Christian drama prompts viewer to ponder nature of heaven.
Undergoing major surgery, four-year-old Colton Burpo visits heaven, interacts with Jesus, meets his miscarried sister and long-deceased great-grandfather and returns. His adventure was originally chronicled in U.S. pastor Todd Burpo's 2010 book of the same title, which has sold millions of copies worldwide and remains on bestseller lists. While reading Burpo's account of his son's experience, his own reaction and the effect on his family, church and wider community, I questioned its reliability, accuracy and authenticity.
So, when invited to attend a preview, along with approximately 1,000 people scattered in theatres across Canada, I jumped at the opportunity, hoping the movie would fill in the blanks left by the book.
I found the movie entertaining. The cast, headed by Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly and Connor Corum, portrays an ordinary family engaged in everyday activities--joys, struggles, humour, sadness, pain and pleasure. The Manitoba countryside (standing in for Nebraska) provides breathtaking earthly beauty and a symbolic glimpse of eternity.
I found the movie inspiring. As an ordained minister, I related to Pastor Todd's predicament, caught as he is between believing and sharing his son's story, challenging his firmly held beliefs and dealing with responses from church and community people. Being a pastor does not exempt you from life's happenings; if anything, it magnifies the situation.
I found the movie connected with Jesus and with life. Colton's visit to heaven, accentuated with paintings of God-sent visions done by child-prodigy artist Akiane Kramarik at age 12, reminded me of a girl named Chrissy. She was 10 when her father died. The following year, suffering from cystic fibrosis, she went into a coma for four days. Waking up, she told her mother, "I saw Dad and a person who looked like Jesus. They told me not to be afraid; they would be waiting for me on the other side."
In the film, Colton tells his father he was not afraid when his father was with him. Todd speaks the same words to his wife. Jesus, on numerous occasions, assured people not to be afraid because "I am with you always."
I found the movie posed questions. It prompted three of us who attended the preview to chat about heaven--its existence, nature and openness. No doubt, viewers of other ages and levels of faith will do the same.
So plan to see the movie, alone or with others; then, individually or in groups, ponder and discuss the question: is heaven for real?
Caption: Pastor Todd, played by Greg Kinnear, questions his son about his visit to heaven.
HEAVEN IS FOR REAL
Directed by Randall Wallace
Tristar Pictures, April 16. 2014 100 minutes, PG
Based on the book Heaven is for Real: A little boy S astounding story of his trip to heaven and back by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent. Nelson, 2010.
THE REV. HOLLIS HISCOCK is editor of the Niagara Anglican.