A four year old experiences heaven during a near death experience. In 'Heaven Is For Real' his father lets us in on the story.
There are numerous stories bouncing around the internet purporting that individuals have, for whatever reason, visited heaven or hell and have returned to tell their story. Such stories are often interesting to hear, and often give different descriptions of what the ‘other place’ looked like, what happened there, and why they ‘returned’. Skeptics have condemned these stories as fantastical, and there is much to support this viewpoint. Questions often asked include: how can you be sure it wasn’t a dream or hallucination? how do we know that it is not all an invented scheme? Surely the money incentive of selling these stories corrupts any actual happenings, as details are added in to make it more convincing? Why would God allow or determine such events to happen?
‘Heaven Is For Real’ is impressive in the way that the author poses most of these questions and tries to answer them. In fact, the book became a New York Times Bestseller in the non-fiction section. Many have been convinced by this striking story that offers an interesting take on heaven from the unusual perspective of an eyewitness.
In 2003 at the age of 4, Colton Burpo suffered a burst appendix. Colton’s parents initially suspected that he had the flu, but as his condition worsened it became clear that the illness was life-threatening. All in all, Colton spent 17 days in hospital, but what was to happen during that time was peculiar yet life changing.
After leaving the hospital, Colton talked of a heavenly experience that had occurred while he was in surgery. Initially his parents dismissed his stories as the tales of any Sunday school attending toddler with a healthy imagination. It was only when he began to share insights and knowledge of events that he could not possibly have known, that his parents sat up and took him seriously, piecing together the details of his story.
Colton talked of meeting a ‘sister’ in heaven who had no name and kept on hugging him. This came up a conversation with his mother, when he remarked about the ‘baby who died in your tummy; - referring to a miscarriage that he had not been told about. As his mother says ‘who would try to explain a miscarriage to a four year old?’ This revelation brought peace to his parents, who say they look forward to meeting their daughter in heaven.
Todd Burpo is a pastor and is the author of ‘Heaven Is For Real’; perhaps most crucially he is Colton’s father. The experience Colton recounted to him included meeting a man named ‘Pop’ who asked ‘Are you Todd’s son? ...because I’m his grandfather’. As Colton explained that ‘Pop’ and his father got on very well and used to make things together, Todd became more and more astounded - he had never told Colton anything about ‘Pop’. The story was confirmed when Colton recognised a picture of ‘Pop’ from the 1940s.
A third specific story: Colton saw his father praying ‘from up there’ and recounted this to his father, explaining where he was and what he was praying. According to Colton, it was because of this prayer that Jesus said he had to return to life. The prayer Colton described happened while he was under anaesthetic, and Todd told nobody, not even his wife, about it.
With these three stories standing out among many other bits of information relayed by Colton over the years, Todd started to compile material for his book. Initially having no plans to write such a book, friends encouraged by the story persistently asked him to write one in order to share the story with a much wider audience.
Colton continues to recount his experiences when asked. His father puts any minor changes in the stories down to an increase in vocabulary that has been a natural progression as his son has grown up in the nine years that have elapsed since his son’s encounter with death and heaven.
The Burpo family continues to live in Imperial, Nebraska. Todd continues to Pastor ‘Crossroads’ Church despite the fame and success that has come as a result of his book.
Speculation and Cynicism
As is to be expected, this message of this book has not been universally well-received. Skeptics have ranged from those who would called themselves committed Christians to those who want to distance themselves entirely from the faith.
Issues raised include the lack of consistency with Scripture alleged by some readers. Others counter this by suggesting that most of the material in ‘Heaven Is For Real’ is neither confirmed nor denied by the Bible.
Some say that the Burpos have completely invented the story, and that Colton has been brainwashed into going along with it. Evidence for this view can be found, some say, by examining Colton’s demeanour and 'practiced' answers in interviews.
There are a number of ways you might go about dismantling this story from different perspectives. However, many people have been encouraged by its message, so I suggest that you give it read before attacking its content.
I’ve covered this partly already, but here I’d like to stress just how popular this book is.
Released in 2010, ‘Heaven Is For Real’ hit the big time as the No. 1 seller on Amazon. Sales quickly exceeded 1.5 million, and continue to grow as readers have welcomed this unique story.
‘Heaven Is For Real’ has also served to spark heightened debate over the nature of heaven. The widespread perception of heaven as a place in the clouds far away is being changed by popular books such as ‘Love Wins’ by Rob Bell.
The Lord’s Prayer asks ‘your will be done, on earth as in heaven’ - can heaven break into the here and now? When we die, will everyone go to heaven?
‘Heaven Is For Real’ touches on such a popular topic for debate, I think it’s really worth taking its perspective into account.
Read ‘Heaven Is For Real’.
Enjoy the story.
Decide whether it is consistent with Scripture for yourself.
Think about how this story could impact your life, and your perception of heaven.
April 5th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Peter Harrison