There is soon to be a movie in your neighborhood called, “Heaven is for Real.” It is based on the best-seller book, Heaven is for Real: A Little Boys Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, by Todd Burpo (Thomas Nelson, 2010). This account has some evangelical Christians calling it a hoax, and others calling a valuable contribution to teach the reality of heaven. Regardless, it will bring in millions of dollars.
In the story, a young boy of four named Colton, while under anesthesia for a ruptured appendix, claims he went to heaven and saw many fanciful things: all the people had wings, except Jesus who just floated up and down; all the people had halos over their heads; the Father had golden hair; the Holy Spirit was bluish; Jesus rode a rainbow-colored horse; Jesus sat at God’s right hand and Gabriel on the left; he saw John the Baptist, the virgin Mary, as well as Satan; and the story goes on. Jesus said He died so people could go “to see His Dad”. This boy’s father, who authored the book, is a Wesleyan Methodist minister in Nebraska. I’m sure this little boy had previously heard about some of things he talked about (he is now about 13 years old). It is likewise possible that this boy did have a dream while he was under anesthesia. Does that make heaven real? And what is Satan doing in heaven? Christian usually don’t think they will bump into him.
It is a sad commentary on the church of today when there are so many who will recommend this book and movie as a way of proving that heaven is for real (the doubting-Thomas syndrome, Jn. 20:24-29). Heaven IS for real, but when I say that it is by faith and not by sight. It is real because it is taught in the Bible, without all the false details that are in this book. When we read a book, claiming to be true, that contradicts or adds to the Bible (Rev. 22:18, 19), we should stop reading and put it down. Interestingly, in all the near-death visions of heaven, no two agree on what they saw.
The Bible has many things to say about heaven as the hope of those who die in Christ. It does not give the depictions contained in this book, nor have those who died come back to describe it (cf. II Cor. 12:2-4). If that were important, God would have told us. Certainly the Father and the Holy Spirit are invisible (Col. 1:15; Jn. 1:18). I Cor. 2:9 teaches, “But as it is written: Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (cf. I Pet. 1:8)
Without going further into this story, we know it is false because it contradicts the Bible. But, what is troubling is that many well-meaning Christians think that this proves the existence of heaven. There have been other movies, recently “Noah”, which try to depict biblical stories and events. I have yet to hear of one that does not violate some or all the clear teachings of the Bible. Yet many think this gives proof of the Bible’s teaching. Remember that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.
Do we really need extra-biblical depictions in order to believe the Bible? No, and this is where the problem lies. Will these man-made adventures be more effective than the Word of God itself, or more powerful than the Holy Spirit in applying that Word? Have we really reached the point where we need to see before we believe (II Cor. 5:7)? Is the Bible insufficient? Is it now useless to do as the Bereans did and search out all things from the Scriptures (Acts 17:11)? Do we need scientific evidence to validate Scripture? Is it now proper to make an image of any person of the Godhead? Do our subjective experiences have more validity than the written, inspired Word of God?
These are questions that all Christians need to answer with a resounding “No!” More than that amidst the plethora of movies and books, we need to increasingly read and study the Holy Scripture itself. That Word is real Truth as given to us by God. It is the source of truth for all of faith and life. May the Holy Spirit enlighten us more and more as He applies the wonderful words of life.
In other news, this will be my last issue as editor of the Reformed Herald. Synod will certainly elect someone who is qualified to continue this work. I have been in this position for thirteen years where I have tried to maintain and, in small ways, to improve this publication. I give a hearty “Thank You!” to the contributors each month, to my helpers, and to those who make this magazine a part of their regular reading.
PHT, Modesto, CA