Is Heaven for real??? A small town pastor’s faith is put to the test when his four year old son visits Heaven in the midst of a near death experience. Fortunately little Colton, played by an angelic Connor Corum, returns home only to stir up controversy and make everyone who hears his story, question what they thought they believed about the afterlife. Heaven is for Real, (2014 release by TriStar Pictures available on DVD) presents a situation which some might think is more real than they care to admit. As we sit in our pews and say we have faith, when presented with what we thought we believed about the afterlife, we have to ask if we really do believe?
This Christian crisis of faith movie may come too close for comfort for many people and prompts a deeper reflection than often found within those sacred sanctuary walls on a Sunday morning. Heaven is for Real invites the viewer to question everything they thought they believed, as a small Nebraska church is challenged to question their own beliefs when a miracle presents itself. It’s no easy quandary especially for people who consider themselves among the faithful, prompting us to ask the question, “what is it that we have faith in?” Regardless of your beliefs or faith tradition this movie offers food for thought in that simple, down to earth mid-west way that is always heartwarming.
The movie is based on the New York Times #1 Bestselling book of the same name by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent and features Academy Award nominee and Emmy Award winner, Greg Kinnear as small-town minister Todd Burpo. He and his wife Sonja, played by Kelly Reilly, are struggling financially, a situation that is worsened when Todd is injured sliding into third base in a softball game. Preaching to his congregation on crutches, he collapses in pain as kidney stones take him down. With bills rising and spirits plummeting, their son Colton develops a fever and is rushed to the hospital. An MRI reveals bad news and he isn’t expected to live.
Todd is seen in the chapel, yelling at God, “Don’t you take my son!” Sonja’s call to church elder Nancy Rawling, played by Margo Martindale of televisions, The Millers, sets in motion the church prayer chain as one call leads to another and then another. Her comedic character as a mom who can’t let go of everybody’s business on The Millers, is nothing like the pious, holier than thou Rawling in this movie.
During Colton’s surgery, he has an experience of Heaven that is mystical, but he conveys it in the simplest of ways, one innocent little account at a time. He has an out of body experience where he is looking down at himself and knows things that happened with his family during that time, that he just couldn’t have known. He shares his story of walking into an empty church and sitting in a pew, watching the angels sing to him. Jesus appears and they walk off together into bright light. “Nobody here wants to hurt me,” he says. He is alone but not afraid describing a Heaven that, “looks like earth but more beautiful.” Before Colton returns, Jesus introduces him to a little girl. I won’t spoil it for you by telling you who it is.
Each time Colton shares a piece of his heavenly experience with his father, Todd gets increasingly uncomfortable yet curious, struggling to believe both the miracle of his son's healing and Colton’s visit to Heaven. He wants scientific answers and seeks out university professor, Dr. Charlotte Slater played by Nancy Sorel. The good doctor offers only a crumb of consolation pointing out that at the point of death, the body releases a physiological something or other that gives a feeling of peace. She adds that she doesn’t believe in God or miracles after watching her husband die.
Nancy Rawling whose belief is jaded by her own loss, is disturbed by Colton’s account of the afterlife. “I don’t like that it’s like some fairy tale,” she says, leading an effort to oust Todd from the pulpit. A $34,000 hospital bill looms over their already substantial debt problem and he is about to lose his job.
Despite his desire to believe, Todd is reluctant to talk about Colton’s experience to his congregation until he is somewhat outed when Colton is interviewed by a reporter. Even Sonja couldn’t believe her son until he asks, “Did you know I had a sister?” And he wasn’t talking about his sister Cassie played by Lane Styles. Sonja becomes an instant believer. In a radio interview Todd tells everyone listening to come to church on Sunday and he will tell his story. And he does…to a packed house. People want to know. We want to know. We want to believe in miracles and that everything we thought we believed about life after death is for real, but we are afraid to believe at the same time.
His message is a powerful one. What we believe changes our perception and just because he is a pastor doesn’t make his vision the same as yours or mine. God is a God of love. If Heaven is for real, we would live our lives differently, he says. We get a glimpse of Heaven in each other here on earth. Is Heaven for real? His answer is, “yes!” What’s yours?