Equipping the saints for the work of the ministry - Ephesians 4:12

Heaven is for Real: Truth or Hoax?

In the short book Heaven is for Real, Todd Burpo and his son Colton tell an amazing story of a heavenly experience. The Burpo family spent two very difficult weeks at The Great Plains Regional Medical Center in North Platte, Nebraska where a doctor performed emergency appendectomy surgery on their three year old son.

Four months later, they were traveling through North Platte when Todd reminded his son that they were near the hospital where he had been treated. Colton made a comment about that being the place where the angels sang to him. Thus began a long series of astonishing revelations that stretched over a period of several years.

Todd Burpo currently pastors the Crossroads Wesleyan Church in Imperial, Nebraska. More than 10 years after Colton’s experience, Todd says his son’s story has not changed and there are many people in their town who would corroborate and defend the details.

Among those who offer praise for the book is Jo Anne Lyon, General Superintendent of the Wesleyan Church. She wrote, “Colton’s story could have been in the New Testament. God has chosen to speak to us in this twenty-first century through the unblemished eyes of an innocent child.”

I read the book as a skeptic. I’m not easily persuaded to believe in things that cannot be explained by our own framework of natural laws, but I’m not averse to the idea that occasionally our natural world can be traversed by the supernatural. Below is a summary of Colton’s claims.

Colton’s Account of Heaven

After being transported to heaven, the first person to meet Colton was Jesus. Colton admits to feeling uneasy about his experience, so Jesus brought a few other people to greet and comfort him. Among those was an older sister who had arrived in heaven earlier due to a miscarriage. Colton was never told about his mother’s miscarriage, but he shocked her with a description of his deceased sister after his return from heaven.

His great grandfather was also there to greet him. Later, Todd showed Colton a picture of his grandfather and asked if it was the man he saw in heaven. Colton looked at the picture and told his father there are no old people in heaven. When he was shown a younger version of the same man he claimed to recognize him.

I was skeptical after reading Colton’s descriptions of humans in heaven. He placed an emphasis on their physical characteristics. For example, he said Jesus had “red markers.” He was referring to the wounds on his hands and feet resulting from his crucifixion. Isn’t heaven supposed to be a dwelling place for spirits? Paul said, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 15:50). On the other hand, the Apostle John said, “What we will be has not yet appeared, but we do know that when he (Jesus) appears, we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2). Whether physical or spiritual, it seems certain we will recognize friends and family members in heaven.

Colton also said that everyone in heaven carried a sword. The reason he gave for this was because the swords were assurance against the possibility of Satan reentering heaven. A sword is a man-made instrument used to defend against or do battle with other human beings. In a spirit world it would be ineffective. God wouldn’t need to arm everyone with swords to keep Satan from entering heaven. The light of His glory would be enough to deter Satan from ever wanting to get near Him.

According to Colton, everyone in heaven is young. This is also what Muslims believe who declare that all residents of heaven will all be about 33 years of age, the age of Christ when he spent his last days on earth. Will there be a measurement of time in heaven? Will everyone in heaven be ageless? We won’t divide our eternal lives into days, months and years.

Time is a gift of God to men who need organization and structure in their lives. Time will be unnecessary in heaven. We look for the ever elusive fountain of youth in heaven because we dread the wrinkles and weaknesses of aging. Why don’t we wish for everyone to be old in heaven because age brings maturity and a greater volume of wisdom by which to live by?

Colton also claimes everyone will have wings when they get to heaven. Why would we need wings? Is there gravity in heaven? There is a broad misconception that when humans are transported to heaven they become angels. This is not true. We will never be angels, just as angels will never be humans. Will we not be able to transport ourselves simply by thinking it to happen?

Near Death Experiences

Near the end of the book Burpo’s account of heaven is compared with that of the young Lithuanian girl, Akiane Kramarik. Akiane claims to have visions of heaven and is gifted with a talent for painting what she sees. Todd showed Colton several pictures of Jesus and asked if that’s what He looked like. Colton rejected every picture until he saw Akiane’s portrait, which he affirmed did look like Christ.

Is this sort of story a new phenomenon? Hardly. Near Death (NDE) and Out-of-Body (OBE) Experiences are very common. The Apostle Paul tells of a similar event in the years immediately following the time of Christ. “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4).

It does appear that Colton and Akiane had some sort of vision or out-of-body experience. I don’t believe in aliens and UFOs, but I do believe there’s a common object that people see. There are too many reports in separate parts of the world that describe the same thing. Likewise, there are too many people who claim to have had near-death experiences to reject them. Something is happening. I’m not sure these people actually visit another realm, but they seem to be in a state where the laws of nature are temporarily suspended on their behalf.

Is Colton account of heaven true or a hoax? Read the book and decide for yourself. The unexplained mysteries of Colton’s experience is an interesting read for anyone with a curiosity for the supernatural or hereafter. It’s worth reading for no other reason than it causes us to think and rethink what heaven might be like, and to remind ourselves of what Christ has prepared for us.

Kevin Probst has a B.A. in Religion and Ministry, a B.A. in History, a M.A. in Secondary Education and an Ed. S in Administration and Supervision. He is a licensed minister and teacher at Calvary Christian School in Columbus, Ohio. His interests include religion, apologetics and theology.