A few days ago I sped through Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back by Todd Burpo. It’s the book about a three-year-old boy, Colton who said he went to heaven during a surgery that helped save his life. I bought it for a friend who I thought might like a story about heaven in a positive reaffirming light for a change (as opposed to all the Steve Hawkings voices out there). He read it in a day and said he really liked it and so I was anxious to read it too.
I am still trying to decide if I like it or not. On the one hand, it is a nice easy read about a child’s view and personal experience of Jesus and heaven. On the other hand, my Catholic Christian defenses were up throughout most of the book as it contained a few less than theologically correct ideas of Jesus and heaven from a protestant Christian perspective. The good thing is that it gave me a lot to think about! Here are some random thoughts and notes I jotted down after I read it:
- An interesting story—seems possible, yet my unchildlike faith is struggling with it.
- I know heaven is real, but the story Colton told–how he described heaven seems a little too…simplistic and contrived and even too fantastical to be real. Unfortunately the skeptic in me couldn’t help but notice how many of Colton’s descriptions of heaven coincided rather well with what he may have already known about Jesus and heaven by default as a pastor’s son.
Colton shared a very simple picture of heaven and what it takes to get there—Jesus in your heart—that’s all. If you don’t have Jesus in your heart, you can’t go to heaven and if you don’t go to heaven you will not get a new body.
- Apparently, according to Colton, Satan is still trying to get into heaven—angels in heaven fly around with swords to defend heaven from Satan. Also, there will be a battle soon that everyone on earth will also be in. Hmmm…
- Colton said Jesus gave him “homework” to do while there. Everyone there had a job to do. I wonder what his homework was? When I told this to my seven-year old daughter she frowned and said, “But I just want to play with Jesus all day in heaven.”
- He also said he saw a lot of kids there (because of abortion I wondered?) and that no one is old or wears glasses (yes! That’s something I, who am legally blind, can hope for!).
- Everyone had wings and flew around everywhere, except for Jesus who just moved up and down like an elevator.
I scowled through most of the book and almost put it down when I got to the part about Jesus and his rainbow colored horse. It also really bothered me that Mary was not mentioned at first when Colton talked about who he saw with Jesus. He mentioned God the father (Jesus’ Dad), John the Baptist, Gabriel, and the Holy Spirit but yet wouldn’t his mother be one of the first ones he’d see? But then again, maybe he did see her but since he is not Catholic wouldn’t have known to mention her? I finally got a point where I said, “Ok God, this can’t be for real unless your Mother is mentioned.” And sure enough, at the very end of the book, there she was after all; kneeling in front of the throne of God or standing beside Jesus. Though as a Catholic I’ve always envisioned her with a throne of her own next to God’s. However, it’s actually helped me when praying with Mary to envision her bringing my prayers to God the Father and Jesus her son like Colton described.
Colton’s vision may seem too easy and too fluffy but he was after all just under four years old when this supposedly happened. At that age, I wouldn’t expect him to know or describe in great detail all the theological aspects of heaven and Jesus and salvation. I think it was definitely a miracle that he survived and quite possible that he did indeed see Jesus during that time. But, I also have a four-year-old of my own and know all too well how easy it is for truth to be embellished with imagination at that age. Still we are called to be like children and what if it is like that and Jesus does have a rainbow colored horse?
The truth is, there are a lot of details missing from the picture Colton painted but in the end, it really is simple. Heaven is real. God the father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all there. And all it takes to get to heaven is Jesus-He is the only bridge we need to get across from this world, over the trolls that live under the bridge, and into paradise—a place no human mind could completely fathom or describe—even if we were to go there and back. My friend, Mary, summed it up well.
“…this is a 4 year old boy trying to describe Heaven in earthly terms, not an easy task for any one…. I would imagine despite our best efforts, such an attempt would always fall short. I suppose he could have been lying, the rainbow horse certainly was interesting, but in the end I think the message he kept repeating was an important one…”Jesus loves the little children”. That’s one heck of a message in this world. So, who knows, we don’t have to base our faith on the book, the book does have a protestant angle since the father is a minister, but perhaps when we get to heaven (hopefully, by the grace and mercy of God) we will say “Oh, that’s what he meant…I would have described it better.”