Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Heaven Is For Real, Unorthodoxly Orthodox

"Dad - are going to see Jesus?"
"Yes, or Kevin Costner at the least!"
After finding out that The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven was a piece of fiction, a dear widow I know called me to make sure I heard the scandalous news.

Since she already suspects we are "less-than-orthodox" in our view of scripture and Christ's redemption, I knew the moment I heard her polite voice what the topic would be.

I pretty much jumped in and said "Yes, I heard all about it online. But that was his book, not Heaven Is For Real. Yes - the one where he said he saw his sister who died in the miscarriage? Yep. That one. No - I think the Colton Burpo account is true. Lots of little reasons, honestly."

As I suspected, she had gotten confused and conflated the two books. Predictable. After a few minutes of clarification, in which I also pointed out that many prophets in the Bible did not die yet saw heaven and its glory one way or another. Isaiah, Ezekiel, Elijah, Paul, John... need I go on?

You see, you don't have to die to see heaven. You have to let go of your body, and usually we just don't mind staying. Why go back? You are in heaven!

Some do come back, however, and what they tell us is amazing.

But we need a litmus test or two to verify we are not getting hoodwinked.

Let me tell you a big one: the people come back talking about God's love. They are different than before the event. They change. They are not just "informed"; they are overwhelmed.

Their words are verified by others who've had direct revelation: i.e. those guys in the Bible.

They also point unerringly to Jesus as a living, loving Lord. They point out His sacrifice and gentleness.

I met a White Witch who claimed to he spoke with God. The cincer in his testimony was that even though he could, God said to him "Have you gone to my son, Jesus?" That is so unorthodoxly orthodox I got nothing to add. I'm still laughing.

You see, God cannot be put in a box. And I think when someone says "Hey, I met God!" all the evil of men's pride rises up. "Pride," writes C. S. Lewis, "is essentially competitive." Are we really trying to be discerning and wise when we take shots at them? Why are we upset?

We are upset that they have something we do not. We think they are putting on airs or puffing themselves up, when in fact, they are trying to be humble and speak the truth, testifying to God's kindness to them.

In the film version of the book, Heaven Is Real, this is addressed head-on when Pastor Todd Burpo [Greg Kinnear] is dealing with Nancy, a senior lady member of his congregation who is upset with little Colton Burpo's revelatory comments about heaven.

They are sitting near the grave of her dead son - a decorated war veteran.

Todd confesses he was inadequate in faith to help her in her time of grief. He then addresses the Big Fat White Elephant in the Room: why did God save his boy and let her son die? [We all suspect favoritism, don't we?]

Todd:  I failed you, Nancy.  Worst day of your life, and I had nothing.  No peace.  No hope.  No comfort…

Nancy:  For a while, pain was all I had.  You didn’t have to take it away.  You don’t have to save the world, Todd.  I believe that’s already been done. [pauses]

Nancy:  Why God would give you your son back and take mine away?

Todd:  Do you love your son?

Nancy:  Yes.

Todd:  Do you think I love mine? 

Nancy:  Yes.

Todd:  Do you think I love mine more than you love yours? 

Nancy:  No.

Todd:  Nancy, do you think God loves my son more than He loves yours?

Nancy [tearfully]:  No.


At first, I thought this scene was too... humanistic. Too much about how we feel and not what is real. But I was wrong. It is not.

It is what we secretly fear - that we are not invited to the party. That God simply does not care while we suffer and are loyal and doing the best we can...

...and then someone blithely says "God is SO Good! I just got a miracle!"

You find yourself envious of the grace given to them. You end up denouncing them. You forget that God does not have to answer to you.

You have to answer to Him.

I'm going to cut this short with the frank appeal that Job himself discovered: God is in Charge and Not Answerable to You.

I suspect Colton Burpo was selected to wake us up to the authenticity of ancient texts and the reality they proclaim.

I suspect that Heaven Is For Real was for real, and Colton Burpo was too.

God bless the Burpo family and may there be no malarkey near them.


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