Heaven Is for Real
A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back
By Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent
Thomas Nelson, 163 pages, $17
WHILE on a family road trip in 2003, a small-town Nebraska boy just shy of four years old survived a brush with death made all the more maddening by how preventable it was.
A simple case of appendicitis took a malevolent turn when medical miscalls, parental errors in judgment and the vagaries of winter travel conditions lead to Colton Burpo suffering a rupture and rampant infection.
Heaven Is for Real, by Colton's father, Todd, a Baptist preacher, with the help of Sarah Palin's ghostwriter Lynn Vincent, could easily have been devoted to examining how such a near tragedy occurred.
But instead, Colton, once restored to health, energy and normal precociousness, offers up a far more irresistible storyline.
In conversation, Colton starts to drop the names of some remarkable religious figures, saying that he had met them in heaven during the moments he was nearest to taking his last breath.
Todd, a pastor at a Nebraska Wesleyan church, wonders about his son's otherworldly comments that pop up in the midst of otherwise normal little-boy chatter.
Being careful not to seed and feed Colton's account, Todd coolly inquires, "Remember when we were in the car and you talked about sitting on Jesus's lap ... well, did anything else happen?"
Immediately rising to the open-ended bait, Colton goes on to describe meeting Jesus's cousin, John the Baptist, and petting Jesus's multicoloured horse. Todd, knowing that Colton could not possibly have had prior knowledge of the experiences and people he describes, interprets the situation as a calling.
"We'd been given a gift and our job now was to unwrap it, slowly, carefully, and see what was inside."
From this point forward, Todd faithfully presents a complete record of Colton's visit to heaven, as revealed to him in a naturally unfolding conversation over the course of months.
This slender paperback has become a massive hit for its U.S.-based Christian publisher, Thomas Nelson. The New York Times reported recently that it has sold 1.5 million copies since its release last November, vaulting it into similar territory as Mitch Albom's The Five People You Meet in Heaven and William P. Young's The Shack.
The Burpos' middle child (his younger brother was not born until 2005), Colton reveals that he has travelled extensively throughout heaven, meeting dearly departed family members, and luminaries of the faithful, including God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
Todd is even able to report to Catholic friends that Colton "saw Mary kneeling before the throne of God and at other times standing beside Jesus."
For believers who like to share the Good News, Heaven Is For Real is manna in a couple of ways. For the Christian-centred family, the book is perfect to share and discuss around the dinner table as a means to grow and deepen faith.
Thanks to Colton's simple narrative, young people can easily grasp and join the conversation about the important parallels to Scripture found in his experience.
But most of all, Heaven Is For Real is a comforting Noah's Ark for Christians flooded with the enormous tide of anti-faith sentiment. What happened to Colton, real or otherwise, is held up as an air-tight faith message.
The reality of the experience and the interpretation of it as miraculous is a big part of faith literature that keeps the faithful excited and enthusiastic about God and the many miracles of life at His hands.
Still, many faithful may also find the book too gushing. When you believe, readings that are so heavy on the fantastic can feel like an overdone strength.
As well, let's not forget that the one absolutely true miracle in this story is that Colton lived to tell his tale at all. Now that was divine intervention.
Joanne Thibault is a participant in Nathanael, the Archdiocese of Winnipeg lay formation process.