I had the opportunity to talk with Todd Burpo, author of the New York Times bestselling book Heaven is for Real. He is the father of Colton, the 4-year-old who while in the hospital for several days due to a burst appendix, went to heaven. The details of his experience have caused many skeptics to believe in the authenticity of Colton's experience and given many a hope that heaven is real. Some of those details include: meeting the girl his parents lost to a miscarriage years before, his great-grandfather, "Pop," who he had never met or known, and even played with Jesus' horse with rainbow hair.
During our conversation today, I asked him these questions:
Kristie Christie: How close does the movie come to matching the book? Are there things that aren't true, or can we trust this story when we watch the film?
Todd Burpo: Hollywood had to make some changes just due to length and style, but the story is actually very true to the book. Hollywood knew that there was a fan base connected to this book (a NYT Bestseller) and that wouldn't be happy if the film departed from the facts of the book. You are going to see a movie that is very close to the experience I had 11 years ago when my son started to tell these stories. The good news is, if you like the movie, there's more details and depth to find the book!
"Colton knew things that no 4-year-old could have known, things no Sunday School teacher would have taught him. If you read the book you'll see. I would encourage everyone to go see the movie and read the book, before you say anything."
My wife and I have a hard time watching this film, because this is the story of several of our most painful moments and experiences in life. My wife, who has had to walk out of the theater many times because it's just too overwhelming to watch these personal moments again, says this is a "no mascara" movie. I've only made it through watching the film once in seven times without crying. It's a tough film for us to watch.
We've been excited that some of the harshest atheist film critics have been encouraging other atheists to go and see this film, because it will make you think. That makes me excited, I want people to rethink their closed ideas and open up to the truth that Heaven is a real place.
KC: Yes, it's always good to reevaluate our beliefs and rethink them. I'm also sorry for what your family has been through.
TB: I'm just glad we're on the other side of it and got to come home with our son.
KC: Yes. I'm sure you are. You've been through a lot. Todd, how old is Colton now?
TB: He is 14, almost 15.
KC: I know that there are key details that have caused you to believe Colton's story, but there are critics out there who suggest that over the years Colton might have enjoyed the attention and favor that he received and could have unintentionally mixed fact with fiction or fantasy and continued to create a story. A good story. What is your response to critics out there.
TB: The critics haven't read the book. If they're honest, they'd know that their critique is unfounded because they haven't read the book and seen the way what we as a normal family struggled through these facts. The truth is people don't understand small town life. We have 2000 witnesses to all these details in our life, we simply couldn't have made it up. City people just don't understand small town life and how it works. Colton knew things that no 4 year old could have known, things no Sunday School teacher would have taught him. If you read the book you'll see. I would encourage everyone to go see the movie or read the book before you say anything.
This is not a christian film with a whitewashed easy story where everything turns out fine and life is easy. This is our real life. It's not fiction at all, this is real and I want people to know that and be given hope. We're prepared to take heat. We know that comes when you make a movie and step out in this way, but I'd say to critics, before you make your judgement, go see it and understand our story.
"Heaven feels like home. Like coming back from a long trip and getting back to the place that you belong."
KC: So, I'm curious. As you've lived this unique journey, what facts have stood out the most. What does heaven look like? I think most people are curious about the process after we die, what is that like according to Colton?
TB: Well, there are lot more details in the book but Colton says that heaven is full of God's love. You just feel it. It just is. You don't have to talk about it. We also have bodies that are in our prime, 20s and 30s, not the tired 70 year old aged bodies we end up with here.
He's also identified the only picture of Jesus that is accurate, you'll see that in the film. He says he prays to the face of Jesus that he met and I've been kind of jealous (he says with a laugh). He also understands the trinity, that God is three persons, in a way that is normally hard for us to understand. It makes more sense when a child explains it to you, because he's seen the trinity. Colton knows everyone wants to know that, yes, there are animals in heaven and he got to play with lions and really liked playing with Jesus' horse that had rainbow hair. You can't play with lions here, so that'll be an interesting experience when we go to heaven! There is a lot of color in heaven.
Heaven feels like home. Like coming back from a long trip and getting back to the place that you belong. Heaven is a place of love and color and familiarity.
What if heaven is real? The sincerity of Todd Burpo's story is evident. Whether you believe Colton's experience or not, it's a compelling story with details that have caused unbelieving cynics to consider they might just be wrong and consider, Heaven might be for real.