(Heaven really is for real)
Now that we’ve established that, let’s talk about the movie, shall we? So this was the third epic Christian movie that was released this year. I think they were all released around the same time, kind of like how Netflix releases every episode of it’s original shows all at the same time. Mass consumption and binge watching anyone? I don’t think I could have sat through all three movies in a day though . . . I digress.
Here is my disclaimer about this post: I am not a theologian. In fact, I think that the more I read the Bible the less I understand it. So, but for one (maybe two) instance, I am not going to deal with the doctrine issues raised by this film. Also, I have not read the book, only seen the movie.
So, if you read my last two posts about the Noah movie and “God’s Not Dead” then you know I wasn’t particularly excited about watching this one. I left it for last on purpose because I expected the cheese factor to be through the roof and I figured I was going to need a lot of wine to go with said cheese. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the movie, though. The Christian film industry better be careful, it’s now got two decent ‘don’t-look-like-they-were-filmed-on-a-flip-camera-and-directed-by-a-ten-year-old’ movies under it’s belt (to be clear, the other movie I’m referring to is “Mom’s Night Out“). The bar is officially raised, people. I think that Todd Burpo should be very proud of how his book was represented — although, again, I haven’t actually read the book, so . . . maybe not.
We meet the heaven-traveling Colton near the beginning of the film while his mom (pastor’s wife) hosts the church choir in her living room. I rolled my eyes at that scene, but Rocky was quick to point out how realistic it was. Smalltown, USA means First Small Church of Smalltown, which means, the rather unlikely group of women screeching “Come Thou Fount” probably meets in Smalltown Pastor’s house. So I got passed it, and focused on the cutest little boy I’d seen in that five minutes (I’m biased), howling like a dog with his father to drown out the mismatched harmonies of the ladies inside the house. He won my heart right there.
In keeping with the choppy-ness of books-turned-movies, there were moments where things happened quickly, for example, the pastor, Todd Burpo (based on the author and real-life father of the book, and played by his excellency, Greg Kinnear) experienced multiple physical ailments in about a three minute time span. It was kind of overwhelming, but I understand that they were trying to set the backdrop for the rest of the story. Todd went through financial and physical setbacks and then, whammo, his son’s appendix bursts and he’s taken to the emergency room to fight for his life, and apparently, take a nice long walk with Jesus. The stage for Todd’s crisis of faith had to be set.
When sweet, little, puckered lips, Colton wakes up and has an amazing story and descriptive images of spending the day in heaven with Jesus, everyone’s faith is tested. Dad wants to believe him, mom passes it off as a dream, the church board is offended and if I may say, frightened by the reality of it. Did Colton really go to heaven? But he didn’t die, his heart never stopped. How could he have gone to heaven? Burpo says from the pulpit, “ I stand here today with wounds that are still healing, doubts that are still echoing. Was Colton in Heaven? Yes. He was in the Heaven that God showed Him. Is Heaven for real? Because if it is, wouldn’t we live different lives? ” (sidebar, I can’t even touch the last sentence in this quote. Not yet. Lots to think on.) I think that quote is key. “He was in the Heaven that God showed Him.” There are certain things that Colton woke up knowing after his surgery that happened while he was unconscious on the operating table. If you believe in the Holy Spirit’s gift of prophecy, then this is not a stretch for you to imagine. Same with the fact that Colton had sudden knowledge of the sister that never made it out of the womb, and the grandfather that he’d never seen in his four years. “Everyone is young in Heaven,” (Can we all stop and sing Hallelujah?) Colton says. I believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt that Colton had a supernatural experience with Jesus (instance one in the journey we will never take called “Theology with Julie”). Did he see the real Heaven? He saw the heaven that God showed him. That’s what’s important. Stranger things have happened in this world. Elijah, for example. He was simply whisked away from this world, making another appearance during the Transfiguration in Matthew 17, no death or burial on record. If you really want far-fetched, take a few days and read Revelations. God showed Colton something and that something was a pretty big deal.
It was interesting to me that so many people doubted Colton’s story, but at the same time, it made both Rocky and I uncomfortable to watch. Isn’t it strange that after shouting from quite a large platform “God’s not dead”, Christian culture begs the question, “Is Heaven really real?” Is God who He says He is? Can He really do something so grand as to show a little boy a sneak peak behind the veil between mortality and eternity? Hmmm. Interesting indeed.
The celestial scene in the movie could have been cut or alluded to in a way that didn’t have the little boy staring into a sky of quickly moving clouds and bright shiny angels . . . that was a bit much, but maybe we needed to be reminded that this wasn’t a Hollywood-produced film. Got it. Thanks. Beyond that though, while I believe that what Colton saw was what God intended to show him, it’s still . . . unnatural. It defies our human understanding, which I think may be part of the point. God is the God of the impossible, and I believe He delights in absolutely blowing our minds with things that don’t make any earthly sense. Maybe He wants to remind us that we are so small, and He is so much bigger than we can ever imagine. But that is an uncomfortable feeling.
About a year ago we watched part of Louie Giglio’s series “Indescribable” where he attempts to show us just how small we really are. I highly recommend the series, but you might want to hold on to something attached to the ground (like a tree) while you watch it, because it is extremely unsettling to see that in the grand scheme of things we are like dust to the universe. With all of our bills and health problems, world hunger and disease, we could be blown away by less than a breath from the heavens. The point of that series is that though we are so small, God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit still love us, watch our every move, and desire to give us every blessing under the sun. Mind. Blown.
I got side tracked again. Sorry. I’ve been sick all week and my brain is still on vacation. Ok, so there is one character who’s consistently struggling with Colton’s story, Nancy Rawling, pianist and church board member whose son died a few years ago. There is a moment with her and Burpo in the cemetery where her son was buried which presented my main theological issue with this movie. In this scene she is expressing her real fears about the nature of Colton’s journey.
Nancy: [I’m mad at God.] Why God would give you your son back and take mine away…
Todd: Do you love your son?
Todd: Do you think I love mine?
Todd: Do you think I love mine more than you love yours?
Todd: Nancy, do you think God loves my son more than He loves yours?
This is a very heartwarming moment for people who believe that there are many paths to heaven, and that repentance and acknowledgement of Jesus’ death and resurrection aren’t necessary in order to get there. Does God love us, everyone? Yes. Of course, but the Bible explicitly states that we have to actively choose Jesus. I wish the film-makers hadn’t sugar coated it. Maybe Nancy’s son was already a Christian, but it’s not stated in the film. The very fact that she asked if Todd thought her son was in heaven alludes to the fact that she didn’t know if he’d received Christ or not. After a quick Google search, I find that the book does not sugar coat the truth at all. I should probably read the book. In fact, anyone who has watched the movie probably should in order to get the correct context and spiritual message intended.
At the end of the movie, while we were both unsettled by the story, I felt an urgency in my heart to believe that it was truth. To believe that Jesus visited little Colton and showed him a world beyond his dreams and that He is still the God of the surprising, that He is always on the move and always willing to stir the pot, to encourage people to become uncomfortable, to doubt even, so that they seek His reality, His supernatural abilities, and to experience Him intimately for themselves. From a cinematic standpoint, I thought the movie was great with a few hiccups here and there. From a spiritual standpoint, I believe that Heaven is for real, and that whatever it was that Colton saw or experienced, was valid and given to him as a gift from the Father.