Sunday, April 10, 2011

Book Review - Heaven is for Real.

The latest book to top the lists (indeed the New York Times best seller list) is called Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, by Todd Burpo, Sonja Burpo and Colton Burpo.

Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and BackAs I read through Heaven is for Real, I became increasing attached to the Burpo family. I wanted only the best for them. I felt vested in their story and was honestly pleased to think of them financially profitting from it. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The book describes a story of a family, specifically their son Colton, who are a pretty typical Midwestern family. Living in Imperial, Nebraska the family seemed to be the average family: Working parents with two kids that are just trying to make ends meet. And by "making ends meet", I mean working two jobs and still not quite having enough to pay every bill every month.

After Todd, the father and a priest, had gone through a particularly trying year -- breaking his leg, not able to work in his side business due to injury and having a mastectomy {yes, the father had a mastectomy} -- the family was in need of a little family time away from the stresses plaguing their lives. The weekend away did not, however, provide the respite needed.

On vacation, Colton became ill. Very ill. Extremely ill. As all parent's do, they struggled with determining the severity of his situation. They waited thinking the next day he'd improve. When he continued to decline they took him home to their hospital where the doctors misdiagnosed him with the stomach flu. The Burpos continued to watch their son decline. After a few days of gut-wrenching uncertainty, the Burpos moved Colton to another hospital where it was determined his appendix had burst days ago. He needed emergency surgery. Railing against God for this Job-like testing, as Colton was wheeled into the operating room screaming, Todd thought he'd seen his son for the last time.

Against all odds, and through multiple surgeries, Colton miraculously recovered. The caliber of the miracle would not begin to be revealed till months later when Colton revealed to his family that he had been to Heaven. Over the course of time Colton would open up and share details of his experience; offering preternatural knowledge of things about which, his family says, Colton had no prior knowledge. As Todd described it, Colton's revelations came in the sort of call-it-as-you-see-it way of preschoolers who have not yet "learned either tact or guile." From details about Heaven to interactions with family members who passed on prior to Colton's birth, this story is one which invites the reader into contemplation of mystery.

The Burpos demonstrate an amazing sense of humility and circumspection in the narrative. They tread carefully with Colton letting him tell his story as he was ready. Seven years passed from the first inklings of Colton's experience to the publishing of the book. This was not a rush to the presses to make a quick buck. The Burpos understand that this story is a gift. They treat it gingerly and respect that, in order to maintain credibility, it must be told in bits, over time, and Colton was ready to share.

Here's a brief synopsis of what Colton shared with his family over the course of years:
  • He sat in Jesus’ lap.
  • He met his unborn sister (a miscarriage - his parents never told him about).
  • He saw John the Baptist.
  • There is a coming battle with Satan.
  • There are thousands of colors we have never seen.
  • He met his great granddad (who told him things about his father that he could not know).
  • He saw Jesus’ “marks” on his hands and feet.
  • All the people had wings of various sizes (including Colton) and flew around (except Jesus who moved up and down as if on an escalator).
  • Jesus had the most beautiful eyes, a beard, a white gown, a purple sash, and a crown.
  • All the people had a light above their head.
  • Jesus sits on a throne at the right hand of God and Gabriel is on the left.
  • He sat by God the Holy Spirit (who he could not describe) and explained to his dad that God is a Trinity.
  • It never gets dark in heaven because God the Father and God the Son are the lights.
  • There were all kinds of animals everywhere.
  • Nobody is old in heaven and no one wears glasses.
  • Jesus “shoots” power down from heaven to his father while he is preaching (like I hope he is doing for me while I am blogging!).
  • The gates to heaven were made of gold and pearls.
  • He was actually only there for three minutes (timelessness in heaven?).
This is not a book that affected my faith. I do not need a first-hand account to know that heaven is indeed real. The very foundation of my faith is based upon the fact that heaven is indeed real and that, despite my sin, I will one day be welcomed by God with open arms. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about heaven and the love God has for all his children. It is an up-lifting and hopeful story {though the hospital portions had me crying like a baby}.

I do not suggest this book as a conversion tool or a life-changing read {though the hubs, a life-long Christian, was clearly affected by it}. And I certainly don't recommend this book as a basis for theological discernment about either the afterlife or the end of time. We already have a book for that.

But take this book for what it is: a sweet story of the love of parents for their child, the care of Christians for each other in times of crisis, and the amazing and unending grace of God. This book is a wonderful illustration of exactly that.

And can't we all use a little more of that!

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