Sometimes you watch a clip on the morning news that sticks in your head. A while back (I think it was before Christmas 2010) I saw an interview on FOX & Friends with Todd Burpo and his young son, Colton Burpo. The gist of the teases leading up to the interview were that the young kid claimed to have gone to Heaven and had details on what Heaven is actually like. After hearing those teases as I was getting ready for work I thought, “Okay. I’m sold. Let’s hear this kid’s story.”
I don’t really remember much about the interview other than I couldn’t get an immediate read on whether or not the kid was telling the truth. Sometimes you watch these young kids on television and you can sense that they are coerced into saying certain things by their parents. Other times you watch these kids and just get a bad feeling about the entire story. It’s hard to explain, but if you’ve ever watched a person tell a lie or bend the truth to the point of nearly breaking it in half, then you know what I’m talking about.
I didn’t get that sense from Colton’s story, but I didn’t give it much thought.
The reason the interview was taking place was because the kid’s father wrote a book about his son’s experience. Over the next few months I would pick up the Burpo book at my local Barnes & Noble, flip through it a little bit, and then put it back on the shelf and move on to the next story. Quick side note – even though I own a NOOK Color I still head over to the local Barnes & Noble store to flip through some books to see whether or not I’d want to buy them and also whether or not it would be better to buy the NOOK book version or the paper version. Plus, I like spending a few minutes in the Barnes & Noble – it’s nice and quiet (most of the time).
Anyway, I didn’t consider reading the book until last week when I got my hands on an electronic copy on the NOOK. And, since the book is a relatively short read, I buzzed through over the last few days. I have a few thoughts about the book which are in no particular order below.
- The first half of the book. No offense to the Burpo family or the writing of this book, but the first half of the book is a bore. Sure, I understand that the first half of the book is written to give a base for the second half of the book and the stories about Colton’s experiences, but if you’re picking up this book to read about Colton’s accounts of Heaven and his experiences with Jesus Christ, then you can skip the entire first half of the book. The family stories, the stories of Todd’s physical trials and pains, the ups and downs of the family – all of that tells a certain story and it’s not the one that I wanted to read when I picked up this book. I’m a spiritual guy, I believe in Jesus Christ and the scriptures, I’m already into all of that. I didn’t need to read about the Burpo family’s seemingly consistent pains and their life in the great wide open of middle America to have the point hammered home that these are regular, everyday Christian people. The entire first half of the book could have been summed up in 2 – 3 pages, which would have allowed this reader (and any other number of readers out there) to get to the real heart of the story.
- Weird Parental Reactions. This is definitely a regional perspective, but I was shocked at some of the reactions that Todd and his wife Sonja had to Colton’s comments. For example, when Colton tells his father that he sat in Jesus’ lap and that Jesus talked to him and angels sang to him when he was in the hospital, my mind immediately went to a place that wanted to know what the father was going to do about people approaching his son while he was in the hospital. In other words, my immediate reaction to some of what is written in this book is a reaction borne out of living in the northeast United States for all of my life. Almost subconsciously, people in this part of the world process and assess what they hear and come to an immediate, negative conclusion. You might say we judge a book by its cover. The point here is that Todd and Sonja responded to Colton’s experience in a different way than, say, Sonny and Maria would have responded if little Vinny was telling them about people visiting him in his hospital bed in New York City.
- Colton’s Description of Jesus Christ. All in all, I’m still not sure whether I believe this kid’s experience or not. In truth, I actually believe more of the story than I think could be made up (see next point). Aside from Colton’s knowledge of things that he was never told (like his miscarried sister and his great grandfather Pops), the biggest draw for me to believe his story is his consistently noting that the current vision of Jesus Christ that we have is wrong. I don’t mean that we have the wrong impression of him as our Lord and Savior. I mean his physical appearance is a bit off. Frankly, Jesus Christ was born to a young Palestinian woman (Mary) in the Middle East and yet we show him to be of Anglo-Saxon descent. Something doesn’t seem right in that to me… Colton says that this picture is the best representation of what Jesus Christ actually looks like:
I don’t know about you, but I see that picture and I think, “Now that’s a better representation of Jesus Christ!” The picture above looks more like a guy who could have been born in the Middle East, right? Plus, that portrait just happened to be painted by a young girl who claims to have also visited Heaven and whose account nearly matches Colton’s account…
- The swords in Heaven. This was the one part of the book that I thought didn’t flow correctly and, for some reason, made me think that something might be up with the whole thing. It’s all of Chapter 25 that really made me think twice about this story. In short, Burpo tells how he and his family watched The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (an openly Christian-themed fantasy story that became a major motion picture a few years ago) and how Colton positively responded to the White Witch being taken down by Aslan. After some discussion, Colton tells his parents that there are swords in Heaven because Satan isn’t in hell yet. The swords are for the battle that has yet to come (Armageddon) and how Jesus told Colton that he couldn’t have sword because he’d be too dangerous. The parents ask Colton if he saw Satan and he responds that he had seen him. When they ask what he looked like, Colton didn’t respond. When the parents continued to ask Colton about Satan after that night, he still didn’t respond.
For some reason, that didn’t sit right with me. I understand that this is a young kid and that the thought of Satan, much less the sight of him, must have frightened the kid. Okay, I get that completely. But here is a young kid who is telling wonderful, amazing stories about Jesus Christ and Heaven and then he totally freezes up when the topic of Satan comes up? I don’t know about that – just seems odd.
- The story just sort of ends. There’s no happy conclusion to Colton’s stories about Jesus Christ and Heaven. They just sort of end. The book is brought to a nice conclusion by Burpo and we even get an epilogue to read through, but that’s it. There’s no summation of salient points and no final dictum from Colton about Heaven or his experiences with Jesus Christ (other than that Jesus really loves children and there’s no way to possibly describe God’s overpowering love for us). The book just kind of… ends.
- No heavy issues. This one seems obvious, but you’re not going to find discussion of any heavy issues in this book. As a happy Roman Catholic, the big theological issues in my Church revolve around whether or not women should be priests, whether or not priests should be allowed to marry, whether or not homosexuality is acceptable, when abortion is acceptable (if ever), etc. Obviously, a book about a kid who sees Heaven isn’t going to cover those issues. So, if you’re thinking about picking up this book to understand what Heaven thinks about these major issues, don’t bother reading the book.
Those are some of the bigger points that I have about this book. With respect to a recommendation, I’m not against anyone reading this book. In fact, if you can get it at a good price, then I recommend reading it just because the insights that Colton gives about Jesus Christ and Heaven are fun theological points to ponder. Of course there is the big question…
Do I believe Colton’s account of visiting Heaven and spending time with Jesus Christ?
The answer is… more yes than no. That story about the swords in Heaven and the battle yet to come was really improperly placed in the book and is where my doubt (if you can even call it doubt) rests. Let’s be honest – a young kid who just watched the final battle of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (an epic battle between good and evil) is probably more likely to substitute those images for a heavenly battle that will happen at some point in the future. The chapter didn’t sit right with me.
What did sit right with me was the image of Jesus Christ above that Colton confirmed is what our Savior really looks like in person. The fact that the image was drawn by a young girl who was eight years old when she drew it and also had visions of Heaven and Jesus Christ when she was four years old helps to add some credibility to the story.
In the end, as a happy Roman Catholic who tries his damnedest to practice his life the way that Jesus tells us to in the Bible, I stick with my comment above. I believe more of Colton’s story than I disbelieve.