I recently read the book Heaven Is For Real by Todd Burpo, what seems to be the latest in a series of ‘I’ve been to heaven’ books. If you plan to read the book yourself but haven’t yet, be warned, spoilers lie ahead. In the book, the author (who is a pastor) recounts the story of his young son Colton’s brush with death, and how during this time Colton went to heaven and then came back to talk about it. Less of the book than I expected is actually devoted to describing heaven, and more of it involves the events surrounding Colton’s story. Originally the boy’s stomach ache was misdiagnosed, and only later did they discover he had a burst appendix. The Burpos go through a nightmarish time as they pray and wait for their son to recover. He does, and in the following months and years after his hospital stay reveals how he was taken to heaven and brought back, and also (according to the author, Colton’s dad) tells of things that a young boy his age couldn’t possibly know.
Now I should probably come clean here and say that I don’t think a lot of what is in the book actually transpired. I figured I should mention this now so when you read my reasoning you at least know I’m biased. Having said that, let’s forge ahead.
Some of the things Colton mentions when he describes heaven seem a little too cliché for me. For instance, he says everyone in heaven has wings. Nowhere in the Bible does it mention people having wings when they die. In fact, to the best of my knowledge it doesn’t even mention wings on angels, with the exception of Seraphim (who are supposed to have six wings) and Cherubim (who are supposed to have four wings). However when we picture angels in our modern day culture we envision wings, arguably because this is how angels have been portrayed in statuary and paintings for a very long time. But angels have (usually) only been portrayed that way so that the viewer can identify them as a celestial being (I guess the artists thought having a big arrow and sign wasn’t a good way to go). So it seems to me that Colton’s vision of wings on everyone is more a reflection of popular culture rather than a depiction of something he actually saw.
The wings aren’t the only example of this though. He also says all the people in heaven had a light around their heads. Without going too deep into the origin of halos, or the reason they were included in Christian art (which is fascinating in itself), let me simply say that they are not found anywhere in the scriptures. In fact, the concept of halos predates Christianity and they have also been found in Greek, Egyptian, and Asian art.
Colton also describes the gates of heaven as being made from pearls and gold. The Bible does make mention of the gates of heaven being made of pearl, but this only occurs once (in Revelations, chapter 21), but to me this fits along the same lines as my previous examples, since the idea of ‘the pearly gates’ is well entrenched in our society.
One of the things that the author mentions that he believes validates his son’s story is the boy knowing things he hadn’t been taught, though he does say that his son had been attending Sunday school. In this case I think Colton’s dad is not giving him enough credit. The brain is an amazing organ, capable of things that almost seem unbelievable, from calculating staggering sums of numbers to memorizing whole books. When we are very young especially the brain is capable of absorbing massive amounts of knowledge, almost without our being aware of it, and it seems to me that many of the things Colton demonstrated knowledge of are things that he could have picked up without consciously knowing.
Now there are some things that happened in the book that I can’t think of a good explanation for however. Todd says his son ‘saw’ him alone in a room in the hospital when Colton was having surgery. Colton also describes meeting his great-grandfather in heaven and later being able to pick him out of a photo. Maybe these things are genuine, then again Todd Burpo wouldn’t be the first author to fib a little to sell a book.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I think Todd was lying when he wrote this book, or that Colton was lying when he was telling his story. Like I said earlier though, the brain is an amazing organ, and it seems…reasonable…to me that a young boy’s mind, when faced with the horror and pain that he was going through, might take him to a safe and comforting place, and what more comforting place than heaven? Though again, there were some things that I couldn’t explain in the book. I guess overall I’m willing to admit the possibility of something supernatural occurring, though I still remain unconvinced that Colton was taken up to heaven. After all…”As it is written: No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” – 1 Corinthians, 2:9
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