heaven and Jesus, he describes in detail meeting deceased family members while in heaven that he had never met on earth.
In one scene in the movie Colton is engaged in a regular conversation with his mother when he begins talking about his sister. While the Burpo’s had two children at the time, Colton and his older sister, he was telling his mom he had two sisters because he met his other sister during his visit to heaven. Mrs. Burpo was brought to tears as Colton had no way of knowing about his other sister as his mother had a miscarriage before he was born. This information had never been shared with Colton or his older sister. In another scene Colton tells his dad that he saw him yelling at God and saw his mother calling her friends asking for prayer. Pastor Burpo knew there was no way Colton could have seen him or his wife because at the time that those actions occurred, he and his wife were in the hospital and Colton was unconscious on the operating table.
Colton describes to his dad in a mature, matter of fact way, that he left his body while on the operating table and was able to observe his parents as well as the doctors working on him. Pastor Burpo vacillates between believing his innocent son and what he thinks to be illogical. In an effort to understand what his son is experiencing the Pastor seeks the advice of a psychologist, however when her explanation falls short he ends up relying on the one thing he does understand, his faith.
The movie brings up the important and sensitive concept of faith and the power of believing in something greater. The Burpo’s and the congregation were comfortable with the fantastical idea of heaven, God and Jesus. However, they struggled with the concept of heaven as a tangible place, recognizing that if they believed there was such a place then there was also, a “hell”. The movie introduces the notion that believing in heaven as an abstract fantasy place is generally more comfortable than believing that heaven is an actual final destination.
The plot of Heaven is For Real is enriched by the addition of another character; a little girl in Lithuania. The young girl, at the same age as Colton, underwent emergency surgery and when she recovered she too talked of her visits to heaven and began painting images of her visit and depictions of Jesus. Pastor Burpo discovers her story online and shares the video and her paintings with Colton who concurs the images the little girl painted from worlds away, was the same Jesus he met in heaven. The discovery that his son was not alone allowed Burpo to grow stronger in his conviction that heaven was a place for real.
If one accepts the fact that there is a heaven, this also means accepting that there is a hell, which most are not comfortable doing. Religion is a sensitive topic but faith is universal, the hope and belief that good will prevail. It was faith that resolved the story in the end. The Burpo’s had to rely on their faith that their son would recover and ultimately had to have faith that his experience was real, as there was no other explanation.
Although the movie is full of Christian images and overtures, anyone who is open-minded, believes in the innocence of a 4-year-old and has a desire to see something positive, may enjoy this film. The overall message of the film is not to convert, but to restore the belief in the good and something greater and encourage a lively conversation of about whether or not heaven is “for real” and ultimately a final destination.
Opinion By Debra Pittman