Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo was put in my hand by a devout church-goer who promised it wouldn’t get all preachy. ‘It’s just a great story,’ she said, and I felt myself looking like her like she was trying to sell me stale cookies. But because it was thin, a quality I love in a book after stepping into George Martin’s endless epic, I sunk into my uncomfortably angular reading chair and dove in. I couldn’t put it down.
‘Heaven is for Real’ is based on the true story of the author’s son’s 3 minute trip to heaven. The author is a minister. I do wish the title didn’t give away the whole story, but so does “Johnny Dies at the End” and we still love ‘David Wong’.
Colton Burpo was 4 when his appendix ruptured. Five days passed before his parents brought him to a good hospital. When told their son was in seriously bad shape, Todd’s parents blamed themselves for not acting sooner. They dealt with their grief in very different ways.
Months after Colton’s recovery, he began to tell his parents all that happened to him during his surgery. In addition to angels singing, Colton said he sat on Jesus’s lap and played with his deceased grandpa. He also watched his father go into an empty room in the hospital and have a breakdown because he feared for his son’s life. As the father tells it, Colton described exactly what Todd Burpo did alone in that room even though Colton’s body was on an operating table at the time.
The book is a slow, gentle telling of little Colton’s out-of-body experience. You wonder how three minutes can fill an entire book, but the focus is more on contextualizing, questioning and digging. Todd makes a point to only ask open-ended questions so his son doesn’t just tell him what he thinks are the right answers. Colton shares a number of details about heaven as a place with beautiful colors we can’t imagine, angels, light and how the past, present and future converge. When his father finally asks about the Devil, the answer is matter of fact and urgent.
I was surprised at how many people had a reaction to me reading this book. I got judgmental looks, several ‘Really?’s and that glazed don’t sell me stale cookies look. As promised, the book never felt preachy to me, but it gave me things to think about. The fact is that this is a great story about what comes after death, and that’s something many are curious about because we’re human. I think this is a book worth reading. Apparently hundreds of thousands of others do, too, as it dominated The New York Times best-seller list when it came out in 2011.