A young boy emerges from life-saving surgery with remarkable stories of his visit to heaven. Heaven Is for Real is the true story of the four-year old son of a small town Nebraska pastor who during emergency surgery slips from consciousness and enters heaven. He survives and begins talking about being able to look down and see the doctor operating and his dad praying in the waiting room. The family didn’t know what to believe but soon the evidence was clear. Colton said he met his miscarried sister, whom no one had told him about, and his great grandfather who died 30 years before Colton was born, then shared impossible-to-know details about each. He describes the horse that only Jesus could ride, about how “reaaally big” God and his chair are, and how the Holy Spirit “shoots down power” from heaven to help us. Told by the father, but often in Colton’s own words, the disarmingly simple message is heaven is a real place, Jesus really loves children, and be ready, there is a coming last battle.
Please don’t hate me.
Heaven is for Real has attracted so much attention, especially now that it is to be a movie, and several of my friends recommended it to me over the past few years. I have a really long ‘to read’ list and only got to it now because one of my book groups decided to read it.
I say this because even though I was a bit skeptical before I began reading, I really REALLY wanted to like it. And I did… until Colton’s descriptions of heaven.
The first part of the book was quite moving. When Burpo suffered through all his medical problems and the family struggled financially, it was heartbreaking. When Colton ended up in the hospital and the community rallied around them, it was inspirational. In addition, it brought back some painful memories for me because as far as a ruptured appendix goes… been there, done that; it really is no fun at all.
Colton’s insides were so contaminated with the poison of the ruptured appendix that Dr. O’Holleran had decided it was best to leave his incision open so it could contain to drain.
Yeah, I’ve done that too. It was weird. I tried to look inside but I think all I saw was a membrane. The upside was that I got to sit in a Jacuzzi a couple times a day for a few days. That was totally worth it!
If you are going to be offended and hate me, please stop reading now. Thanks!
Then came the second half of the book when Colton tells his dad about heaven and what he saw there. I have so many issues, so I’ll begin with the most important one to me.
For the umpteenth time in the nearly two years since Colton first told us the angels sang to him at the hospital, my head was spinning.
Colton had been saying odd things to his parents for almost two years and it seems that every single time he did it, his parents were shocked, speechless, dumbfounded, whatever other synonym you can insert. Don’t you think after about a year they would have gotten used to it? I don’t want to sound insensitive or mean, but at some point I can’t help but think these parents are really thin skinned and easily thrown.
• John the Baptist was nice (!).
• There are lots of colors in heaven (head spinned).
• Jesus is the only one who wore purple and he wears a crown (mind reeled).
• Jesus has the wounds from the nails on the cross (throat nearly closed with tears).
• Jesus sits right next to his dad, God (blew him away).
• Colton prayed for his father while in heaven (took breath away).
• The Holy Spirit shoots down power to Burpo when he is preaching (if thought bubbles were over his head, they would be filled with question marks and exclamation points).
This list is not exhaustive.
I know this seems like such a trivial detail, petty and unworthy of being the most objectionable or annoying straw that broke my back, but it’s the truth.
Then there are the issues I consider to be common sense. For example, the fact that Jesus wears white. The parents were pretty sure that they had never talked to Colton about what Jesus wore and the stories they read were not heavy on detail but rather were more narrative. Sorry, but my BS meter just sky rocketed. Do the Burpos really believe that in all his visits to the church, in all the books that he had looked through, he never saw any pictures of Jesus Christ? And by the way, what other color would Jesus wear?
During this conversation and for the next year or so, Colton could name a lot of the kids he said were in heaven with him. He doesn’t remember their names now, though, and neither do Sonja nor I.
Isn’t that convenient?
Then there are the blatant contradictions. My favorite example is:
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3-4
First, the quote contradicts itself. It starts by stating that only those who change and become like little children will enter heaven. Then it says that those who do so are the greatest in heaven. Greater than who? According to sentence one, there are no others. And what about John 3:16? For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. That clearly states that as long as you believe in Jesus Christ, you are guaranteed a spot in heaven. Trust me; I can do this all day.
But then Burpo goes on to interpret this as those who are child-like are those who lack guile, who would point out loudly that someone has a booger hanging out of his or her nose. I’m not making that up people. It’s on page 74. That’s what it takes to get into heaven. Again, BS meter… DING DING DING.
There are more:
“Yep. Pop came up to me and said, ‘Is Todd your dad?’ And I said yes. And Pop said, ‘He’s my grandson.’”
Why did Pop have to ask? Wouldn’t he have known? I know he died before Colton was born, but it is heaven.
When Colton prayed for a rainbow, God answered and sent one. Burpo’s lesson was that a child’s prayers are answered. So Colton gets a rainbow, but a child praying to save the life of a parent who is dying from cancer is rejected? You see where I’m going with this, right? The natural question is- what is so special about Colton that his requests are granted but other kids’ aren’t? This is a dangerous road to go down.
The bad news is that in heaven, we’ll still look like ourselves. The good news is, it’ll be the younger version.
So if you were ugly when you were 20 years old, you’ll be ugly in heaven forever? What happened to returning our bodies back to the dirt from which it came? If only our spirit goes to heaven, why would it look exactly like our body?
In the war against Satan, “…women and the children got to stand back and watch.” So… we still have gender in heaven even though we no longer have bodies, and we go back to sexism, i.e. women do not fight. Got it.
Also, when Burpo fights in this war against monsters, “…like dragons and stuff,” he will get a sword or a bow and arrow. Interesting. It sort of sounds like the Chronicles of Narnia, doesn’t it? Let’s consider the evidence. In 2005, Burpo took his family to see the movie in the theater. In 2006, they rented and watched the DVD. Three months later, Colton talks about the impending war with Satan in which he made the above comment. The male lead fights with a sword and the female lead fights with a bow and arrow. And Burpo honestly believes Colton was not influenced by the movie? Do I really need to check the BS meter?
Also, does Colton ever NOT know an answer? The father asks him a lot of questions and I can only remember once that he doesn’t know the answer. Sounds a lot like a kid telling his parents what he thinks they want to hear, trying to please them.
I considered getting into the religion of it all as well as looking at it from an intellectual perspective. The only observation I’ll make along these lines concerns Colton’s outcry at a funeral, when he wanted to know if the deceased had Jesus in his heart, because if he didn’t, he couldn’t go to heaven. I wonder what the Burpos think about what Pope Francis said-
“You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith. I start by saying- and this is the fundamental thing- that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience.
“Sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience.”
Believe me, I have so much more to say about this book. I finally decided to leave it at this. I’ve been extremely tough on this book and I feel no desire to rub salt in a wound. Unfortunately, I left with- Why are the Burpos trying so hard to convince us? If the story is true, why not just tell the story?
I fully accept it could be my fault. Maybe the Burpos did just tell the story and I read more into it. However, the way it was written, this review is my honest opinion and I do believe in God. Can you imagine how someone would react to this book who is not Christian or even a believer?
I do not wish the Burpos any ill will and don’t believe they are scammers trying to cash in on their son’s experience because they have medical bills to pay. I am so happy their son survived. In the end, Heaven is for Real preaches to the choir.
Reviewed by Christina
February 24, 2014