"Heaven is For Real" (2014) movie review

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Little boy, near death experience
"Heaven is For Real" website.
IMDB
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. Written by Sony Pictures Publicity.

Books by the family

The family seems to be producing a book a year. The books are written by Todd Burpo, Colton's father, who is senior pastor at Crossroads Wesleyan Church in Imperial, Nebraska.

  • Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent (Nov 2, 2010)
  • Heaven Is For Real Conversation Guide by Todd Burpo (Nov 8, 2011)
  • Heaven Changes Everything: Living Every Day with Eternity in Mind by Todd Burpo and Sonja Burpo (Oct 9, 2012)
  • Heaven is for Real for Little Ones by Todd Burpo and Sonja Burpo (May 7,

2013)

  • Heaven is for Real Movie Edition: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent (Mar 4, 2014)

Quotations from the book

page
Epigraph "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Jesus of Nazareth).
I certainly do want to have the heart of a child, but not the gullibility. We are to love God with all of our heart, all of our mind, and all of our strength. I do not think it is the case that anyone who doubts some or all of Colton's story lacks the innocence required to enter Heaven.
10 Todd, Colton's father: "I am a storyteller."
The story is well-told. It is a quick read, full of charming incidents and attractive personalities.
57, 59 "He had to have Jesus in his heart! He had to know Jesus or he can't get into heaven!"
62 We had taught Colton about our faith all his life. But if he had really seen Jesus and the angels, I wanted to become the student, not the teacher!
63 "Did you know that Jesus has a cousin?" "Did you know Jesus has a horse? ... a rainbow horse."
64 He was saying he had left the hospital! "You were in heaven?" I managed to ask. "Well, yeah, Dad," he said, as if that fact should have been perfectly obvious.
71-72 Homework in heaven. "Jesus gave me work to do, and that was my favorite part of heaven."
72 "Everybody's got wings. ... We flew. Well, all except for Jesus. He was the only one in Heaven who didn't have wings. Jesus just went up and down like an elevator."
73 "Everyone kind of looks like angels in heaven ... All the people have a light above their head."
77 He had already authenticated his experience by telling me things he could not otherwise have known.
If Heaven is for real, so is Hell. Colton's father assumes, without any reason to do so, that his son is immune to demonic activity and that the "things he could not otherwise have known" necessarily prove the truth of everything else he saw--or didn't see.
79 Colton hadn't died. I knew what the medical record said. Colton never ceased breathing. His heart had never stopped.
81 And Jesus answered my prayer? Personally? After I had yelled at God, chastising him, questioning his wisdom and his faithfulness? Why would God even answer a prayer like that? And how did I deserve his mercy?
This shows a strange attitude toward prayer. None of us deserve God's mercy. "All is grace." This was good, honest prayer. Questioning God when we are suffering is not a sin. See my discussion of the Book of Job.
83 After delivering a brief update on Colton's health, I thanked these men and women for their prayers on behalf of our family. Then I began my confession. "... I got really mad at God. ... All I felt like I could do was yell at God."
Sin is in the will, not in the feelings. There is no sin in telling God how we feel when we are suffering.
84 What had I learned? I was reminded yet again that I could be real with God, I told my fellow pastors. I learned that I didn't have to offer some kind of churchy, holy-sounding prayer in order to be heard in heaven. "You might as well tell God what you think," I said. "He already knows it anyway."
Oh, OK. He was only pretending to feel guilty and to confess his sins to the other pastors; he knows it was not a sin.
87 I didn't want him just feeding me back stuff to please me. I wanted to know the truth.
97 We had wanted to believe that our unborn child had gone to heaven. Even though the Bible is largely silent on this point, we had accepted it on faith. But now, we had an eyewitness: a daughter we had never met was eagerly awaiting for us in eternity.
This, for me, is one of the best parts of the book and the movie. I think the father goes overboard in calling Colton an "eyewitness," but the boy's visionary encounter with his sister does correspond to the Church's teaching that we are living human beings from the moment of our conception. It is a pro-life principle.
100 "Well, what did God's throne look like?" "It was big, Dad . . . really, really big, because God is the biggest one there is. And he really, really loves us, Dad. You can't belieeeeve how much he loves us!"
101 "Well, who sits on the other side of God's throne?" I said. "Oh, that's easy, Dad. That's where the angel Gabriel is. He's really nice."
102 "They brought in a little chair for me," he said, smiling. "I sat by God the Holy Spirit. Did you know that God is three persons, Dad? ... I was sitting by God the Holy Spirit because I was praying for you. You needed the Holy Spirit, so I prayed for you."
103 "What does God look like? I said. "God the Holy Spirit?” ... "Hmm, that’s kind of a hard one . . . he’s kind of blue."
103-104 With all my heart, I wanted to believe. At that moment, the details of our conversations began to pile up in my mind like a stack of Polaroids--pictures of heaven that seemed uncannily accurate from the descriptions we all have available to us in the Bible--all of us who can read, that is. But these details were obscure to most adults, much less a kid of Colton's young age. The nature of the Trinity, the role of the Holy Spirit, Jesus sitting at the right hand of God.
All children soak up immense amounts of knowledge in their early years. Some are more precocious than others. It would not take special revelation from God for Colton to have understood these things from listening to his father and mother pray every day as well as from the many church services led by his father and his mother.
I don't think that Colton's pictures--or the pictures found in the Scriptures--are meant to be taken at face value. I do believe that there will be "a new heaven and a new earth" (Rev 21:1), but I don't expect to see everything Colton saw in his vision. That there is a Heaven is dogma; that God Himself will be the cause of eternal joy is dogma; that we will be in communion with the angels and the saints is dogma; that beauty of Heaven will satisfy all of our senses is reasonable speculation; what it will look and feel like remains to be seen.
Our task here on earth is to fulfill God's will for us. Having confidence that Heaven awaits is part of our faith, but having travel brochures that show us what we will see, hear, taste, touch, and smell in Heaven is not part of the Church's official teaching.
105 He also shared more about what heaven looks like. ... He saw the gates of heaven, he said: "They were made of gold and there were pearls on them." The heavenly city itself was made of something shiny, "like gold or silver." The flowers and trees in heaven were "beautiful," and there were animals of every kind. ... He talked constantly about how much Jesus loves the children.
111 "Jesus told me he died on the cross so we could go see his Dad."
119 "It's going to be okay. The first person you're going to see is Jesus." ... By then I was used to hearing Colton talk about heaven. But now he had become a messenger, a tiny tour guide for a departing heavenly traveler.
121 "Dad, nobody's old in heaven ... and nobody wears glasses."
125-126 "I've seen power shot down to Daddy. ... He shoots down power for you when you're talking in church."
The father confirms his son as a prophet; the son confirms his father as a preacher.
130 "Hearing him describe the girl's face ... it wasn't something that a six-year-old boy could just make up," she told us. "Now, whenever I am having doubts, I picture Colton's face, tears running down his cheeks, as he told me how much he missed his sister."
133 "The angels carry swords so they can keep Satan out of heaven!"
135-139 Chapter 26: "The Coming War"
136 "Jesus told me if you don't go to heaven, you don't get a new body."
This contradicts the teaching of the Scriptures and of the Catholic Church.
CCC #1038
The resurrection of all the dead, "of both the just and the unjust,"[1] will precede the Last Judgment. This will be "the hour when all who are in the tombs will hear [the Son of man's] voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment."[2] Then Christ will come "in his glory, and all the angels with him. . . . Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. . . . And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."[3]
  1. Acts 24:15.
  2. Jn 5:28-29.
  3. Mt 25:31,32,46.
136 "There's going to be a war, and it's going to destroy this world. Jesus and the angels and the good people are going to fight against Satan and the monsters and the bad people. I saw it. ... But the men, they had to fight. And Dad, I watched you. You have to fight, too."
Colton does not say the words--or else his father does not report them--that this war will take place during his father's life on earth. That certainly is the impression I get from the dialogue. We won't know whether this is a true prophecy until the war starts or until Colton's father dies.
138 "You either get a sword or a bow and arrow, but I don't remember which."
141 In my sermon that morning, I talked about my own anger and lack of faith, about the stormy moments I spent in that little room in the hospital, raging against God, and about how God came back to me, through my son, saying, "Here I am."
Todd's father seems to have lost his way again. Instead of understanding his expression of his anger at God as an act of faith and love, he is back to portraying his anger as a lack of faith. The supposition is, "If I had had enough faith, I would not have felt hurt and angry." I don't have a lot of respect for that premise.
145 Finally getting an idea of what Jesus looks like wasn't the only interesting thing that came out of our visit to Mountain View Wesleyan.
I am just as skeptical of Akiane's visions as I am of Colton's. Our salvation does not lie in Jesus' appearance, but in His identity as God the Son and in His action as true God and true Man on the Cross. The Scriptures are silent on "what Jesus looks like."
149 The Scripture says that as Jesus gave up his spirit, as he sagged here, lifeless on that Roman cross, God the Father turned his back. I am convinced that he did that because if he had kept on watching, he couldn't have gone through with it.
I am not familiar with that Scripture--or that theology! The father gives no chapter and verse to back up his assertion. Here we reach the low point of his effort to portray God as "just like us in all things." I much prefer John's gospel (12:27-32) to the sentimentality of the gospel according to Todd Burpo:

27 “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.

28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.”

29 The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder; but others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”

30 Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come for my sake but for yours.

31 Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.

32 And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”

149-150

Because I had a lot of questions I didn't have answers for, I didn't spend much time thinking about heaven on a personal level. But I do now. Sonja and I both do, and we've heard from a lot of people that Colton's story has them thinking more about heaven too. We still don't have all the answers--not even close. But now we have a picture in our minds, a picture we can look at and say, "Wow." I love the way my mom sums it up: "Ever since this happened," she told me, "I think more about what it might really be like in heaven. I accepted the idea of heaven before, but now I visualize it. Before I'd heard, but now I know what someday I'm going to see."

152-153 Besides Jesus' horse, he told us he saw dogs, birds, even a lion--and the lion was friendly, not fierce. ... He saw Mary kneeling before the throne of God and at other times, standing beside Jesus. "She still loves him like a mom," Colton said.
153 As a pastor, I was always comfortable talking about my faith, but now, in addition, I talk about what happened to my son. It's the truth and I talk about it, no apologies.
I see many elements of consoling truth in Colton's vision or dream. I cannot call what we know of it the truth. There are many questionable elements in the narrative.

Notes from watching the movie

FORD truck, not Chevy! Product placement.  :o(

Spider Man is a Sony character. He was the only action figure Colton played with in the movie. Although this was another product placement, the toy was used very effectively to signal Colton's changing moods.

First rate production: music, filming, casting, acting, editing. The family members were superb (father, mother, sister, Colton).

Good tribute to the power of prayer.

"My son went to Heaven."

What does it mean to say that Colton was "in" Heaven? Where is Heaven?
Colton did not go to Heaven physically. His body remained on the operating table.
Colton did not die. His body remained animated by his soul throughout the operation that saved his life.
Therefore, the experience must be classified as a dream or a vision.

Visit with psychologist: "What do you do when you come upon something beyond the realm of your comprehension?" Paper tiger--pushover character. She turns up beaming at the Triumphant Homily.

BAD Triumphant Homily. Nothing about Jesus' triumph over sin and death. Something like this in it: "Haven't you seen Heaven in a baby's eyes? In the sunset?" It's all about the good we can do if we just love one another--not about the comfort to be had in this life from being aware of the beauty of the NEXT life.

  • Love: "let others know they are not alone."
  • Watered-down gospel.

The movie suggests that people refuse to believe Colton's story because they are afraid to do so. I believe that he had the experience he claims to have had; I do not believe it is direct and definitive revelation from God--especially the prophecy that Armageddon would take place during his father's lifetime.

Preach Jesus, not Colton!

I did not like their scenes of Heaven nor of the CGI butterflies. It is much better to leave Heaven to the imagination of the audience. I'm very glad the rainbow horse was not shown!

Akiane's visions?

Pro-life message: miscarried children are in Heaven. I like that very much.

Things in the book that are not in the movie
  • No Armageddon.
  • No Holy Spirit.
  • No God the Father enthroned in glory.
  • No swords or bows and arrows.
  • No definition of Trinity.
  • No color-coded sashes.

Jesus' message: "No one will hurt you." This is Colton's message to the dying boy as well.

"The first person you see will be Jesus."

Consistent with gospel; no substitute for it.

Believers will see the faith, I guess, and supply what's missing.

God is love.
On earth as it is in heaven.

"Clever Hans"

False memory syndrome.

Reflections

How do we judge mystical experiences?

Benedict Groeschel, A Still Small Voice: A Practical Guide on Reported Revelations.
St. John of the Cross, the mystical Doctor of the Church, ... warned people to assume that extraordinary experiences came from the forces of evil unless the opposite could be proved.
This is not an infallible guideline, but I do think it has some relevance here.
From a review of Groeschel's book:
Fr. Groeschel's book has been extremely illuminating and helpful. He cautions skepticism toward all claims of divine revelations, noting that the Vatican itself is very careful in certifying them. He divides bogus claims into various types: some are outright frauds; some are psychologically disturbed; still others are simply self-deluded because of their strong need and desire to believe.

After reading the book and seeing the movie, I am not in a position to say that I know for sure that Colton's experience was not from God, nor can I say with certitude that it was not from God. The material Colton's father selected and presented in the book is consistent with the gospel message. I don't find any clear contradiction between what the father says his son experienced and what the Church teaches about Heaven.

Evaluating particulars of Colton's experience

  • "Picture-thinking": thrones, wings, animals, colors, songs, swords, bows-and-arrows.
  • The imagery in the book seems appropriate for a four-year old, but it can't be distinguished from a drug-induced dream: Jesus' rainbow-colored horse, the pink diamond in his crown, wings on everybody, both angels and saints, homework given to Colton by his grandfather, seeing the Trinity in three separate forms (definitely not the Beatific Vision), angelic hosts fighting demons with swords, bows, and arrows, watching God shoot Holy Spirit power down on his dad while he preaches, seeing everyone in heaven with halos, Jesus going up and down "like an elevator," sitting beside the Holy Spirit on a little chair, etc., etc.
The Church does not define the doctrine in pictures like Colton's. It defines it in language that prescinds from a commitment to any pictorial experience.
image meaning
thrones God is King; Jesus is LORD.
wings on the saints Our resurrected bodies will be glorified.
animals in Heaven The glories of creation will continue to praise God in eternity.
colors All of our senses will be transfigured. We will never grow tired of beholding the beauty of Heaven.
songs We will sing God's praises with the angels and the saints.
swords, bows and arrows

We are engaged in spiritual warfare and will be until the end of everything.

Catholic art also portrays the angels armed with primitive weapons and using them to fight monsters. We literally cannot imagine how one angel combats another because angels are pure spirits. They cannot engage in physical warfare against each other, they cannot be physically wounded, and they cannot be killed in battle.

rainbow-colored horse
pink diamond in Jesus' crown
homework with Jesus and his grandfather
Father and Son enthroned
Holy Spirit "kind of blue"
Jesus shooting the Holy Spirit down on Colton's Dad The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.
halos or auras We are filled with glory.
Jesus going up and down like an elevator, not flying with wings. Although He is truly human, like us in all things, Jesus is also divine, uncreated, God the Son, uniquely begotten of the Father.
sitting beside the Holy Spirit on a little chair
No glasses or old people in Heaven All of our tears will be wiped away and all of our sorrows will be turned into joy.
larger and smaller wings for the saints There are various degrees of glory among the angels and the saints.
  • The preternatural knowledge shown by the boy (immortality of a sister lost in a miscarriage and encounters with a grandfather and great-grandfather) does not require divine activity. Evil spirits could also know and communicate these facts to him (cf. Edgar Cayce).
  • Protestant theology.
  • Danger of gnosticism--revelation judged by personal experiences rather than vice versa.
  • Our faith is based in Jesus' resurrection from the dead, not from any number of near-death experiences. Many near-deathers preach a form of New Age religion based on their experiences. I don't want to open the floodgates to that kind of "revelation."
  • The boy's experience has been selectively narrated and interpreted by his father, who is a Wesleyan Methodist preacher.
  • "They market the book as if the kid died and came back. That's not the case. The kid went under general anesthesia and seems to have had some sort of vision. The heaven he visited definitely seems to be the American Evangelical heaven."
  • "Be ready … there is a coming last battle."[1]
We won't be able to judge the truth of this prophecy in Colton's father's lifetime. If it is true, the truth will be revealed by the last battle, and the world will have come to an end. If it is false, those who accepted it as true will be misled by the prophecy until Colton's father dies without the final battle taking place.

The bottom line

I'm not picking on Colton.
I think he had a most unusual experience. I presume he has been and is innocent and sincere in trying to put that experience into words over the years. I believe that he did encounter God, his sister, his great-grandfather, and other angels and saints in a dream. His body did not leave the operating table; his soul did not leave his body, or else all of his vital signs would have disappeared; the vividness of his experience has to be explained by God acting on his understanding and imagination while he was anesthetized.
I don't believe the images from Colton's vision are "real." I believe in the meaning of the imagery, as I understand it.
Heaven is for real.
This is true. None of my criticisms of the book or the movie are directed against this proposition. This is dogma. More than half of the Apostles' Creed affirms the reality of Heaven:

I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;
from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.

Amen.

How do we know that Heaven is real?
  • Resurrection of Jesus
  • Testimony of the apostles
  • Matrydom of the apostles
  • Memory of the apostolic communities
  • Development of the Scriptures
This is just orthodox Christianity. It is not a new revelation. The movie is incoherent on this point. It portrays Colton's father and other members of his congregation as if they had never thought about the reality of Heaven until Colton began to share his vision. What, then, was their gospel message? Believing in Heaven is a corollary of believing in God as revealed through Jesus. How could Colton's father have believed in Jesus and not have believed in Heaven? That just doesn't make any sense to me. Did people come to church just to hear him tell stories?
People are hungry for the good news.
Heaven is for Real was a New York Times bestseller. People want "blessed assurance." They are willing to believe Colton's testimony as interpreted by his father.
Passage from notional to real assent aided by the imagination.
Heaven is here and now
"All the way to Heaven is Heaven."
Heaven is not a place as much as it is the state of union with GOD.
God works miracles, signs, and wonders.
There is no reason in principle to think that Colton's vision was not from God. God is capable of doing things I do not expect Him to do. He is LORD. He has a plan and purpose for Colton and his family that I cannot discern from afar.
Randall Wallace
  • 2014 Heaven Is for Real (screenplay)
  • 2006 Titan Quest (Video Game)
  • 2002 We Were Soldiers (screenplay)
  • 2001 Pearl Harbor (written by)
  • 1998/I The Man in the Iron Mask (screenplay)
  • 1996 Dark Angel (TV Movie) (story)
  • 1995 Braveheart (written by)
Raymond Arroyo interview of Randall Wallace, 24 November 2014.
[X] Find Raymond Arroyo show, "The World Over." April 17.
Room for doubt
If Heaven is for real, so is Hell. There are bad angels and sinful souls as well as good angels and saints.
This is the kind of book and movie about which reasonable and faithful people may reasonably and faithfully disagree. God certainly might have taken Colton to Heaven and revealed Himself under these images, but I don't find them especially edifying myself. For me, the best part of the movie was when the pastor was passing kidney stones--realistic, compassionate, and humorous treatment.
I believe in the reality of Heaven because I believe in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. I was grasped by this reality in January of 1971 in Dr. Kreeft's class. I long ago accepted the reality of others' mystical experiences (St. Teresa of Avila, St. Padre Pio, St. Joan of Arc, St. Bernadette, the children of Fatima, etc.). Some elements of Colton's vision correspond to the Catholic mystical tradition; some elements do not. I am not going to stake my life on the rainbow horse, winged saints, and angels armed with bows and arrows.
I do not doubt the sincerity of Colton or of his parents. I believe Colton did have a private revelation, accommodated to the intellectual powers of a four-year-old. I do not doubt that they sincerely believe that Colton is telling the truth about his experience. The trouble is that other people with near-death experiences just as sincerely tell other stories about the nature of death and the afterlife. Here, for example, is a priest's story of "dying," then visiting Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven in the company of his guardian angel.
God accommodates Himself to our power of understanding. He speaks in language that we can understand. He cannot reveal Himself otherwise. He can, of course, also elevate our understanding so that we can understand what we have never heard before, and we may not be able to put such understanding into words for others. God has the power to make Himself understood by any of His children, including four-year-old boys.
Many people find Colton's story consoling and encouraging. They seem to think that little children cannot deceive or be deceived. I am not confident that children only tell the truth and could never be used by evil spirits to mislead the faithful. We are not hearing Colton speak for himself in the book or the movie. We are given excerpts of his story as selected and interpreted by his father.
I am not interested in collecting and evaluating every near-death story now available on the internet to see how they compare. I expect nothing but confusion to come out of that kind of study. I suspect that the persons who have these experiences will see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear. That's how we behave when we are wide awake; that's how I expect people to behave when they are profoundly injured and near death or when they are under the influence of sedatives and anesthetics.
I do not doubt God's power to reveal truth to whom He wills. In Matthew's gospel, Joseph has four dreams in which an angel appears to him:
  1. 1:20 -- Mary's child was conceived by the Holy Spirit.
  2. 2:13 -- Flee to Egypt.
  3. 2:19 -- Those who sought to kill Jesus have died.
  4. 2:22 -- Go to Nazareth, not Bethlehem.
Saul of Tarsus was converted by a private revelation--his vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus--and became St. Paul. He later wrote about another private revelation, without disclosing any details of what he saw in it (2 Cor 12:2-4):

2 I know someone in Christ who, fourteen years ago (whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows), was caught up to the third heaven.

3 And I know that this person (whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows)

4 was caught up into Paradise and heard ineffable things, which no one may utter.

"Private revelations" are a normal part of Catholicism.
Numerous saints have had visions of Heaven and Hell, mostly without trauma or medication that might raise suspicions about their mental state during the visions. The Church treats their accounts as "private revelation" if they are consistent with Church teaching and if they are edifying. This means that faithful Catholics may give some credence to the accounts, but may not claim that they are on par with public revelation, the Deposit of Faith preserved by the Magisterium.
Judge Colton's experience by the Deposit of Faith; do not judge the Deposit of Faith by Colton's experience. Colton did not die; he did not face personal judgment; he did not see--or his father did not report him seeing--souls in Purgatory, saints interceding for us, the Beatific Vision, Jesus acting as High Priest in the Eucharist, etc.
"Be not afraid; I am with you."
Most people who have positive near-death experiences lose their fear of dying. Those who trust their testimony often gain that same grace of blessed assurance that all will be well in life after life. These are real graces and blessings.
In the Triumphant Homily at the end of the film, the moral of the story that draws the applause and affection of the congregation is, "Love is letting others know that they are not alone." This is a watered-down version of the gospel, but it is not entirely false. We are not alone because God is with us ("Immanu-El!"). The Good Shepherd does not want us to fear death of the body, but death of the soul. The movie is extremely weak on the need to repent of our sins and live a new life in Christ.
What difference does belief in Heaven make?
The Triumphant Homily asks this question, but the movie doesn't much answer it.
Is this a bad question? I believed GOD is real and that Jesus is real in Dr. Kreeft's class. Heaven is a secondary doctrine. It doesn't appear in the creeds directly. It is a concept linked to resurrection of the body and "life everlasting."
  • Lose fear of death.
  • Gain hope of reunion with our loved ones.
  • Strive to live a life worthy of Heaven.
  • Power to endure innocent suffering.
Heaven is not just this life writ large.
Heaven isn't just this life intensified and extended. It's transposed, transfigured. All the happiness we have here, and more. Colton's experience, as far as it is narrated, is fairly flat and uninspiring vision of Heaven. He didn't take on the mind of God and know as he is known. Didn't have the kind of mystical experience that Paul did--as far as we know, which is limited to what his father told us.

God allows innocent suffering

God allows innocent people to suffer. It is false piety to think:

  • "If God loved you, you would not suffer."
  • "If you loved God, you would not suffer."

This is perhaps the most important part of the story: the pastor prayed the prayer of Job, expressing his anger at God for allowing him to suffer so many tribulations, one after the other. Sonja Burpo and Nancy Rawling also reach that level of honesty, though their dialogue with God is only briefly portrayed. Todd tells Nancy to be honest with God in her prayer; He knows the truth of what we're feeling, and pretending that we don't feel what we feel just isn't healthy emotionally or spiritually.

Learning how to accept and express our anger with God without breaking our relationship is vital for a mature spiritual life--like Jesus in His agony in the garden or in His suffering on the Cross.

Both the book and the movie strike a false note here, at least to my ear. The pastor boasts, "I've now become humble. My pride has been broken. See how humble I am!" He also confesses to having prayed honestly in his distress as if it were a sin to do so. That is lamentable! Neither he nor Job did anything wrong by telling God how they felt about their suffering.

Peter Kreeft

The man to whom I look to teach me how to think about Heaven is Peter Kreeft. He reasons from the Catholic Deposit of Faith, which includes Scripture and Tradition.

"How Heaven Transforms Our Lives."
Restoring a practical and operative faith in heaven would go very far toward restoring vigor, joy and spiritual health to our society. But we can’t give what we don’t have. We must be sure we are living this central article of our faith first. If the salt has lost its saltiness, it is good for nothing but to be trampled underfoot on icy sidewalks.
The fundamental reason heaven is so life-transforming is not what is there but Who is there. Heaven does not contain God. God contains heaven. Heaven is relative to God, God is not relative to heaven. Heaven is heaven only because it is the full presence of God. Without God, whatever else heaven may have becomes completely worthless. So does earth. (St. Paul’s word for it, in Philippians 3, was skubala, which the old Douay and King James Bibles translated "dung.") And with God, nothing else is needed.
"Life after Death"
There are reasons for believing. Here are seven.
  1. The word of God, for one: both Jesus and Scripture are called that, and both teach about heaven.
  2. The nature of God as all-loving and all-powerful, for another thing. If even your love wants to save your loved ones from death, does God love us any less? But he can do whatever he wills.
  3. A third reason is long-range justice, which is not accomplished in this life. "Nice guys finish last", and the meek do not yet inherit the earth. If death ends all, "all" is a pretty bad story.
  4. Here's a fourth reason: the intrinsic value and indispensability of a person, which is a truth seen by the eyes of unselfish love. If death ends everything, then the indispensable is dispensed with like diapers: then persons are treated like things. Then God does exactly what He commands us not to do.
  5. And a fifth reason: the image of God in us, the soul, the self, the I — that's not a thing or object or it. That's not a bodily organ. It's not a thing that can be killed by a bullet or a cancer. It's my soul, my personhood. I am not just a body because I have my body. The possessor is more than the possessed.
  6. Sixth, there is the testimony of seers, saints, mystics, and resuscitated patients who have touched the next world in near-death experiences. They know.
  7. But my solidest reason for believing in life after death is the Resurrection of Jesus. The Church has been witnessing to that for twenty centuries. It's no theory; it's fact.
Kreeft on Heaven:

References

  1. "He learned that the righteous, including his father, would fight in a coming last battle" ("My Son Went to Heaven, and All I Got Was a No. 1 Best Seller").

Links