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Thursday, May 16, 2013

"Heaven Is for Real" by Todd Burpo. Book Review.


"Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back" is a deeply moving book with a page-turner plot that addresses big, big issues in a reader-friendly way. It is surprisingly well-written. Before I was even finished reading this book I ordered a copy for loved ones. It's *that* good.

"Heaven Is for Real" is a four-year-old boy's account of his near death experience during emergency surgery for peritonitis from untreated appendicitis. Colton Burpo left his body, encountered Jesus, the Holy Spirit, God, Mary, and his own deceased family members. Atheists and Christophobes desperately want his account to be proven false. Their hopes – or their anti-hopes – are in vein. "Heaven Is for Real" is a credible near death account.

In 2003, Todd Burpo was a thirty-something, small-town Nebraska pastor and agricultural combine garage door salesman. His wife, Sonja, was a schoolteacher. They had two children: Cassie and Colton.

One day, then three-year-old Colton had a fever, stomach pain, and he vomited. His parents wrote it off as a stomach virus. Colton's fever went away, he appeared to get better, and the family left for a trip.

Colton worsened during the trip. Todd decided to drive home rather than visit a hospital on their trip route. This was a mistake. Colton worsened. Todd realized his son was losing his grip on life. The first doctor they saw was so unhelpful I wonder if he was not eventually sued for malpractice. Todd and Sonja eventually drove their son to another hospital. As Todd would learn later, the physicians there decided that there was little chance that Colton would survive, and they instructed the nurses to prepare the family for the worst.

To everyone's surprise, Colton did survive his lengthy hospital stay, during which his open abdominal wound had to be regularly drained of pus.

Some months later, this and other crises behind them, the family departed for a fun-filled vacation. As they passed the hospital that treated Colton, Colton casually mentioned having met Jesus and angels during his surgery. Todd and Sonja froze. They didn't know what to make of their son's announcement. We don't talk much about angels, he realized. Where did Colton get this idea of angels?

Todd did exactly the right thing. He monitored his own speech, making sure that he was not feeding Colton information. He also behaved as casually and as neutrally as he could, in order to get the whole story from Colton without changing it with any kind of feedback reward or feedback punishment that would alter what Colton said. Colton contradicted Todd when Todd attempted to test him by feeding him false information. Todd, as a pastor, was very familiar with the Christian curriculum Colton had been exposed to. He recognized that Colton was reporting data that he had not been exposed to. Of the course of several years, Todd got the story down.

Colton Burpo's near death experience is similar to hundreds of other such stories. He left his body. He could see his father praying in one room and his mother talking on the telephone in another. He entered a heavenly realm and encountered deceased relatives. He also encountered Jesus, God, Mary, and the Holy Spirit. This all occurred during a brief amount of time as it is measured on earth: three minutes.

Todd Burpo was especially impressed by Colton's reporting things that he had no way of knowing. Colton mentioned that his mother had had a previous miscarriage. His parents had not mentioned it. He said that he had met this sibling in heaven. Colton said that he met his great grandfather. Todd showed him a photo of this man later in his life. Colton said, no, that's not what the man I met looked like. Todd asked his mother to send a photo of the great grandfather when he was younger. She did so. Without being told who the man was, Colton identified this photo as one of his great grandfather. Colton told Todd about things that Todd and his grandfather had done together. Todd had never told Colton any of this.

Colton said that Jesus had "markers." I am Catholic, and I immediately knew what Colton was referring to. Todd, a Protestant, did not. Through further conversation, Todd realized that Colton was referring to Jesus' stigmata. Todd explains that, as Protestants, his household and his church do not emphasize images of Jesus' crucifixion wounds. He felt that this was something that Colton, a four-year-old Protestant in a tiny Nebraska town, would not have invented.

"Heaven Is for Real" is surprisingly well-written. Burpo wrote with Lynn Vincent, and Vincent, an author of several books, really knows how to put a story together. Many body-mind-spirit books are execrably written. Not so with "Heaven Is for Real." It has a real plot, real suspense, and real characters.

The inevitable question is, is Colton Burpo's account reliable? I found it convincing. Colton Burpo is very much not the first person to have a near death experience. There are hundreds of them recorded online. Todd's protestations that Colton was reporting things he almost certainly did not pick up at home in his short life as a Midwestern Protestant are convincing. Colton reported stigmata, very much not a Protestant thing, and he reported Mary, also not a Protestant thing. Colton insisted on the many vivid colors in Heaven, colors not found on Earth. This meshes with many other near death accounts. Colton reported that Jesus has a rainbow colored horse. He didn't get that from Sunday school.

Todd and Sonja Burpo are employed, stable, law abiding people. They have no history of farfetched schemes. They are modest people who have done nothing to be in the limelight. Their few appearances on Christian TV are understated and cautious. It strains credulity that they would make up this outlandish tale.

If Todd and Sonja had manufactured this story for fame and fortune, they would not have included ugly, self-incriminating material in the book. Todd and Sonja did not respond adequately to their son's onset of appendicitis. It was their hesitance that almost killed their son. They include this self-incriminating material in detail.

Some are willing to accept that Colton Burpo had a near death experience, but they are troubled by his meeting Jesus. Many want to believe in an afterlife, just not a Christian afterlife. They say that Colton met Jesus, and not, say, Vishnu, Buddha, or Allah, not because Jesus really is divine, but because Colton had been raised a Christian, and Heaven takes on the form of the tradition the person who experiences it has been raised in. That's a whole 'nother debate.

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