I watched the movie Heaven is for Real Friday night. I have not read the book like some others in my family have. I knew about the story line of a young boy, the son of a pastor, who has a near-death experience and then stuns his family and others with descriptions of what he saw while on the operating table. My wife tells me the movie followed very closely the book, so I assume that to be true.
Having read several mixed reviews of the movie months ago when it was released, and having read or heard the positive reactions of friends and family to the book and/or the movie, I entered into watching it with mixed expectations. I feared that even though the overall movie was positive, uplifting and affirming of the eternal realities of my Christian faith, it would lack in some significant ways in terms of the completeness of the message delivered – especially theologically – which is critically important.
To perhaps oversimplify my reaction to the movie, here are some quick thoughts about it – first three positives and then three more substantial negatives:
- Watching a movie on this subject is far better than watching so many others that fill the big screen that are littered with violence, foul language, gratuitous sex and nothing of any real redeeming value.
- The movie can serve as a discussion starter about the idea or reality of heaven and what must happen in this life in order to live in heaven for eternity.
- The movie is based on a true story which can (but doesn’t necessarily) lend credence to the experience.
- There was a gigantic missed opportunity in that the movie asserts that heaven is for real, yet it never presents the basics of the Christian gospel message which answers the question of how one gets to heaven. So the message becomes, “Yes, heaven is for real, and I sure hope you figure out how to get there because we’re not telling you in this movie.”
- The one authoritative source of information about heaven is the Bible. We can be assured that whatever the Bible says of heaven is true, and we cannot be certain about any other beliefs about which the Bible is silent. I choose only to believe with certainty what the scriptures teach about heaven, and to take with a grain of salt anything else from other sources.
- Neither Christians nor anyone else should give an automatic pass to someone’s near-death or other experience as true just because someone claims to have experienced it. As the psychologist in the movie pointed out, people of different faiths may have very different near-death experiences. Who, then, are you going to believe? It might make for good entertainment, but it isn’t a valid basis for theological belief unless it is supported with scripture. And if anything in one’s “experience” is contrary to what is taught in scripture, then it is to be rejected as false.
If you want to know if heaven is for real, and if you are curious about some aspects (though not all) of what it is like, look to the Bible. If you want a very thorough, complete, and well-reasoned look at all that the Bible says about heaven, then read Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven. It is an amazing treatment of every bit of scripture that addresses the topic and will both encourage the reader while also clearing up misconceptions that have their genesis in places other than scripture.
There’s nothing wrong with seeing the movie Heaven is for Real or with reading the book. It is wholesome and far preferable compared to the overwhelming amount of filth produced by Hollywood. But a Christian evaluation of it must begin and end with how it measures up to what the Bible teaches about the subject. We cannot base our faith or theology on what makes us feel good – movie or otherwise.
I may sound like an old curmudgeon who is taking the theological aspect of watching the movie too seriously, and it isn’t my intention to discourage anyone from seeing the movie or reading the book. Just do it alongside the Bible and perhaps Randy Alcorn’s book to make sure that you come away with a clear distinction between what is soundly scriptural and what is unknown this side of heaven. God has revealed in His Word to all of us what He deems important for us to know for the present about heaven. Stories, books and movies that suggest other glimpses may be interesting and thought provoking, but we should not require them to affirm the scripture’s teaching nor to fill in the blanks of what God has yet to make clearly known to all.