Just before turning four years old, Colton Burpo almost dies from appendicitis. While undergoing emergency surgery, he has an out-of-body, near death experience. He says he went to heaven. In a book entitled Heaven is for Real, his experience is recorded and has now been made into a movie.
The book and the movie have become a controversy. Some doubt Colton’s account and dismiss it as an anesthesia-induced hallucination. Others think Todd Burpo, Colton’s father, who related the story to Lynn Vincent for publication, may be exploiting his son’s imagination. What’s a Christian to think?
I read the book and saw the movie. The movie is not entirely consistent with the substance or scope of Colton’s experience as related in the book, but gives a fair account of it. And to be honest Colton’s account is not entirely consistent in substance and scope with what the Bible says about heaven, but it is not entirely inconsistent either.
Colton is not the first person to have an out-of-body, near death experience. There are a host of accounts that are similar to Colton’s. The specifics vary and may be questionable, but there are aspects of these experiences that are not easily dismissed, such as the ability to recount factual events at different times and in different places that are humanly impossible to know. If nothing else, these accounts raise the question of a spiritual realm and an afterlife.
Colton is not the first believer (he is older now and his father says he has an unshakable faith) to have a supernatural experience. They are recorded from Genesis to Revelation, from Abraham to John. And the list of people who experience spiritual encounters continues throughout the history of the church.
While I cannot say Scripture validates every particular of Colton’s account, he said he met Jesus, and family and friends who have went on before. Of the things the Bible promises, these two hold my greatest longings, to see Jesus, and be reunited with loved ones forever. Certainly, this is not unbiblical.
In his book Why I Believe, the late Dr. D. James Kennedy in the chapter on Hell recounts the story of a man who visited hell during a near death experience. Near death experiences are not always pleasant. I share this because the Bible also speaks of hell. In fact, the Scriptures teach it is our default destination if we refuse to repent and trust Christ.
A rich man in agony cries out to Abraham to send Lazarus to warn the rich man’s brothers about the horrors of hell. Abraham told him, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them,” Luke 16:29. Near death experiences are very subjective; when it comes to spiritual realities we should heed Abraham’s advice and trust the Scriptures. I believe heaven and hell are for real, not because of Colton Burpo or anyone else. I believe, because I believe the Bible.