I recently spoke with Todd Burpo, the author of the New-York Times bestselling book, Heaven is For Real. In 2014, the film based on the book was also released. Many people are familiar with his son, Colton, who experienced what it’s like to visit heaven and come back to tell others. He was gracious enough to answer some questions on faith, heaven, and the struggles he faced.
How has Colton’s experience in heaven changed your faith, personally and as a family? In the film your character is portrayed as a man severely struggling with his faith—is that an true description of who you where at that time?
Todd Burpo: Colton’s experience is not to be confused with any other story. He’s been confused with another story that recently was in the news and the boy admitted that his story was fake. Colton’s experience really happened and he has stuck by his story.
Even the disciples faced doubt. We read that Peter called out to Jesus from a boat on the water. And Jesus, the son of God, struggled. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus calls out to his father begging him to take his fate away if it’s in his will.
The change was gradual for us. Colton was 4-years-old when it happened but we didn’t start writing about it until he was 7. The film depicts what I was going through honestly. I like to work and I didn’t like handouts.
Do you think Colton’s experience helped strengthen your faith?
TB: Peace … it’s amazing how it makes you bolder. It makes you stand because you know that you know you are right because you don’t have any doubts anymore. Fear has been replaced by peace. I struggled with near death experiences more than anything else. Peace is a huge deal.
When Colton speaks it’s like the roles are reversed and it’s like the adult being the child and child being the adult. The change of dialogue between Colton and other adults when he speaks at events and answers questions is amazing. Colton speaks to them with grace.
I can only imagine that time with Jesus must of been incredible and hard to describe. What was the one thing that Colton remembers that Jesus said or did?
TB: His eyes and his markers always stand out to Colton. It’s like being with your best friend and not wanting to leave his side. Jesus also showed him that hell was real. He saw hell from a distance and it is real. In our book, Heaven Changes Everything, we talk about it further.
As a parent I was in awe by the detail that a preschooler like Colton showed in describing heaven and what Jesus looked like. Were you excited hearing Colton describe his experience, was it more shock, maybe a little of both? And did you face adversity as you began sharing about Colton’s experience?
TB: I wanted to give evidence to prove to others. As we started telling more people the scrutiny became harder. Some things I cannot support scripturally. Yes, I was shocked at first but I was unprepared. Even when I sat in Bible college I never imaged talking with my son about visiting heaven. But Hewbews 13:8 is one of my top verses of the Bible. I stand on that.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Hebrews 13:8
Is there a question you’ve never been asked but wish people would ask?
TB: People always look at our story and it communicates to us, it speaks to our wounds. God uses Colton’s story to speak to the truth and our pain. I think Colton addresses the majesty of God. Two things for me go with viewing life. 1) When Colton was in heaven he was in the throne room of God. He said there were three chairs and he sat by God the Holy Spirit. And my son prayed for me. 2) Colton told me, “Dad, God wanted me to tell you that He really, really loves the children”. Children should be more important in the church.
Our world is full of unbelievers unfortunately. Is there anything you’d like to share with unbelievers?
TB: There are 2 things that I want them to understand. I understand their scepticism. I am not threatened and it’s okay with me. I had Colton read the book before it was published because I wanted my son to respect me. And he said, “Dad, everything you wrote is the truth”. And my thought was if your son will respect you then that is all I needed.
There is no way I was going to write something that Colton didn’t respect. And I wanted my son to respect me.
If I could talk to unbelievers I would tell them that I’m not here to convince you about God. Are you an honest person and if you are then have the courage to pray this … “God are you real and is Jesus your son?” I think God is really good at answering this prayer.
If you’re looking for it, you’ll find it. -Todd Burpo
God started talking to me when I was 9-years-old. I would tell them I’m not here to debate with you but do you have the courage to pray that prayer?