|Akiane's portrayal of Christ|
Todd Burpo and his son, Colton, tell an amazing story of a heavenly experience. Heaven is for Real is a short book that can be read in a brief period of time. The Burpo family spent two very difficult weeks at The Great Plains Regional Medical Center in North Platte, Nebraska where Dr. Timothy O’Holleran performed emergency surgery on their four year old son to remove a ruptured appendix.
Four months later they were traveling through North Platte when Todd reminded his son that they were very near the hospital where he had been treated. Colton made an off-the-cuff comment about that being the place where the angels sang to him. Thus began a long series of astonishing revelations that stretched over a period of several years. Colton had been transported to heaven. He had a near-death experience. He revealed knowledge of things, events and people that he could not possibly have acquired unless he was a participant in some sort of supernatural event.
I read the book with the mind of a skeptic. I’m not easily persuaded to believe in things that cannot be explained by our own framework of natural laws. But I am not averse to the idea that occasionally our natural world can be traversed by the supernatural. I think the unexplained mysteries of Colton’s experience would be an extremely interesting read for anyone with a curiosity for the supernatural or the hereafter.
Colton claimed to be transported to heaven. The first to meet him was Jesus himself. Colton admits to feeling very uneasy about his experience and so Jesus brought more familiar people to comfort him. Among those was an older sister who had arrived in heaven earlier due to a miscarriage. Colton was never told about his mother’s miscarriage but he shocked her with a description of his deceased sister after his return from heaven. His great grandfather was also there to greet and comfort him. Later, in an earthly setting, Todd revealed a picture of his grandfather to Colton and asked if this was the man he had seen in heaven. Colton took a look at the picture and told his father that there are no old people in heaven. When he was shown a younger version of the same man he claimed to recognize him.
Just how credible is this amazing story? Todd Burpo is a minister. He pastors the Crossroads Wesleyan Church in Imperial, Nebraska. Being a minister in the past would lend immediate credibility to one’s testimony. I’m not so sure ministers enjoy that sort of reputation in modern times. Among those who offer praise for the book is Jo Anne Lyon, General Superintendent of the Wesleyan Church. She wrote, “Colton’s story could have been in the New Testament…God has chosen to speak to us in this twenty-first century through the unblemished eyes of an innocent child.”
Is this sort of story a new phenomenon? Hardly. The Apostle Paul tells of a similar event in the years immediately following the time of Christ. “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man…was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4) Near Death Experiences (NDE) are now so common that there are hundreds of books and websites available to learn about them. (www.near-death.com)
Perhaps the real clincher in Burpo's book comes near the end of the book when Colton’s account of heaven is compared with that of the young Lithuanian girl, Akiane Kramarik, who claims to have visions of heaven and Christ and is gifted with a talent for expressing and painting what she sees. Her paintings are stunning in their accuracy, complexity and beauty. On many occasions Todd would come across a depiction of Christ and ask Colton is that’s what he remembered him to look like. Colton rejected every picture of Christ until he saw Akiane’s portrait which he affirmed did, indeed, look like Christ.
I suppose everyone’s theology of heaven might differ depending on how they interpret what they read in God’s word. I was a bit skeptical when reading of Colton’s descriptions of other humans in heaven. He placed emphasis on their physical characteristics. He said that Jesus had “red” markers. He was referring to the wounds on his hands and feet resulting from his crucifixion. I am not so sure heaven is so much full of flesh. Is it not a dwelling place for spirits? Does Paul himself not say, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God?” (1 Corinthians 15:50) There is certainly room for speculation. The Apostle John says that “What we will be has not yet appeared, but we do know that when he (Jesus) appears, we shall be like him.” (1 John 3:2) Whether physical or spiritual, it seems very certain we will recognize friends and family members in heaven.
Colton also said that everyone in heaven carries a sword. The reason he gave for this was because the swords were assurance against the possibility of Satan reentering heaven. A sword is a man-made instrument used to defend against or do battle with other human beings. In a spirit world it would be ineffective. God wouldn’t need to arm everyone with swords to keep Satan from entering heaven. Would not the very light of his glory be enough to deter Satan from ever wanting to get near to him.
According to Colton, everyone in heaven is young. This is also what the Muslims believe who declare that all residents of heaven will all be about 32 or 33 years of age, the age of Christ when he spent his last days on earth. Will there be a measurement of time in heaven? Will not everyone in heaven be ageless? We won’t divide our eternal lives into days, months and years. Time is a gift of God to men who need organization and structure in their lives. Time will be unnecessary in heaven. We look for the ever elusive fountain of youth in heaven because we dread the wrinkles and weaknesses of aging. Why don’t we wish for everyone to be old in heaven because age brings maturity and a greater volume of wisdom by which to live by?
Colton also said that everyone will have wings when they get to heaven. Why would we need wings? Is there gravity in heaven? There is a broad misconception that when humans are transported to heaven they become angels. This is not true. We will never be angels just as angels will never be humans. Will we not be able to transport ourselves simply by thinking it to happen?
I don’t know if Colton went to heaven or not. I do believe that Colton, just like Akiane, had some sort of vision or out-of-body experience. It’s much like UFOs. I don’t believe in aliens. I don’t think there are creatures from Mars getting ready to take over the earth any day now. But I do believe there is some common object that people see. There are too many reports from too many people in separate parts of the world that describe the same sort of thing. They are seeing something, I’m just not sure what.
There are too many people who have had out-of-body, near-death experiences to declare them a farce. Something is happening. Their stories contain too many similarities to reject them. I’m not sure if these people visit another realm but they seem to be in a state where the laws of nature are temporarily suspended on their behalf.
Is Colton Burpo's account truthful or is it a hoax? Read it and decide for yourself. It is worth your time to read it if for no other reason than it causes us to think and rethink what heaven might be like and remind ourselves of what Christ has prepared for us.
Kevin Probst - Teaches History, Government and Apologetics at the high school level in Columbus Georgia.