“There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven; but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else.”
C. S. Lewis
Heaven is for Sale
Everybody is buying into heaven, so it seems.
The number two book on the New York Times bestseller list is Proof of Heaven (Simon & Schuster) by neurosurgeon Eben Alexander who recounts his own near death experience. During his week-long coma, Dr. Alexander claims he took a guided tour of the universe that transformed him into a believer in God and life after death.
But that’s nothing compared to Heaven Is For Real, the just released film based on the 2010 book (Thomas Nelson Publishers) written by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent. The book sits atop the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list and has been there for over three years.
The success of the book brought out some heavyweights in Hollywood to craft a movie version. Directed by Randall Wallace (who directed Braveheart) and starring Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly and Thomas Haden Church, Tri-Star spent $12 million to make the film. Sony and Universal have joined in the distribution. After just one weekend in theaters, the film has grossed almost $30 million.
The title of the book/movie seems daring for the simple retelling of a child’s experience. Here’s how Sony Pictures Publicity summarizes the story:
Based on the #1 New York Times best-selling book of the same name, HEAVEN IS FOR REAL brings to the screen the true story of a small-town father who must find the courage and conviction to share his son’s extraordinary, life-changing experience with the world. The film stars Academy Award® nominee and Emmy® award winning actor Greg Kinnear as Todd Burpo and co-stars Kelly Reilly as Sonja Burpo, the real-life couple whose son Colton (newcomer Connor Corum) claims to have visited Heaven during a near death experience. Colton recounts the details of his amazing journey with childlike innocence and speaks matter-of-factly about things that happened before his birth … things he couldn’t possibly know. Todd and his family are then challenged to examine the meaning from this remarkable event.
PWB’s (Preachers-with-blogs) complain that Colton Burpo’s account of heaven conflicts with biblical descriptions of heaven. I am not certain what biblical descriptions they are thinking about. Theologian John Denver described West Virginia as “almost heaven” but he was not specific about which parts.
Other than that, actual descriptions of heaven are incomplete and rare in the Bible. Some Christians default to the apocalyptic views in Revelation where, in the words of a non-Christian friend, “It sounds like a concert of indeterminable length. No thanks.”
This scant biblical information makes it difficult to describe life in heaven as appealing to those outside the faith (here’s where the seventy virgins of Islamic paradise is marketing genius – at least for guys).
The best that some Christians can do is, “Avoid hell. Go to heaven.”
Writer Isaac Asimov complained, “I don’t believe in an afterlife, so I don’t have to spend my whole life fearing hell, or fearing heaven even more. For whatever the tortures of hell, I think the boredom of heaven would be even worse.”
George Bernard Shaw was more succinct: “Nobody could stand an eternity of Heaven.”
Hollywood, Heaven and Hell
This has not kept Hollywood from conjuring up cinematic images of the afterlife. There are at least 150 movies about heaven and just as many television programs.
One of my favorites comes from the Twilight Zone episode, “A Nice Place to Visit” (April 1960). The program tells the story of two-bit thief, Rocky Valentine, who dies and finds himself in a casino where he wins every game of chance – every time. Sounds heavenly; but after a month, the monotony of always winning is too much for him and Rocky questions that maybe he isn’t the right fit for heaven. To which his celestial guide answers, “Whatever gave you the idea that this is heaven?”
I think the best rendition of hell was in Angel on my Shoulder (1946) with Paul Muni and Claude Rains. Hell is easier to depict than heaven but it doesn’t happen much in films.
Now, with a renewed popular interest in the afterlife, there are certain to be more films. I wish we’d all been ready.
What’s the big deal?
So, if you have not read the reviews, go to Rottentomotaoes and you can read 68 of them – about half positive and half negative.
Why are we so worked up over the experience of a four-year-old boy? Some well-known Christians have called the whole story a hoax and accused Colton’s father of exaggerating the lie for personal gain. They find the story dangerous because it might confuse people about the real truth of heaven.
Anybody who thinks that the movie is explaining biblical teaching probably thought the same thing about Noah.
The big deal is this: “What happens when we die?” is one of the four ultimate questions. Something actually happens. A person cannot say that it doesn’t matter. Yes it does! In fact, you can determine someone’s worldview leanings by asking, “What happens when we die?” Heaven/hell? Reincarnation? Worm food?
Hollywood again provides us with a great opportunity to shine a light on the hope found in Christ.
What is waiting for us in heaven? As Christians we want to make certain we get it right. Let me encourage you to read Randy Alcorn’s hefty book, Heaven (Tyndale House). It is a compelling study of the biblical teachings about heaven – and much of it will surprise you.
How we answer the question affects the trajectory of our lives. Once the reality of heaven gets into your heart, you will never be the same.
Lynne and I led a singles’ retreat for a church. About 100 singles gathered at a camp for a weekend of fellowship and teaching. Of that group, one young woman was celebrating her last month as a single. She was getting married the next month and she could not stop talking about it. She wasn’t obnoxious but some of the other singles did not appreciate her constant conversation about her fiancé, the wedding and the honeymoon.
She toned it down a bit, but she still beamed and carried her Modern Bride magazine with her.
She didn’t seem to mind the criticism. She knew what her future held and that influenced everything about her: her positive spirit, her anticipation, her patience, her joy.
The same is true for us. The great anticipation of heaven for us should radically alter the way we live today. That’s why we are told to set our hearts and minds on things above, where Christ is (Colossians 3:1-4). Only then can we clearly understand life from beginning to forever.
So, with all the disagreements about the movie; let’s say we can all agree on the title: Heaven is for real. We know this is true not because of the near death experience of a four-year-old, but because of Christ who was the first to rise from the dead as the proof that we shall follow him (1 Corinthians 15:20).
Death is not a period; it is a comma. We are trying so hard to get ahead in this world not realizing that this is the wrong world to get ahead in. Only in the light of heaven does earth make sense. As C. S. Lewis reminds us, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”
Whatever heaven is, it will be awesome! If you think you know what heaven is like, you are mistaken. We cannot even imagine.
But do not forget, what God really has for his children is a new heaven and a new earth. And who says that God has finished creating new things? Imagine what eternity will be like with a loving Father who says he wants to show us the incomparable riches of his grace to us in the ages to come (Ephesians 2:7). All because of his grace in dying for us and removing the barrier of sin that separated us from him.
Heaven is not for sale. It’s already been purchased by our Father through Christ.
And He has a big, big house. . . With lots and lots of room. . .
Come and go with me. . .