The story

What is Heaven?

What is Heaven?

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Joanne M. Pierce / The Conversation

When a family member or a friend passes away, we often find ourselves reflecting on the question “Where are they now?” As mortal beings, it is a question of ultimate significance to each of us.

Different cultural groups, and different individuals within them, respond with numerous, often conflicting, answers to questions about life after death. For many, these questions are rooted in the idea of reward for the good (a heaven) and punishment for the wicked (a hell), where earthly injustices are finally righted.

However, these common roots do not guarantee contemporary agreement on the nature, or even the existence, of hell and heaven. Pope Francis himself has raised Catholic eyebrows over some of his comments on heaven , recently telling a young boy that his deceased father, an atheist, was with God in heaven because, by his careful parenting, “he had a good heart.”

So, what is the Christian idea of “heaven”?

Beliefs about what happens at death

The earliest Christians believed that Jesus Christ, risen from the dead after his crucifixion, would soon return, to complete what he had begun by his preaching: the establishment of the Kingdom of God . This Second Coming of Christ would bring an end to the effort of unification of all humanity in Christ and result in a final resurrection of the dead and moral judgment of all human beings.

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Some Christians believe when Christ returns the dead too will rise in renewed bodies. ( CC BY 2.0 )

By the middle of the first century AD, Christians became concerned about the fate of members of their churches who had already died before this Second Coming.

Some of the earliest documents in the Christian New Testament, epistles or letters written by the apostle Paul, offered an answer. The dead have simply fallen asleep, they explained. When Christ returns, the dead, too, would rise in renewed bodies, and be judged by Christ himself. Afterwards, they would be united with him forever.

A few theologians in the early centuries of Christianity agreed. But a growing consensus developed that the souls of the dead were held in a kind of waiting state until the end of the world, when they would be once again reunited with their bodies, resurrected in a more perfected form.

Illuminated manuscript, Dante’s Divine comedy. ( Public Domain )

Promise of eternal life

After Roman Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in the early fourth century, the number of Christians grew enormously. Millions converted across the Empire, and by the century’s end, the old Roman state religion was prohibited.

Based on the Gospels, bishops and theologians emphasized that the promise of eternal life in heaven was open only to the baptized – that is, those who had undergone the ritual immersion in water which cleansed the soul from sin and marked one’s entrance into the church. All others were damned to eternal separation from God and punishment for sin.

In this new Christian empire, baptism was increasingly administered to infants. Some theologians challenged this practice, since infants could not yet commit sins. But in the Christian west, the belief in “ original sin ” – the sin of Adam and Eve when they disobeyed God’s command in the Garden of Eden (the “Fall”) – predominated.

Following the teachings of the fourth century saint Augustine, Western theologians in the fifth century AD believed that even infants were born with the sin of Adam and Eve marring their spirit and will.

But this doctrine raised a troubling question: What of those infants who died before baptism could be administered?

At first, theologians taught that their souls went to Hell, but suffered very little if at all.

The concept of Limbo developed from this idea. Popes and theologians in the 13th century taught that the souls of unbaptized babies or young children enjoyed a state of natural happiness on the “ edge” of Hell, but, like those punished more severely in Hell itself, were denied the bliss of the presence of God.

Descent of Christ to Limbo by Andrea di Bonaiuto, 14 th century. ( Public Domain )

Time of judgment

During times of war or plague in antiquity and the Middle Ages, Western Christians often interpreted the social chaos as a sign of the end of the world. However, as the centuries passed, the Second Coming of Christ generally became a more remote event for most Christians, still awaited but relegated to an indeterminate future. Instead, Christian theology focused more on the moment of individual death.

Judgment, the evaluation of the moral state of each human being, was no longer postponed until the end of the world. Each soul was first judged individually by Christ immediately after death (the “Particular” Judgment), as well as at the Second Coming (the Final or General Judgment).

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The Last Judgement by Stefan Lochner. ( Public Domain )

Deathbed rituals or “Last Rites” developed from earlier rites for the sick and penitent, and most had the opportunity to confess their sins to a priest, be anointed, and receive a “final” communion before breathing their last.

Medieval Christians prayed to be protected from a sudden or unexpected death, because they feared baptism alone was not enough to enter heaven directly without these Last Rites.

Another doctrine had developed. Some died still guilty of lesser or venial sins , like common gossip, petty theft, or minor lies that did not completely deplete one’s soul of God’s grace. After death, these souls would first be “purged” of any remaining sin or guilt in a spiritual state called Purgatory. After this spiritual cleansing, usually visualized as fire, they would be pure enough to enter heaven.

Only those who were extraordinarily virtuous, such as the saints, or those who had received the Last Rites, could enter directly into heaven and the presence of God.

Images of heaven

In antiquity, the first centuries of the Common Era, Christian heaven shared certain characteristics with both Judaism and Hellenistic religious thought on the afterlife of the virtuous. One was that of an almost physical rest and refreshment as after a desert journey, often accompanied by descriptions of banquets, fountains or rivers. In the Bible’s Book of Revelation , a symbolic description of the end of the world, the river running through God’s New Jerusalem was called the river “of the water of life.” However, in the Gospel of Luke , the damned were tormented by thirst.

Another was the image of light. Romans and Jews thought of the abode of the wicked as a place of darkness and shadows, but the divine dwelling place was filled with bright light. Heaven was also charged with positive emotions: peace, joy, love, and the bliss of spiritual fulfillment that Christians came to refer to as the Beatific Vision , the presence of God.

Christ Glorified in the Court of Heaven by Fra Angelico ( Public Domain )

Visionaries and poets used a variety of additional images: flowering meadows, colors beyond description, trees filled with fruit, company and conversation with family or white-robed others among the blessed . Bright angels stood behind the dazzling throne of God and sang praise in exquisite melodies.

The Protestant Reformation, begun in 1517, would break sharply with the Roman Catholic Church in Western Europe in the 16th century. While both sides would argue about the existence of Purgatory, or whether only some were predestined by God to enter heaven, the existence and general nature of heaven itself was not an issue.

Heaven as the place of God

Today, theologians offer a variety of opinions about the nature of heaven. The Anglican C. S. Lewis wrote that even one’s pets might be admitted, united in love with their owners as the owners are united in Christ through baptism.

Following the nineteenth-century Pope Pius IX , Jesuit Karl Rahner taught that even non-Christians and non-believers could still be saved through Christ if they lived according to similar values, an idea now found in the Catholic Catechism .

The Catholic Church itself has dropped the idea of Limbo, leaving the fate of unbaptized infants to “ the mercy of God .” One theme remains constant, however: Heaven is the presence of God, in the company of others who have responded to God’s call in their own lives.


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Heaven, in many religions, the abode of God or the gods, as well as of angels, deified humans, the blessed dead, and other celestial beings. It is often conceived as an expanse that overarches the earth, stretching overhead like a canopy, dome, or vault and encompassing the sky and upper atmosphere the Sun, Moon, and stars and the transcendent realm beyond.

History and Afterlife

There are certain thoughts that appear to be so ingrained in the human psyche that they seem innate. The idea of a superhuman power or powers, ultimately responsible for the universe and humankind, has been virtually universal throughout history.

Out of the dimness of the patriarchal age and the incredible suffering of a godly man came the conviction that there is a realm beyond death where “the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest” (Job 3:17). The ancient Egyptians constructed their tombs in preparation for a life beyond, and our own Native Americans had their “happy hunting ground.”

Even among the scattered populations of today’s world the notion stubbornly persists that there are future rewards and punishments in the afterlife. If one assumes that the human mind is reasonably sane, he must conclude that these concepts essentially are axiomatic.

Heaven Will Have Pearl Gates, Gold Streets, and Lord’s Light

“The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass” (Revelation 21:21).

Gold and pearl are among the most precious things in the world. Now imagine living in a place where the gates and streets are made of these precious jewels. The glory and the beauty of such a place mesmerise us and leave us at a loss for words because not even the world’s richest person can afford to make even a tiny town with pearl gates and gold roads.

Revelation 21 also says that in Heaven, there will be no more sun or moon. It will be illuminated by God’s glory and by the light of the Lamb. The light will be absolutely bright and beaming.

History of Hymns: 'When We All Get to Heaven'

Philadelphians Eliza E. Hewitt (1851-1920) and Emily D. Wilson (1865-1942) combined as poet and musician respectively to give us a gospel song that captures the revival spirit of the late nineteenth century in a uniquely American way.

Carlton R. Young correctly notes that this hymn should be situated in its “union of revivalism and adventism in much of post-Civil War Wesleyan preaching and worship” (Young, 699). Adventism was a product of the Second Great Awakening during the first half of the nineteenth century that peaked in the 1840s. Its proponent, William Miller (1782-1849), a Baptist preacher, espoused the belief that the second coming of Jesus Christ would take place sometime between 1843 and 1844. While that did not take place, the spirit of Adventism continued throughout the remainder of the century and was evident in many gospel songs of the era.

Many readers may have grown up singing this and other songs on a similar theme during Sunday school gatherings, Sunday evening services, or revivals. Related songs include “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder” (1899) by James M. Black (1856-1938), “Shall We Gather at the River” (1865) by Robert Lowry (1826-1899), and “O that Will Be Glory for Me” (1900) by Charles H. Gabriel (1856-1932). Make no mistake, hymns that addressed heaven were nothing new. Many eighteenth-century hymns by Charles Wesley and others referenced heaven as our ultimate destination. The nineteenth-century gospel song, however, added a spiritual fervor undergirded by a musical vitality that gave these songs a sense of imminence and urgency that had not been experienced heretofore.

The Methodists and Baptists were the dominant sources of these songs that were often included in collections geared for use in Sunday schools and revivals. Though aligned with the Presbyterians, Eliza Hewitt’s song was a product of revivals where the author “regularly attended the Methodist camp meetings” at Ocean Grove, New Jersey (Reynolds, 194, cited in Young, 699). These “seasonal and protracted meetings [were] typical of the Wesleyan campgrounds that were formed, some continuing from earlier in the century, to embody indoors the spirit of the camp meeting” (Young, 699). The “indoor” events were extensions of the rural camp meetings of the early nineteenth century, where the conditions were much more primitive. Tents were pitched, and roughhewn benches were placed to separate men from women. In these early nineteenth-century camp meetings, denominational particularities gave way to more inclusive ecclesial gatherings that included Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and even Quakers (Lorenz, 17-19). Even more astounding in the antebellum South was the participation of both African Americans and whites. As one account notes, “The blacks were the life of the camp meeting. Nine out of ten of them would have a melodious voice for singing and praying and shouting, at a great distance from the campground” (G. W. Henry, quoted in Lorenz, 31).

While the meetings at the end of the nineteenth century at Ocean Grove were under less primitive conditions, they were still rustic with simple huts and cottages replacing tents they were also more domesticated, though the Spirit was still evident in ways that may not have been present or even permitted in the confines of mainline church sanctuaries on Sunday morning. Carlton Young describes the setting under which Eliza Hewitt composed this song:

At Ocean Grove the author and composer viscerally, visually, and audibly experienced the thrilling, though carefully staged, anticipation of Paul’s promise to members of the Thessalonian congregation. “[We] will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air and so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4: 17). These first-century Christians, like the Ocean Grovers after days of hearing perdition preached, had an elevated anxiety about their status at Christ’s imminent return (Young, 699).

The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association remains alive and well with an active program and options for tents. See

The stanzas of “When We All Get to Heaven” are replete with biblical allusions:

In stanza 1, the phrase “in the mansions bright and blessed, / he’ll prepare for us a place” is a rephrasing of John 14:2: “In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” (KJV).

Stanza 2 reminds us that in heaven, light replaces “shadows”: “and the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof” (Revelation 21:23, KJV). Furthermore, the “sighs” of sorrow and pain will be left behind: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4, KJV).

In stanza 3, the poet notes that, “just one glimpse of him in glory / will the toils of life repay” this phrase paraphrases I Peter 4:13, “But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (KJV).

Stanza 4 references “the pearly gates” and “streets of gold,” images clearly drawn from Revelation 21:21: “And the twelve gates were twelve pearls: every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass” (KJV).

Theologically, an ambiguity exists concerning the phrase, “When we all get to heaven. . .” It could be a Methodist use of “all,” growing out of the Arminian inclusivity of God’s grace in the Wesleyan tradition versus the “limited atonement” of Calvinism. It could also be more of an existential statement about those gathered at Ocean Grove with the assumption that they were all going to heaven. More than likely, rather than a nuanced theological assertion, this is an eschatological hope born of revivalistic emotionalism and hyperbole.

The song was first included in Pentecostal Praises (1898), a compilation by a noted gospel song composer, William J. Kirkpatrick (1838-1921), and Henry L. Gilmour (1836-1920), for decades a choir director at camp meetings.

Eliza Edmunds Hewitt lived in Philadelphia her entire life. She was the valedictorian of her class at the Girls’ Normal School, where she taught for some years. Hewitt was prominent in the Sunday school movement, devoting time to youth at the Northern Home for Friendless Children at Calvin Presbyterian Church, she served as the Sunday school superintendent. In spite of a spinal illness that kept her homebound for some years, she studied English literature and authored several hundred texts. The most published of her hymns, in addition to “When We All Get to Heaven,” include “There Is Sunshine in My Soul Today” (1887) and “More about Jesus Would I Know” (1887), the latter hymn appearing in The Cokesbury Hymnal (1923, No. 94). She wrote texts for some of the prominent gospel song composers of the day, including B. D. Ackley (1872-1958), Charles H. Gabriel, E. S. Lorenz (1854-1942), Homer Rodeheaver (1880-1955), and John R. Sweney (1837-1899).

Emily Divine Wilson (1865-1942) was also a life-long Philadelphian. The wife of a Methodist minister, she often attended Ocean Grove with her husband John G. Wilson. The minutes of the Philadelphia Methodist Conference noted:

Mrs. Wilson was the acknowledged inspiration of her esteemed husband. She was beloved by the congregations of the churches served. Her musical ability was a great contribution to the local church, together with her ability in dramatic art (Leon T. Moore, quoted in Reynolds, 465).

The tune name HEAVEN was ascribed to Wilson’s music by the editor of the Baptist Hymnal (1956). Of this tune, Carlton R. Young notes, “The Sunday school marching tune portrays the church, its mission, and the role of the faithful Christian progressing towards a goal. . . It is a useful genre of Christian music whereby the faithful are assured the church is on the move, irrespective of reality” (Young, 699-700). The following rendition is the original quartet version (taken from The Baptist Hymnal, 1991) that shows the independent lower voices echoing the text of the melodic line in the refrain, a characteristic of many revival songs of this day.

Further Reading and Sources:

Ellen Jane Lorenz, Glory, Hallelujah! The Story of the Campmeeting Spiritual (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1978).

William J. Reynolds, Companion to Baptist Hymnal (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1976).

Carlton R. Young, Companion to The United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993).

Heaven is for Real (2014)

According to the Heaven is for Real true story, on Thursday, February 27, 2003, Colton Burpo, then three years and ten months old, complained to his mother Sonja that his stomach hurt. Unbeknownst to his parents at the time, this was the first sign of appendicitis. Sonja took him to the doctor, who told her it was the stomach flu. By the next morning he was feeling better. Colton, his mother, and his older sister Cassie left that day to meet Colton's father, Pastor Todd Burpo, who had already traveled to Greeley, Colorado, where he was scheduled to have a district board meeting for the Wesleyan church (the trip had a duel purpose and wasn't just a vacation like in the movie). They did visit the Butterfly Pavilion (pictured below). It was later that day, while still in Greeley, that Todd's 3-year-old son's condition took a drastic turn for the worse, eventually landing the boy in the operating room fighting for his life.

As seen in the movie (left), Colton Burpo and his family visited the Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster, Colorado on March 1, 2003 (right), the day that Colton's condition took a turn for the worse.

Did Colton really hold the spider?

Were Todd Burpo and his family financially stable?

Not exactly. In the Heaven is for Real book, the real Todd Burpo mentions that the year prior to Colton's emergency surgery was a rocky one, with injury and illness that included a shattered leg, two surgeries, kidney stones, and a cancer scare. He says that the family's bank account had been drained to such a degree that he could almost hear "sucking sounds" when the statements came in the mail. Just when Todd's shattered leg was finally almost behind him and it seemed like things had begun to turn a corner, they quickly found themselves back in the hospital for a near two week long stay following Colton's burst appendix. After Colton was discharged, they were faced with a stack of accumulated bills that totaled around $23,000, and there were more on the way. Family, friends, friends of friends, and acquaintances began sending them money, which helped them significantly.

The Burpo family shortly before the movie's release. Clockwise: Todd, Colton, Cassie, Sonja and Colby (born October 4, 2004). Bottom: Todd's church, Crossroads Wesleyan.

No. As he states in the book, his pastor's salary was small. The family's main source of income was an overhead garage door business that Todd operated. He also served as a volunteer fireman and high school wrestling coach.

What Christian denomination are the Burpos?

The Burpos are Protestants. One of the major differences between Protestants and Catholics, for example, is that Protestants deny the universal authority of the Pope, and they see the Bible as the only source of revealed truth.

Is a ruptured appendix really what landed Colton in the ER?

Yes. Initially, the local doctor at the hospital in the Burpo's hometown of Imperial, Nebraska ruled out appendicitis. After waiting for Colton's condition to improve, his father, Pastor Todd Burpo, recognized the shadow of death on Colton's face. He had seen that look before when visiting the sick in hospitals, nursing homes and hospices. With Colton's condition deteriorating and the doctors still puzzled, Todd and his wife Sonja made the decision to take Colton to the Great Plains Regional Medical Center, which was ninety minutes away in North Platte, Nebraska. A CT scan quickly revealed the problem, a burst appendix. It also meant that poisonous discharge had been filling Colton's belly for five days.

Did the hospital staff really not expect Colton to live?

Actor Rob Moran (left), who portrays the surgeon in the movie, and the real Dr. Timothy O'Holleran (right) who operated on Colton Burpo.

After assessing the situation, the hospital staff knew Colton's condition was bad. In the book, Colton's father writes that Dr. Timothy O'Holleran (pictured) said, "He's not in good shape. . We've got to go in and clean him out. We'll know more when we open him up."

Following two surgeries to clean the poison out of his son's abdomen, Todd Burpo says that the doctors and nurses at Great Plains Regional Medical Center seemed amazed that shortly after they felt that they could do no more and recommended that Todd and Sonja take Colton to a children's hospital, either in Omaha or Denver, Colton's bowels suddenly started to work again and his worsening condition improved dramatically.

The true story behind the Heaven is for Real movie reveals that it was around this point in time that a nurse offered a few words in private, explaining to Todd that the doctors and nurses had expected Colton Burpo to die. The nurse told Todd that the doctors had told them not to offer his family any encouragement, because they didn't think his son was going to make it. She stressed that when the doctors say someone isn't going to make it, they don't. After witnessing Colton's sudden turnaround, the nurse said that she believed it had to be a miracle.

Did the real Colton Burpo ever technically flatline?

No. Like in the movie, Colton's heart never actually stopped beating. The real Todd Burpo stated this during an interview with Megyn Kelly on The Kelly File. "Well, he never flatlined or coded, but talking to the surgeon, he said children that young, they have no warning, vital signs don't fade, they're just there or they're gone. But he never did technically just flatline."

In order to explain how his son visited Heaven without dying, Todd remembered that the Bible discusses several people who had visited Heaven without dying, including John the apostle and a personal acquaintance of the apostle Paul. -Heaven is for Real book

Did the father, Todd Burpo, really lash out at God in private at the hospital?

Todd Burpo with his son Colton on his shoulders in November 2003, 8 months after Colton's emergency surgery. Inset: The photo used for the book's cover.

For how long was the real Colton Burpo in the hospital?

The real Colton Burpo was in the hospital for much longer than the movie implies. Colton began his hospital stays on Monday, March 3, 2003 (first in Imperial, then at the Great Plains Regional Medical Center). Following two surgeries at Great Plains (to clean the poison and infection out of his abdomen) and a bowel complication, he was finally discharged on Wednesday, March 19, 2003 after approximately sixteen days. -Heaven is for Real book

At what point did Colton's parents begin to believe that their son visited Heaven?

The realization came four months after the surgery. "What really caught our attention first," says Todd Burpo, "was when he could tell us where we were and what we were doing while he was in surgery, because how can anyone make that up. I tried to reason away what he was saying, but the scene where he said he saw me yelling at God and his mom in another room, he nailed all that first. That was the first thing to us."

It was at that point that Colton Burpo's father became aware of what his son was trying to tell them all along. "I remember my son in that room then, looking up at me and he goes, 'Dad, do you know I almost died?' And my first thought was, maybe you overheard the nurse say that, or maybe they thought he was under anesthesia, you know, and he wasn't. "

Did Colton really claim to have met Pop (his great-grandfather) in Heaven?

Yes, the Heaven is for Real true story reveals that, like in the movie, the real Colton Burpo told his dad that he had met and stayed with Pop (his great-grandfather on Todd's mother's side) while he was in Heaven. Pop (pictured below), whose real name was Lawrence Barber, died in July 1976 from a car accident when Todd was around six-years-old. Todd had been close to his grandfather since he had often stayed with his grandparents when his mother attempted to shield him from his own father's bipolar disorder, which sometimes required hospital stays. Pop was only sixty-one years old when he passed away. The photos of Pop that Todd (Greg Kinnear) shows Colton (Connor Corum) in the movie are the real-life photos of Pop (pictured below, right). -Heaven is for Real book

Pop with Colton's dad Todd as a boy in the movie (left). Right: A photo of the real Pop shortly before his death, and the photo of Pop at age 29, the one that Colton recognized him in.

Did Colton recognize Pop in a picture?

Did Colton really claim to see his miscarried sister in Heaven?

Yes. "I was entering through the gates of Heaven," says the real Colton Burpo, "and this little girl came running out at me, and she gave me a hug. Now, when I was younger I wasn't really the hugging type, so I was just sitting here, 'Okay, who are you? Why are you touching me?' And finally she told me who she was, and it was just amazing because she was finally glad someone from her family was up in Heaven."

In a separate interview with CBN, Colton described his miscarried sister in a bit more detail, "She looked like Cassie, but she had brown hair." Cassie is Colton's older sister.

Colton's parents, Todd and Sonja, claim that they never told their son about his miscarried sister, who they lost before Colton was born. Sonja Burpo had miscarried on June 20, 1998 when she was pregnant with her second child. "How do you tell a child that a baby has died inside your tummy?"

Did Colton's parents know the gender of their miscarried baby prior to Colton telling them?

No. Like in the movie, Colton's mother, Sonja Burpo, only discovered that the miscarried baby was a girl after Colton told her that he saw his sister in Heaven. At the time of the miscarriage, Sonja was two months along. Colton described his sister in Heaven as looking like his older sister Cassie but with dark hair and a bit smaller. -Heaven is for Real book

Did Colton's older sister Cassie know about her mother's miscarriage?

Yes. In researching the Heaven is for Real true story, we discovered that Cassie, Colton's older sister, did know about her mother's miscarried baby prior to Colton's ruptured appendix. "We had explained it to Cassie she was older," Todd Burpo states in the book. "But we hadn't told Colton, judging the topic a bit beyond a four-year-old's capacity to understand." Cassie was approximately six-and-a-half at the time of Colton's near death experience.

Is Thomas Haden Church's character, Jay Wilkins, based on a real person?

Though Thomas Haden Church's character, Jay Wilkins, is largely fictional, he most closely resembles Todd's good friend Phil Harris in the book (a loose connection at best).

Did Colton share the hope of Jesus with a dying boy in a hospital?

No. As evidenced by the book, Colton did not visit the bedside of a dying boy in order to give him comfort. He did accompany his father Todd to a nursing home to visit a dying man named Harold Greer and his family. However, in the movie, this visit takes place before the surgery, not after it like in the book. During the actual visit, Colton approached the man's bedside, much like he does the boy's in the movie, and told the man that everything was going to be okay and that the first person he'll see in Heaven is Jesus. Todd states that it was at that point that he realized that his son had become a messenger.

Did Colton give hope to a woman whose son was killed in the war?

How did Colton Burpo describe Jesus's appearance?

Todd Burpo says that they spent three years showing Colton pictures of Jesus, and it wasn't until Colton saw Akiane Kramarik's painting of Jesus, titled Prince of Peace: The Resurrection (pictured below), that Colton said, "This one's right." Akiane Kramarik is an astounding child prodigy who is a self-taught painter. Her work sells for thousands of dollars. She says that her inspiration comes from God and her visits to Heaven. To learn more about Akiane, watch the Akiane Kramarik CNN segment that is highlighted in the movie.

Inspired by God and her visits to Heaven, Akiane Kramarik (right) painted this portrait of Jesus (left) when she was only 8-years-old. Colton Burpo recognized it as the Jesus he too saw in Heaven.

If Heaven was wonderful, why did Colton want to come back?

Colton's father, Todd Burpo, says that he asked his son this very question. In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Colton responded in his own words. "I knew that I was leaving Heaven because Jesus came to me and said, 'Colton, you need to go back.' Even though I didn't want to go back, he said that he was answering my dad's prayer." Todd says it was the prayer that he made in private at the hospital when he lashed out at God.

For how long was Colton Burpo in Heaven?

The real Colton Burpo supposedly told his father that he was in Heaven for three minutes. After hearing about everything his son had done in Heaven, Todd Burpo knew that such a short amount of time didn't make sense. As in the movie, he turned to the Bible for an answer and recalled that the Bible says that with the Lord, "a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day." -Heaven is for Real book

Had the family experienced any other miracles?

Yes. According to the real Todd Burpo, one such miracle unfolded in the months prior to Colton's trip to Heaven. Todd noticed a lump under the surface of his left nipple. The doctor performed a biopsy and the results came back as hyperplasia, the precursor to breast cancer. A lumpectomy was performed. However, when the removed tissue was tested, it was discovered to be benign, no longer exhibiting hyperplasia. Todd's doctor had no explanation for the sudden reversal.

Could Colton's father being a pastor have influenced his story?

Many who have read the book have wondered if Colton's story would have been the same if his father was not a pastor and if his family were, for instance, atheists. Those who believe Colton Burpo is telling the truth counter by arguing that it was Colton's strong faith at such a young age that allowed God to let him visit Heaven.

Some critics, including Pastor David Platt, have also pointed out that not only does Colton's story contradict certain elements of scripture, it is another addition to a flourishing genre of books that attempt to purport biographical tales of Heaven and the Afterlife, with the main problem being that many of these descriptions of Heaven often do not correlate with one another. This leads one to ask the question, with numerous biographical stories of Heaven on bookstore shelves, how do we know which ones, if any, are based in truth? These same critics usually conclude by pointing out the high dollar amounts being made from such books by Christian publishers.

Did Colton's father, Todd Burpo, write the book himself?

No. The book Heaven is for Real was co-written by Lynn Vincent, who also worked with Sarah Palin on her best seller Going Rogue.

What prompted Colton's father to write the book?

Colton's father, Pastor Todd Burpo, began preaching about his son's incredible story. Word of the miracle spread and a pastor friend, Phil McCallum, offered to introduce Todd to certain individuals in the publishing world. The Nashville publishing house of Thomas Nelson, which specializes in Christian books and Bibles, eventually bought the rights.

As of April 2014, the book had sold eight million copies and had spent three years on the New York Times Best Sellers List. With the release of the movie, that sales figure is projected to rise significantly.

Did Colton see a coming Armageddon while he was in Heaven?

During a January 2012 interview with Natalie Tizzel on the Canadian television show 100 Huntley Street, the real Colton Burpo attempted to describe the Armageddon that he claims he got to see a preview of while he was in Heaven. "Well, the battle was with Jesus, the angels, and the good people goin' against Satan, the monsters, and the bad people. They were fighting, and in the end, Jesus does win and the Armageddon would be over, but it has a long time to do. I got to see it happening, and I got to see my dad in the battle. I understood what was going on because, well, I was up there for a while so, you figure out what's goin' on after a while."

Has Colton Burpo's experience changed his feelings on life and death?

"I'm not really scared of death now," says Colton in 2014, "because, first of all, I know what to expect, so I have that going for me. But another thing is, before I die, I wanna be able to share as much as I can, so I can bring as many people with me."

Does Colton at age 14 still remember his experience from 10 years ago?

"Well, of my hospital stay and all the events leading up to it, that's a little foggy," says the real Colton Burpo, "but my experience in Heaven is very vivid. I remember just all of the people up in Heaven. There were people, angels, animals, and they had so many things up there that you could do."

A 14-year-old Colton Burpo (right) and his parents, Todd (left) and Sonja (middle), are interviewed by Megyn Kelly in April 2014, just prior to the movie's release.

Is Colton's family happy with the movie?

Yes. "We can talk about how well Greg Kinnear played me, but how they captured my family, they were spot on," says the real Todd Burpo. "The very first discussions we had were [about me saying] 'you have to protect this story' because at the end of the day my son is 'going to see what you put on a movie screen' and one day he is going to hold me accountable for it. I'm not going to risk that and they said, 'We understand.'"

Burpo continued, "This child actor, Connor, God brought him to this movie. A kid that age can't act, so God had to find a kid that was just like Colton and He did."

After exploring the Heaven is for Real true story above, view the related interviews below. Watch interviews with Colton Burpo and his father Todd Burpo and mother Sonja. Listen to Colton describe Heaven and meet the child prodigy, Akiane Kramarik, who painted the only depiction of Jesus that Colton recognized.

A 14-year-old Colton Burpo describes Heaven to interviewer Megyn Kelly. He also talks about meeting his miscarried sister, something his parents claim they had never told him about. Kelly asks the parents how they respond to those who don't believe in an afterlife, who have accused them of putting ideas in their son's head.

This segment aired on the Christian Broadcasting Network and features Colton Burpo home movie footage and photos shot before his appendix burst and he found himself on a hospital operating table close to death. Colton's parents, Todd and Sonja Burpo, discuss the ways Colton revealed to them that he had visited Heaven and spoke to Jesus.

Colton Burpo is interviewed by Natalie Tizzel in January 2012 for the Canadian television program 100 Huntley Street. During the interview, Colton describes seeing the coming Armageddon while he was in Heaven. He says that he saw his dad fighting in the battle as one of the "good people" who were going against the "bad people."

David Platt, senior pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, discusses Heaven is for Real vs. the Bible. He also offers a list of other bestselling books about supposed trips to Heaven, reminding the audience of the enormous sums of money being made by the publishers. He wonders why so many people have turned to these books instead of the Bible for their own interpretations of Heaven.

The band Read You and Me partners with Colton Burpo for his music video debut in this version of 'Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)'. The video was shot in 2012 when Colton was thirteen.

Glenn Beck narrates this CNN segment on Akiane Kramarik, the self-taught child prodigy whose portrait of Jesus, titled Prince of Peace: The Resurrection, caught Colton Burpo's eye when his father showed it to him. After three years of being shown Jesus pictures, Colton said, "That one's right," upon seeing Akiane's portrait. Akiane says her inspiration comes from God and her visits to Heaven.

Watch the Heaven is for Real movie trailer for the film starring Greg Kinnear as Pastor Todd Burpo. Adapted from the real Burpo's bestselling 2010 book, Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, the movie retells the story of his then three-year-old son, Colton, who after a near-death experience began sharing details of his visit to Heaven.

3. Free-will Theodicies of Hell

Unlike the Augustinians, Arminian theologians emphasize the role that free will plays in determining one&rsquos eternal destiny in heaven or hell they also accept the so-called libertarian understanding of free will, according to which freedom and determinism are incompatible (see the entry on free will)). Because not even an omnipotent being can causally determine a genuinely free choice, the reality of free will, they say, introduces into the universe an element that, from God&rsquos perspective, is utterly random in that it lies outside of God&rsquos direct causal control. Accordingly, if some person should freely act wrongly&mdashor worse yet, freely reject God&rsquos grace&mdashin a given set of circumstances, then it was not within God&rsquos power to induce this person to have freely acted otherwise, at least not in the exact same circumstances in which the person was left free to act wrongly. So in that sense, our human free choices, particularly the bad ones, are genuine obstacles that God must work around in order to bring a set of loving purposes to fruition. And this may suggest the further possibility that, with respect to some free persons, God cannot both preserve their their libertarian freedom in the matter and prevent them from freely continuing to reject God forever. As C. S. Lewis, an early 20th Century proponent of such a theodicy, once put it, &ldquoIn creating beings with free will, omnipotence from the outset submits to the possibility of &hellip defeat. &hellip I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end that the doors of hell are locked on the inside&rdquo (Lewis 1944, 115).

The basic idea here is that hell, along with the self imposed misery it entails, is essentially a freely embraced condition rather than a forcibly imposed punishment [7] and because freedom and determinism are incompatible, the creation of free moral agents carries an inherent risk of ultimate tragedy. Whether essential to our personhood or not, free will is a precious gift, an expression of God&rsquos love for us and because the very love that seeks our salvation also respects our freedom, God will not prevent us from separating ourselves from him, even forever, if that is what we freely choose to do. So even though the perfectly loving God would never reject anyone, sinners can reject God and thus freely separate themselves from the divine nature they not only have the power as free agents to reject God for a season, during the time when they are mired in ambiguity and subject to illusion, but they are also able to cling forever to the illusions that make such rejection possible in the first place.

But why suppose it even possible that a free creature should freely reject forever the redemptive will of a perfectly loving and infinitely resourceful God? In the relevant literature over the past several decades, advocates of a free-will theodicy of hell have offered at least three quite different answers to this question:

  1. Perhaps the most commonly expressed answer concerns the possibility of an irrevocable decision to reject God forever. Jerry Walls thus describes the damned as those who have made a decisive choice of evil (see Walls 1992, Ch. 5), Richard Swinburne suggests that &ldquoonce our will is fixed for bad, we shall never [again] desire or seek what we have missed&rdquo because we have made an &ldquoirrevocable choice of character&rdquo (Swinburne 1989, 199), and R. Zachary Manis interprets Kierkegaard, whose view he defends, as suggesting that the &ldquodamned are so filled with hatred &hellip so motivated by malice and spite &hellip that they will to remain in their state of torment, all for the sake of demonstrating that they are in the right, and that God is in the wrong&rdquo (Manis 2016, 290).
  2. Another proposed answer rejects altogether the traditional idea that those in hell are lost without any further hope of restoration. Buckareff and Plug (2005) have thus argued from the very nature of the divine perfections (including perfect love) that God will always have &ldquoan open-door policy towards those in hell&mdashmaking it [always] possible for those in hell to escape&rdquo (39) and similarly, Raymond VanArragon has argued that those in hell continue to reject God freely only if they retain the power to act otherwise and hence also the power to repent and be saved (see VanArragon 2010). Because the damned never lose forever their libertarian freedom in relation to God&rsquos offer of salvation, in other words, and never lose forever the psychological possibility of genuine repentance, there is no irreversible finality in the so-called final judgment. [8] Still, the possibility remains, according to this view, that some will never avail themselves of the opportunity to escape from hell.
  3. A third proposed answer rests upon a Molinist perspective, according to which God&rsquos omniscience includes what philosophers now call middle knowledge, which in turn includes far more than a simple foreknowledge of a person&rsquos future free actions. It also includes a perfect knowledge uf what a person would have done freely in circumstances that will never even obtain. So with respect to the decision whether or not to create a given person and to place that person in a given set of circumstances, God can base this decision in part on a knowledge of what the person would do freely if created and placed in these precise circumstances&mdashor if, for that matter, the person were placed in any other possible set of circumstances as well. From this Molinist perspective, William Lane Craig has defended the possibility that some free persons are utterly irredeemable in this sense: short of overriding their libertarian freedom, nothing God might do for them&mdashwhether it be to impart a special revelation. to administer an appropriate punishment, or to help them in some other way&mdashwill ever win them over or persuade them to repent as a means of becoming reconciled to God (Craig 1989). Craig himself calls this dreadful property of being irredeemable transworld damnation (184).

In part because it rests upon the idea of middle knowledge, which is itself controversial, Craig&rsquos idea of transworld damnation may be the most controversial idea that any proponent of a free will theodicy of hell has put forward. It also raises the question of why a morally perfect God would create someone (or instantiate the individual essence of someone) whom God already knew in advance would be irredeemable. By way of an answer, Craig insists on the possibility that some persons would submit to God freely only in a world in which others should damn themselves forever it is even possible, he insists, that God must permit a large number of people to damn themselves in order to fill heaven with a larger number of redeemed. Craig himself has put it this way:

As this passage illustrates, Craig accepts at least the possibility that, because of free will, history includes an element of irreducible tragedy he even accepts the possibility that if fewer people were damned to hell, then fewer people would have been saved as well. So perhaps God knows from the outset that a complete triumph over evil is unfeasible no matter what divine actions might be taken as a result, God merely tries to minimize the defeat, to cut the losses, and in the process to fill heaven with more saints than otherwise would have been feasible. (For a critique of this reply, see Talbott 1992 for Craig&rsquos rejoinder, see Craig 1993 and for a critique of Craig&rsquos rejoinder, see Seymour 2000a.)

In any case, how one assesses each of the three answers above will depend upon how one understands the idea of moral freedom and the role it plays, if any, in someone landing in either heaven or hell. The first two answers also represent a fundamental disagreement concerning the existence of free will in hell and perhaps even the nature of free will itself. According to the first answer, the inhabitants of hell are those who have freely acquired a consistently evil will and an irreversibly bad moral character. So for the rest of eternity, these inhabitants of hell do not even continue rejecting God freely in any sense that requires the psychological possibility of choosing otherwise. But is such an irreversibly bad moral character even coherent or metaphysically possible? Not according to the second answer, which implies that a morally perfect God would never cease providing those in hell with opportunities for repentance and providing these opportunities in contexts where such repentance remains a genuine psychological possibility. All of which points once again to the need for a clearer understanding of the nature and purpose of moral freedom. (See section 5.1 below for some additional issues that arise in connection with freedom in heaven and hell.)

3.1 Moral Freedom and Rationality

Given the New Testament imagery associated with Gehenna, the Lake of Fire, and the outer darkness&mdashwhere there is &ldquoweeping and gnashing of teeth&rdquo&mdashthe question is not how someone in a context of ambiguity, ignorance, and misperception could freely choose separation from the divine nature over union with it the question is instead how someone could both experience such separation (or the unbearable misery of hell, for example) and freely choose to remain in such a state forever. This is not a problem for the Augustinians because, according to them, the damned have no further choice in the matter once their everlasting punishment commences. But it is a problem for those free-will theists who believe that the damned freely embrace an eternal destiny apart from God, and the latter view requires, at the very least, a plausible account of the relevant freedom.

Now, as already indicated, those who embrace a free-will theodicy of hell typically appeal, in the words of Jonathan Kvanvig, to &ldquoa libertarian account of human freedom in order to provide a complete response to&rdquo the problem of hell (Kvanvig 2011, 54). But of course such a &ldquocomplete response&rdquo would also require a relatively complete account of libertarian freedom. According to Kvanvig, &ldquosome formulation of the Principle of Alternative Possibilities (PAP) correctly describes this notion of [libertarian] freedom&rdquo and, as he also points out, this &ldquoprinciple claims that in order to act freely one must be able to do otherwise&rdquo (48). But at most PAP merely sets forth a necessary condition of someone acting freely in the libertarian sense, and it includes no requirement that a free choice be even minimally rational. So consider again the example, introduced in section 2.1 above, of a schizophrenic young man who kills his loving mother, believing her to be a sinister space alien who has devoured his real mother and this time suppose further that he does so in a context in which PAP obtains and he categorically could have chosen otherwise (perhaps because he worries about possible retaliation from other sinister space aliens). Why suppose that such an irrational choice and action, even if not causally determined, would qualify as an instance of acting freely? Either our seriously deluded beliefs, particularly those with destructive consequences in our own lives, are in principle correctable by some degree of powerful evidence against them, or the choices that rest upon them are simply too irrational to qualify as free moral choices.

If that is true, then not just any causally undetermined choice, or just any agent caused choice, or just any randomly generated selection between alternatives will qualify as a free choice for which the choosing agent is morally responsible. Moral freedom also requires a minimal degree of rationality on the part of the choosing agent, including an ability to learn from experience, an ability to discern normal reasons for acting, and a capacity for moral improvement. With good reason, therefore, do we exclude lower animals, small children, the severely brain damaged, and perhaps even paranoid schizophrenics from the class of free moral agents. For, however causally undetermined some of their behaviors might be, they all lack some part of the rationality required to qualify as free moral agents. [9]

Now consider again the view of C. S. Lewis and many other Christians concerning the bliss that union with the divine nature entails, so they believe. and the objective horror that separation from it entails, and suppose that the outer darkness&mdashthat is, a soul suspended alone in nothingness, without even a physical order to experience and without any human relationships at all&mdashshould be the logical limit (short of annihilation) of possible separation from the divine nature. These ideas seem to lead naturally to a dilemma argument for the conclusion that a freely chosen eternal destiny apart from God is metaphysically impossible. For either a person S is fully informed about who God is and what both union with the divine nature and separation from it would entail, or S is not so informed. If S is fully informed and should choose a life apart from God anyway, then S&rsquos choice would be utterly and almost inconceivably irrational such a choice would fall well below the threshold required for moral freedom. And if S is not fully informed, then God can of course continue to work with S, subjecting S to new experiences, shattering S&rsquos illusions, and correcting S&rsquos misjudgments in perfectly natural ways that do not interfere with S&rsquos freedom. Beyond that, for as long as S remains less than fully informed, S is simply in no position to reject the true God S may reject a caricature of God, perhaps even a caricature of S&rsquos own devising, but S is in no position to reject the true God. Therefore, in either case, whether S is fully informed or less than fully informed, it is simply not possible that S should reject the true God freely.

By way of a reply to this argument and in defense of his own free&ndashwill approach to hell&mdashwhich, by the way, in no way excludes the possibility that some inhabitants of hell may eventually escape from it&mdashJerry Walls concedes that &ldquothe choice of evil is impossible for anyone who has a fully formed awareness that God is the source of happiness and sin the cause of misery&rdquo (Walls 1992, 133). But Walls also contends that, even if those in hell have rejected a caricature of God rather than the true God, it remains possible that some of them will finally make a decisive choice of evil and will thus remain in hell forever. He then makes a three-fold claim: first, that the damned have in some sense deluded themselves, second, that they have the power to cling to their delusions forever, and third, that God cannot forcibly remove their self-imposed deceptions without interfering with their freedom in relation to God (Walls 1992, Ch. 5).

For more detailed discussions of these and related issues, see Swinburne 1989 (Ch. 12), Craig 1989 and 1993, Talbott 2007, Walls 1992 (Ch. 5), 2004a, and 2004b, Kronen and Reitan 2011 (142&ndash146), and Manis 2016 and 2019. See also sections 4.2 and 5.1 below.

3.2 Moral Freedom and Irreparable Harm

Consider now the two conditions under which we humans typically feel justified in interfering with the freedom of others (see Talbott 1990a, 38). We feel justified, on the one hand, in preventing one person from doing irreparable harm&mdashor more accurately, harm that no human being can repair&mdashto another a loving father may thus report his own son to the police in an effort to prevent the son from committing murder. We also feel justified, on the other hand, in preventing our loved ones from doing irreparable harm to themselves a loving father may thus physically overpower his daughter in an effort to prevent her from committing suicide.

Now one might, it is true, draw a number of faulty inferences from such examples as these, in part because we humans tend to think of irreparable harm within the context of a very limited timeframe, a person&rsquos life on earth. Harm that no human being can repair may nonetheless be harm that God can repair. It does not follow, therefore, that a loving and omnipotent God, whose goal is the reconciliation of the world, would prevent every suicide and every murder it follows only that such a God would prevent every harm that not even omnipotence could repair at some future time, and neither suicide nor murder is necessarily an instance of that kind of harm. So even though a loving God might sometimes permit murder, such a God would never permit one person to annihilate the soul of another or to destroy the very possibility of future happiness in another and even though a loving God might sometimes permit suicide, such a God would never permit genuine loved ones to destroy the very possibility of future happiness in themselves either. The latter conclusion concerning suicide is no doubt the more controversial, and Jonathan Kvanvig in particular has challenged it (see Kvanvig 1993, 83&ndash88). But whatever the resolution of this particular debate, perhaps both parties can agree that God, as Creator, would deal with a much larger picture and a much longer timeframe than that with which we humans are immediately concerned.

So the idea of irreparable harm&mdashthat is, of harm that not even omnipotence could ever repair&mdashis critical at this point. It is most relevant, perhaps, in cases where someone imagines sinners freely choosing annihilation (Kvanvig), or imagines them freely making a decisive and irreversible choice of evil (Walls), or imagines them freely locking the gates of hell from the inside (C. S. Lewis). But proponents of the so-called escapism understanding of hell can plausibly counter that hell is not necessarily an instance of such irreparable harm, and Raymond VanArragon in particular raises the possibility that God might permit some loved ones to continue forever rejecting God in a non-decisive way that would not, at any given time, harm them irreparably (see VanArragon 2010, 37ff see also Kvanvig 2011, 52). Here it is perhaps worth noting how broadly VanArragon defines the term &ldquorejecting God&rdquo (see 2010, 30&ndash31)&mdashso broadly, in fact, that any sin for which one is morally responsible would count as an instance of someone rejecting God. He thus explicitly states that rejecting God in his broad sense requires neither an awareness of God nor a conscious decision, however confused it may be, to embrace a life apart from God. Accordingly, persistent sinning without end would never result, given such an account, in anything like the traditional hell, whether the latter be understood as a lake of fire, the outer darkness, or any other condition that would reveal the full horror of separation from God (given the traditional Christian understanding of such separation). Neither would such a sinner ever achieve a state of full clarity. For given VanArragon&rsquos understanding of libertarian freedom, continuing to sin forever would require a perpetual context of ambiguity, ignorance, and misperception.

Interesting Facts About The Temple Of Heaven

-The Temple of Heaven (along with the Forbidden City) is one of the two best examples of Ming Dynasty architecture in Beijing, or very possibly in the whole of China.

-Despite being less visited (although still very popular), the Temple of Heaven is actually 4 times larger than the Forbidden City at 2,700,000 square meters.

-During the Ming Dynasty, emperors would use the Temple of Heaven as the location of the Heaven Worship Ceremony for better harvests.

-The main structures in the Temple of Heaven all lie along the south-north axis, as with most ancient structures in China. Secondary structures can be found to the side.

Annabel Beam was stuck in a tree while she went to the afterlife

Young Annabel Beam had been suffering from a mysterious spate of medical issues for years. Doctors and her family alike were flummoxed until she finally received a diagnosis of pseudo-obstruction motility disorder, reports Today. That was only so comforting, however, since her illness was rare and incurable. It looked as if Annabel would be incapacitated for life.

Things changed dramatically and unexpectedly in 2011. That's when Annabel fell headfirst into a hollow cottonwood tree in her front yard. After she'd been trapped there for five hours, reports The Blaze, emergency workers were finally able to extract her. Shortly thereafter, the Beam family discovered that Annabel's disorder had abruptly and permanently gone away. For quite a few families, that's enough to mark an event as a miracle or medical anomaly. What's even more striking, for many, is Annabel's claim that she went to Heaven while her body was trapped inside the hollow tree.

As per Annabel's account, Heaven is a peaceful place with plenty of light and no pain. She also says that she met Jesus, who has brown hair and wears a white robe with a purple sash. Annabel asked if she could stay, but Jesus told her that she had further business back on Earth. When she returned, her family, like others whose loved ones have gone through similar experiences, published a book. The resulting account, Miracles from Heaven, was released as a film in 2016.