Heaven Is for Real (Thomas Nelson, 2010) relates the celestial adventures of Colton Burpo, who says he visited Jesus and Heaven while in the operating room. He was not quite 4-years-old when he met his Maker.
The narrator, Preacher Todd Burpo, learns of his young son's journey in bits and pieces several months after the child's recovery from emergency treatment of a ruptured appendix. The pastor parses out the details in a tidy 150 pages or so, amidst tales of family woes that started before Colton's illness.
Todd begins building the story by telling of his personal medical maladies and his family's financial duress. The part-time pastor also has a garage door business, and when a broken leg and a diagnosis of cancer interrupts his life, he finds himself questioning God. His leg heals eventually, and his congregation's prayer chain is credited with saving him from the cancer.
Just when things start to look brighter, he takes the family on a trip. But young Colton gets very sick, with daily multiple episodes of vomiting. His appendix problem is misdiagnosed as a stomach flu, and it is not until nearly a week later, when he has the pallor of death, that he gets the treatment he needs.
Again the prayer chain works, and Colton survives. As the family faces mounting medical bills, the cards and cash come streaming in from the concerned congregation. It is enough to get them through the financial crisis. A few months later, the family is on another trip, and Colton starts talking about Angels and sitting in Jesus' lap. He tells his father and mother where they were and what they were doing during his surgery, because he was outside of his body and could see and hear them. He tells his father that God told the child he had to go back because Todd was asking God to spare Colton.
So, what is Heaven like?
It is a question many readers want answered, as the book has been a #1 New York Times bestseller, with more than 2 million copies in print. The book is similar to Don Piper's story 90 Minutes in Heaven, with vivid descriptions that match those from the Bible.
Descriptions in Heaven Is for Real are also pretty traditional. Colton describes Jesus' clothing, face, and stigmata, and he relates conversations they had. He describes the Throne Room, its occupants, and where they sit. He says Mary, the mother of Jesus, is there. According to Colton, everyone flies in Heaven. The Angels carry swords or bows and arrows, because the battle with Satan is still raging.
Everyone also has his younger body in Heaven. Colton's parents determine this after he tells them he met his father's grandfather in Heaven. In describing the relative, he paints a picture of when the grandfather was a young man. Colton also tells his parents that he met his sister in Heaven. His mother had had a miscarriage years earlier, and she has always felt guilty over losing the child. After Colton tells her about meeting his sister, his mother feels at peace.
The child's revelations are backed up by Bible stories, and Todd explains that his son could not have known the Bible so intimately at his young age. He further explains that he wrote the book because other pastors and his congregation who have heard the family's story urged him to share it.
To this reader, the opening narrative appears to have too many details that can be confusing, but the author has conveniently included a timeline in the back of the book to help the reader follow along. There are also photos in the book as well as Bible annotations at the end. This is a quick summer read that provides a child's glimpse into the afterlife. It's good book club material, sure to provoke insightful discussion.