|Greg Kinnear and Connor Corum discussing the afterlife|
“Jesus and His Rainbow Horse”
A Review of Heaven is for Real by Nick Olszyk
MPAA Rating, PG
USCCB Rating, A-I
Reel Rating, Three Reels
April 27th is
Sunday – or Divine Mercy Sunday for all you Latins out there – when Jesus told
his disciple “because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are
those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Since then, Jesus still appears
from time to time to remind those who need to see him. Heaven is for Real describes such a true story when a young child
almost died, saw Heaven, and told the world. It is a mostly pleasant film that
raises several interesting questions but rarely follows through. It is easy,
simple, and will affirm the faith of believers but doesn’t challenge its
critics, although sometimes a small push is all one needs.
Todd Burpo (Greg Kinnear) is a hardworking pastor/firefighter/wrestling coach/whatever else the script needs and dad of young
Colton (Connor Corum in a
surprisingly good performance by a child actor). Colton’s appendix bursts and barely makes it
out alive. Several days later, he tells his father that during surgery he
visited Heaven. This experience causes trouble for Burpo who isn’t sure he
believes his son and for the church as more and more people here about the
story. Kinnear does a wonderful job showing the determination and love of a
father but as a pastor seems confused and woefully inadequate even approaching tangible
evidence of the divine, which is all the more problematic for someone tasked
with attending the dying moments of his parishioners (which includes repentance
but not last rites). Colton
handles these events infinitely better with “the faith of a child,” simply
asserting the truth then returning to his Spiderman toys.
Near death experiences are well known and documented throughout the world, providing both inspiration and skepticism. There is a physiological phenomenon that can explain many visions (hallucinations?) that the formally near dead experience. As the brain is deprived of oxygen, it panics, shooting out signals that are interpreted as images. As demonstrated in the wonderful documentary Moment of Death, this can be replicated in test pilots who undergo high G-forces. The origin of
visions seems to have an easy explanation; his father is a Christian minister
after all. However, there are NDEs that demonstrate supernatural qualities like
knowledge of hidden things. Colton
is able to identify a younger version of his great-grandfather from a photo
and, in a very moving scene, tells his mother that his miscarried sister was in
Heaven. His mother never told him or even knew the gender.
The public revelation that Jesus gives on Heaven is grand in scale but rather limited in detail.
said it best as “eye has not seen, ear has not heard, what God has prepared for
those who love Him.” This basically amounts to “I have no idea, but it’s gonna
be awesome.” While Colton’s
vision contains no glaring theological errors, it does strike a fantastical
note. He mentions that Jesus has a horse that is “all the colors of the
rainbow.” Uh-huh. Lest Catholics be too quick to judge, Colton originally saw Mary kneeling before
God’s throne, a scene conveniently left out of the film. Did Colton visit Heaven? A better phrasing would
be that Colton experienced Heaven. He really met Jesus,
and if Jesus brought his horse along, well that would make sense to a four year
The problem with the film isn’t if
went to Heaven; he did. The letdown is that, for a supposedly seasoned pastor,
Burpo is quite vague on what he means by Heaven, and the film’s final sermon
doesn’t help much. His final sermon states Heaven is something like the
summation of love, not really a place. He even includes that possibility that
all religions can experience this same vision. While it’s true that a
non-Christian can go to Heaven, they do not go because they were a non-Christian.
It’s a little annoying; for nearly 90 minutes, good Christians who seem
faithful and wise in other things can’t wrap their heads around this incredibly
simple concept. All they had to do is look up the Nicene Creed: “I believe the
resurrection of the body and life everlasting.” Duh. I mean, Amen.
This article first appeared in Catholic World Report on April 24th, 2014.