I was given the opportunity to screen this movie in advance of release a few weeks ago, and I am grateful. I didn’t really know what to expect, and to be honest, I really get skeptical with stories like this. I’ve heard a bunch of these experiential “Heaven” stories over the years growing up in the church. So the key, I think, is that you have to come at them from a biblical perspective. What does the Bible say about heaven, and how does it say you get there? (Of course, there are any number of other stories of people that died and claimed to have gone to hell and then were brought back to life.) When you use the Bible as the standard for the measure of Heaven, and look at how it says to get there, and then you look at the stories of people that are telling their story of what they saw on the operating table or during whatever experience. I’ve read a few wild stories and when they contradict (usually) claims of Jesus, I just disregard the story--just fiction.
In this story, a minister’s family struggles financially in a small church. Pastor Todd Burpo does odd fix-it jobs to supplement his income. He is an active community leader, a fire fighter, and loves softball, like any red-blooded American. Life and struggles and sports injuries happen and through it, the family remains strong. Their four year old boy (Colton) falls ill with a high fever, and acute appendicitis. He is rushed to the hospital. Sonja, the pastor’s wife, calls all the people she knows to ask them to pray for her son. Todd goes to the chapel at the hospital and has a pretty honest time with God. He has endured the financial hardships, the injury suffered on the ball diamond, and now he is angry at God, thinking God would take his son from him.
On the operating table, Colton has a vision (The film is clear that he never died on the table, it is a vision) of going to heaven, of seeing angels, of sitting on Jesus’ lap and talking to him. As the story unfolds, Colton describes things that he could not have seen. He was on the operating table. Of course, Todd takes some of this as wild imagination of a child. Pastor Burpo chooses to be skeptical, and he goes to see a psychologist to ask questions of her. He wants to find some way to explain away all of his son’s experiences with reason and logic. He disregards the possibility that his son did have a vision, or that heaven could be real… as he would preach every Sunday. But how could his son describe his mother crying on the phone as she called people to pray? I suppose it’s not too far-fetched for a child that has been to hospitals with his dad, to imagine his mother asking people to pray for him as he is sick. How could he know about his father yelling at God though?
Colton describes other things to his family as well. He meets people in heaven, and is able to confirm details that others wouldn’t know, and at the very least they are things that Colton didn’t know.
As Todd comes to grips with the possibility of his son having a vision of heaven, he begins to share the ideas in church, and rather than embrace the hope of heaven that Christians should, there is more opposition from them to the point of wanting to have him removed as their pastor. Opposition comes from the community in the form of ridicule, and even from Todd’s wife in the form of her needing him to worry about life here, on earth, in the now.
As I watched, I thought “Nothing makes someone question what they really believe like actually coming face to face with it”, and I think that is what this film is about at its base. It’s encouragement to the Christian. It is evidence to the skeptic. It is a feel-good movie of comfort to all that have lost someone.
This is the weak point that I found for the film. There is no clear message of how someone can get to heaven. We are in the lives of a Christian family, but not once do we find out how someone can get to heaven in the film. I imagine that is to reach a wider audience for the film.
It is a great story, and it does make me want to dig deeper into what happened. For the purposes of this blog post, I have not consulted many other sources for perspective, just what I saw in the film, and how that sat with me. I intend to read the book, and look into some of the other perspectives in more detail. I have seen, as usually goes on in the Church, that there is a lot of back and forth arguing over the validity of this film’s story. In the end of it all, the film brings people to the point of discussion about what they believe in the afterlife. Christians especially should come to a bit of comfort resting in their faith of being face to face with their saviour.
What do you think?
Movie Site: http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/heavenisforreal/
Book Site: http://heavenisforreal.net/