Movie Review: Heaven is for Real

By Nancy Phillips

Heaven is for Real

I was recently invited to attend the movie, Heaven is for Real, with my daughter-in-law Chantelle.  Prior to attending the movie, I had looked at the reviews. Heaven is for Real had garnered a brilliant two stars, just half a star less than the new Trailer Park Boys  flick. Undaunted, we headed to the theatre and were not disappointed. Heaven is for Real tells the real life story of a young boy, Todd Burpo, age four, who had required surgery for a ruptured appendix. Todd’s surgery happens during the same period of time that his family is experiencing a variety of difficulties. His father, a part-time pastor of a Wesleyan Church and owner of a garage door installation company, had shattered his leg playing baseball and subsequently developed kidney stones. All of these events, combined with an economic downturn, conspired to create huge financial stresses for the family.

Heaven is for Real tells the real life story of a young boy, Todd Burpo, age four, who had required surgery for a ruptured appendix. Todd described his experience of meeting Jesus, of hearing angel choirs, of spending time with deceased family members who had died before he was born.

After his surgery, Todd began to talk about his experiences during that period of time. His descriptions often emerged in a nonchalant way during routine daily life – at bedtime tuck-in time with his Dad, while folding laundry with his Mom, during rides in the car or during dinnertime conversation. Todd described his experience of meeting Jesus, of hearing angel choirs, of spending time with deceased family members who had died before he was born, and even of meeting a sister who died during a miscarriage. Todd’s mother had never spoken with Todd about her miscarriage, yet Todd had been able to describe his unknown sister in detail, even reporting that she had no name because she had never been named.

Todd was also able to describe exactly what his parents had been doing when he was in surgery – his mother pleading on the phone with friends to pray for them and his father, in the chapel area, crying out to God in anger and grief, asking God to spare his son. Todd described this time as “floating above his body”. At some point in the movie Todd’s father visits a psychologist who specializes in Near Death Experiences. The psychologist presented her standard explanation of neurotransmitters and brain chemistry providing us with experiences that we are unable to explain except in terms of messages we’ve internalized from our upbringing in Sunday school. As Todd begins to share more and more of his revelation from his time of surgery, slowly, Todd’s father begins to understand how these messages from beyond could become a vehicle for healing.

Heaven is one of those concepts that challenges the modern era, North American notion that there must be a scientific answer for any phenomenon that falls outside the realm of the expected. For those of us who have struggled with the loss of a significant person in our lives, heaven is a hopeful vision to which we cling.

Heaven is one of those concepts that challenges the modern era, North American notion that there must be a scientific answer for any phenomenon that falls outside the realm of the expected. For those of us who have struggled with the loss of a significant person in our lives, heaven is a hopeful vision to which we cling. We want so desperately to believe that our Christian faith provides us with the opportunity to live on, united with God through Jesus, re-united with our loved ones, and enjoying the blissful existence of one who “got it right” and earned eternal rest. Yet the scientific, rational part of me, creates dark spaces of doubt around the edges of that idealistic picture. And the social justice part of me struggles with the notion that some are allowed “in” and some are not.

I believe what this movie does convey, is that in the space between our birth and our death, between time and eternity, we are called to grow in our knowledge and experience of love.

I believe what this movie does convey, is that in the space between our birth and our death, between time and eternity, we are called to grow in our knowledge and experience of love. We are called to mature in our understanding of that which is beyond the temporal and concrete and develop our soul’s ability to respond to divine presence in a way that begins to blur the solid boundary between here and now, and eternal rest. This maturation of our soul has its context in the day-to-day ordinary messiness of our lives – the way we respond to challenges, the way we choose to move beyond ourselves, the way we reach out to others in need. We so often tend to see ourselves in terms of the churchy, spiritual part of ourselves which we mostly get in touch with on Sunday, and the rest of our lives, which are quite separate from the spiritual part.

Heaven is for Real reminds us that all of life is an experience in encountering the sacred. Jesus’ teaching happens in the context of earth-bound experiences encompassed by the radiance of a love beyond our comprehension, present for all eternity.

Heaven is for Real reminds us, through the innocence of a four-year-old boy, that all of life is an experience in encountering the sacred. Todd’s description of heaven and his family’s experience of this journey together express the Christian gospel as we’ve come to understand it through the earth-bound experiences of our own lives and of those who have gone before us. Jesus’ teaching happens in the context of fishing and drawing water, healing the sick and tending to children, practical compassion and the reality of suffering and death, all encompassed by the radiance of a love beyond our comprehension, present for all eternity. I think the movie reviewers missed the bigger picture.  I give it five stars.