On April 16th, a movie hit select theaters in the United States and, surprising many, it took the number 2 slot, earning $22.5 million over the Easter weekend. Marketed as a Christian and Biblical film, Heaven is for Real is based off the book of the same name, by Todd Burpo, about his son’s near death experience. The four-year-old boy claimed to have been to heaven, met individuals who died before he was born, and more. Thousands flocked to the theaters to see what was promoted as a feel good, family film with strong religious themes.
Near death experiences are common phenomenon worldwide when the brain is deprived of oxygen and/or after the heart stops beating. The Washington Post wrote about a study that points to heightened neurological activity moments before death as a possible source of these vivid experiences. As more experiments and studies are conducted, our knowledge of the human brain dramatically increases, but there is still much that we have yet to discover.
The question I pose today is not whether the boy’s near death experience was genuine or imagined, because biologically speaking, he probably did experience something visually, physically, and mentally extraordinary that he afterwards communicated in the best methods he could within the context of his pre-existing worldview and influenced by the environment in which he was raised. (He father was a Christian pastor.)
My question is this: is the film, and the account it is based on, Biblical? By that I mean to say, is the theology it is based on supported by the Bible as the author and movie producers purports to be? And what about the little boy’s claims to have seen and spoken with dead relatives? What does the Bible say about life after death, heaven, and communicating with the dead?
More to the point, how does the Christian reconcile accounts of near death experiences and those who profess to have seen deceased loved ones with Biblical texts like Ecclesiastes 9:5,6, which reads: “the dead know nothing … nevermore will they have a share in anything done under the sun” and very clear commands from God to not communicate with the dead?
In the twenty-five minute video below, Doug Bachelor of Amazing Facts discusses these very questions.
In the article Heavenly Message or Deadly Deception?, Bachelor warns: “Lurking inside this feel-good message about heaven and eternal life is a cleverly disguised lie that many Christians are simply unprepared to detect.” Much of Christendom has moved away from the Biblical teachings on the state of the dead and have embraced a Greek-inspired view of an immortal soul, and if the soul cannot die or be destroyed, then it most go somewhere at death. This opens the door to the belief that at death, the soul immediately goes to heaven or hell or, for whatever reason, remains to wander this world. As popular as this teaching may be in the Christianity of today, this is not the Biblical stance on death, and by believing this, Christians open themselves up to the possibility of being deceived.
Amazing Facts is offering a free download of a PDF booklet Heavenly Message or Deadly Deception as a resource for Biblical understanding on this subject. They have also recently launched the website Is Heaven For Real?