Recently I read two books that could hardly have been more different.
Heaven Is For Real by Todd Burpo is the best-selling, non-fiction account of a father (and pastor) whose four-year-old son, Colton, survives the nearly fatal aftermath of a ruptured appendix and afterward offers intriguing revelations from his near-death experience.
The Hunger Games, even better-selling, is a novel by Suzanne Collins and now a major theatrical film. The first book in a trilogy, it presents the reader with a kind of literary “Survivor” for teenagers, in which the losers are not voted off, but are carted off in body bags.
Heaven recounts that several months after Colton’s miraculous recovery, he starts remembering events related to his in hospital crisis. Even though unconscious in an operating room, Colton knew his father was alone in a room, pleading with God for help, while his mother was elsewhere praying with family members over the phone. Over the succeeding weeks, the boy recalls other things – about being in heaven, meeting his grandfather and his stillborn sister, and Jesus.
In Hunger Games, there is no heaven, no God, only an oppressive “Big Brother” type of government in which teens in various districts of the country serve as pawns, for entertainment value and for state control. Using guile, instinct and innate abilities, randomly selected contestants in the Hunger Games compete in a literal fight to the death, in which only one person can “win.”
Reading Heaven Is For Real, I found myself wondering, “Is that exactly how it is in heaven? Is Colton’s story ‘for real,’ without embellishment or explanation outside of the supernatural?” It would be – and will be – nice if this account is accurate. I suppose there is only one way we all will find out. But the underlying element in this book can be summed up in a single word: Hope.
Not a “hope-so” we often use in everyday life, wishing or desiring for something to be so – “I hope it won’t rain today.” “I hope I get that promotion.” “I hope she gets better.” No, the hope expressed in Heaven Is For Real is based on confident assurance, the earnest expectation that the promises of the Bible that there is life after death are true, whether the details look exactly as Colton describes them or not.
The Hunger Games, admittedly a very entertaining and relatively inoffensive saga, suggests no hope. In it humankind is the pinnacle, and the tale focuses on humans at their best and worst. Timeworn elements – the hero (or heroine) triumphing over great odds; love conquering all; and determination assuring victory, all are there. But for the most part the spiritual dimension of life is absent – either deemed unnecessary or unwanted by the author.
If anything, Hunger pay homage to the human spirit, the “we can do it if we try” type of mindset. And to an extent, that’s good – hard work, resolve, and refusal to give up are qualities too often lacking in our society. But to insist it’s all up to us, there is nothing else – or no One else – to turn to in times of crisis, is a conclusion I cannot accept.
Before reading Burpo’s book, I was already convinced heaven is for real. If Colton has given us a glimpse of what’s to come, that’s great. But even if it’s very different from what he described, I’m looking forward to it nonetheless.