Why We All Should Celebrate Goodness in Media

Goodness in Movies

Yesterday was Easter. I know on Mondays I usually put up a Reader Question, but forgive me because I had some other things I wanted to share with you, so I thought I’d write a more personal post.

My daughters were together in Ottawa, where my oldest goes to university, so Keith and I were alone. I texted Rebecca in the morning, “He is risen!”, and she correctly texted back “He is risen indeed!”. I raised her well. :)

I wasn’t really in the Easter mood. I’ve had a really rough week healthwise.

Last weekend my husband and I were in Banff speaking at a FamilyLife marriage conference, and ever since we flew back on Sunday there was something wrong with my right leg. It hurt horribly at night. In the day I was okay, but at night it was excrutiating. By Wednesday the daytime was difficult, too. On Thursday I was in agony. The doctor sent me for an emergency ultrasound to make sure it wasn’t a blood clot (it wasn’t). So she put me on pain killers.

They didn’t touch the pain, and by dinner time I was back in the Emergency almost crying. They gave me even more powerful painkillers which made me awfully happy, but night time was still excrutiating, and I really couldn’t walk.

On Saturday I woke up and it was gone. Just like that! I think it was an inflammation of a blood vessel or a superficial vein, aggravated by flying. I’ve had problems with my veins ever since my kids were born, so it seems logical. When I fly to Vancouver in May I’ll have to wear pressure stockings on the flight. But needless to say I wasn’t in much of a mood for anything this weekend. It really threw me. I’m getting old!

So as good as our service was yesterday morning, I thought I needed more. And so I asked my husband and my mom, and a few other people from church, if they’d come with me to watch the Heaven is For Real movie in the afternoon.

I read that book in one sitting a few years ago on the anniversary of my baby boy’s death. I really loved it.

Heaven Is For RealFor those of you who don’t know the plot, Heaven is for Real is about a little 4-year-old boy has emergency surgery after his appendix burst. It looks bad on the table, but he pulls through. Then, over the next two years or so, he starts revealing things little by little that make very little sense. He talks about angels singing to him. He talks about seeing his mom on the phone crying at the same time as his dad is in a different room. He says that Jesus has a horse. He sees a picture of his great-grandfather when he’s old and replies, “that’s not what Pop looks like. But he’s really nice.” When he sees a picture of him when he was young, he recognizes him. And so on and so on.

The most moving part of the book for me was when he tells his mother, “I miss my sister.” His mother replies, “Cassie’s right here.” And he says, “No, I miss my other sister.” Turns out his mother had a miscarriage, and that baby is now in heaven, and she is growing. She was just about the right age when he saw her. And she doesn’t have a name. “She’s waiting for you to get to heaven to name  her.”

For someone who has always wondered what heaven is like for my baby boy, that meant a lot to me. As I said in my original post about the book, I know that this book isn’t Scripture and we shouldn’t treat it as such. But it is nonetheless interesting, and I do find comfort in it.

Anyway, they made it into a movie with some pretty big-name actors (Greg Kinnear and Thomas Haden Church, for instance). The little boy who plays Colton is great. And I thought they did the movie really well.

Was it perfect? No. There are two glaring bits for me: at one point they seem to insinuate that you get to heaven because God loves you, and that it doesn’t have to do with salvation. And they left out some of the more Christian parts of what Colton saw (the sending lightning down from heaven to strengthen people, for instance, symbolizing the Holy Spirit).

I think many people would latch on to that first part and declare it a “horrible movie” because it compromises. I just don’t see it that way.

Could it have been more Christian? Yes.

But what does the movie do? It shows very clearly that heaven IS for real, and it shows very clearly that Jesus is the central figure there. Those are two important things to know, and two important things to get people thinking about.

And it offers this challenge: “would we live life differently if we knew heaven was for real?” I think we would. And I think it’s a message the world needs to hear.

Have you been in a video store or looked through the pickings on Netflix recently? They’re awful. They make you want to take a bath after just seeing the covers. So even if a movie isn’t perfect, I’m glad they’re making some that are beautiful and that bring hope and that make people think. This one, especially, offers great potential for that.

I haven’t seen Noah, and I’ve stayed away from reading any of the articles either pro or con about whether you should see it. It’s not the kind of movie I’d see anyway, and I hate the back and forth that Christians often have about stuff like this.

But it seems to me that sometimes we demand too much purity, and declare that everything is horrible unless it’s absolutely pure.

That would be true if it was a church putting it on, or someone who claimed to be Christian. But the movie companies aren’t claiming to be Christian. And personally, I’m glad they’re making some movies with better messages that make people think.

Again, I don’t even know what all the controversy with Noah is about, but I do worry that the more we yell and say, “it wasn’t like that!”, the less likely they are to make more movies like this one, which I did believe really merited our favour.

I’m glad our society is focusing more on faith and spirituality today.

That’s going to mean that they’re going to say things that we won’t like because they aren’t doctrinally pure. But let’s be glad that our society is at least having the conversation, something that for years they wouldn’t do. And maybe we need to figure out a way to be part of that conversation without always sounding angry. We certainly don’t have to go see every movie that touches on faith that’s out there, but I don’t think we need to yell and picket, either. We can just simply become part of a dialogue with people we know, instead of sounding so angry.

And let’s remember that there are real believers working behind the scenes to try to do what they can to get the right message out there–or at least the least compromised message they can. Let’s support them in prayer, and say “thank you” a little more, and be grateful that producers are even willing to explore it. If they’re willing to explore it, it means more people are interested in it. And if they’re interested in it, then they’d be open to conversation. But they likely won’t be open if we’re yelling and angry.

Christian Discouragement: Before your give that "helpful suggestion", check yourself!I posted on Facebook that I was going to see Heaven is for Real, and several criticized me because it’s not Christian, supposedly. Doing that on Facebook, where it’s public, is really counterproductive to the gospel. It makes us all look really, really angry. Let’s go back to “what would Jesus do”? Or let’s ask “What did Paul do?” Paul stood in Athens in Acts 17, and said, “you have an idol to an ‘unknown god’. I want to tell you about that god.” He took something that was already part of their culture, and then expanded it. He didn’t yell at them for having that idol; he praised them for searching, and then helped them fill in the blanks. Maybe we should take a similar approach.

All of this reminds me of an article I wrote a year ago called, “Are you being an instrument of discouragement?” So often we discourage those in ministry by saying something like, “I just have to tell you, in Christian love, that you’re totally wrong”, or “you’re giving Christ a bad name.” It’s an important article, and it likely warrants rereading.

Tell me: have you seen Heaven is for Real? What did you think?


  1. I haven’t watched the movie yet, but the book was so incredibly encouraging to me. I read the book after some of our miscarriages, and I (like you) needed some comfort about where my babies were. Great book. I’m looking forward to seeing the movie.
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  2. My husband and I saw the movie over the weekend, too. We loved it. Neither of us have read the book, but have read other NDE books. I thought it was beautifully done, even if they missed some key points. I love that that dear little boy was given his experience–what a gift to his family and others. I loved the way they portrayed the little boy telling about Jesus’ “Markers.”

  3. I agree with your comments that we should not demand perfection in storytelling but would to take it to the next level. We should stop behaving like consumers and recognize our responsibility to be *producers* of uplifting stories.

    This is one area where I feel the need to be tough on my fellow Christians. We really have to stop approaching art like a bunch of lazy consumers who ask service providers to provide us with the products that we want/demand. There are definitely negative aspects that come from our open society, but the fact is that IT IS AN OPEN SOCIETY. There are not commercial barriers to Christians getting out there and writing stories that reflect our worldview.

    Let me say even something more challenging. One of the reasons we have lost ground in the moral & cultural world is that we approach it in too lazy of a fashion. My denomination (Roman Catholic), for example, often talks about Catechesis. I definitely see a need and place for Catechesis but let’s face it, our Christian heritage is NOT one of catechesis. The Israelites told stores of their ancestors and God’s covenant with them. The gospels tell us the story of Christ and the Acts tell us stories about the early Christians. I recognize that Christ our savior was the final prophet and that the canon of the Bible is complete but that does not mean that we should stop telling stories. C.S. Lewis dis more to convert people to Christ than a million copies of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Catechists are fine but we need a heck of a lot more storytellers.

    Our youth wants to be engaged and telling them stories lets them discover Truth without being told it explicitly. People don’t want to sit in a room and simply have someone tell them what is true. That’s just not how the modern mind works

  4. My wife and I saw it together the Friday before Easter. I too picked up on the ignoring of the salvation message when Todd, the pastor is talking to Nancy who lost her son in the war. I can see where many Christians would feel this is a glaring misrepresentation. I don’t know how that was handled in the book. If differently, I would like to hear about it from someone who has read it. I also wonder if Colton had made a formal profession of faith in Christ before that experience, i.e. had he met fulfilled the obligations for salvation? Obviously, the miscarried sister had not. Had the young soldier not made a profession of faith. From the movie, we don’t know these things. Do we know them from the book? If not, we still don’t know whether this information was merely overlooked by authors and editors. It could be just poor attention to detail by writers all around or something else. We don’t know. As a person who writes and loves the written word, those omissions upset me. As a person intimately familiar with motion picture production those omissions don’t surprise me. Even though I enjoyed the movie and message very much, I felt the movie was poorly written and could have been better directed. They let their rush to the message get in the way of effective story-telling and that worked to diminish the struggle the Burpo’s, Todd in particular, were going through.

    I feel the director could have got truer performances out of his talent. We wanted and needed to know more of the struggle Todd was going through in a deeper way than was presented. Thomas Hadden Church’s performance best survived the director’s touch. There are many reasons a movie is the length it is. One reason for a shorter movie is the ability to have one more money-producing showing in a day of screenings. A one-and-a-half hour movie can have one more screening per day than a two-hour movie. This movie could have used another half-hour of exposition to more effectively and satisfyingly make its message. I would not tell someone to not bother seeing it, but I wouldn’t sell it to them as a complete Christian experience.

    As to the “salvation’ scene in the cemetery between Todd and Nancy, I did find Todd’s explanation of God’s love for us all very effective and true. And for the those with questions, perhaps Nancy’s son had made his profession in the past and she was aware of it, perhaps he had made one at the time of death and she wasn’t. We don’t know from the information given us in the movie. What may have been Nancy’s concern was her son may have killed someone and, by a very narrow definition of the sixth commandment, she was worried about that being a sin and was looking for reassurance of her son’s continued salvation. We again don’t know due to lack of character exposition and inadequate narrative. Poor writing that was a disservice to the message.

    Bottom line: movie writing being what it is, we shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bath water. There may be doctrinal holes in the story, but they weren’t selling salvation, but that heaven is real and at that they did an acceptable and enjoyable job. After all, movies are meant to be an entertainment. If they don’t entertain, no one comes and pays money to see them and they stop making that kind of movie for general distribution. Better in some cases to have some witness than none perhaps. If you want to pick on glaringly inaccurate performances, pick on the much beloved perennial Ten Commandments and ever-pompous Charlton Heston’s equally pompous portrayal of Moses. Why would that self-assured Moses ever have need of Aaron to speak in his place?
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    • Hi Dan,

      Never thought about that about the Ten Commandments! Great points.

      I read the book a long time ago, and I can’t remember a lot of details. My initial thought is that the characters of Nancy and Jay were written more for the movie and weren’t in the book. I also don’t remember from the book the resistance that Todd had from his wife as it was portrayed in the movie. It was more that Colton’s story was little by little told to both his mom and his dad over a series of years, and neither really clued in for a while.

      I felt a little sorry for the real life Mrs. Burpo because I don’t think she doubted like that. That was added for the movie.

      The book really focused more on what he revealed and the significance of it, and less about the church and the other characters.

      • That’s the problem with movies in particular. They will take so much license in pursuit of a good ($$$) $tory. Base on a true story allows for so much editorial license. Had they changed the names to protect the innocent, had they not compressed incidents in time, had they not created characters as vehicles just to move the story forward, had they done all that, they would have never been able to tell the story in an entertaining way and the movie would not have been made. To make a point about the existence of heaven, they danced with the devil they knew. The danger there is how does the audience know the truth from the meant to be benign, convenient fiction? Dramatic dialogue may be assumed to be a history of facts in time.
        Dan recently posted…“Look Away! I’m Hideous.”: Part 6My Profile

  5. I am sorry to hear of your pain, Sheila. It is rough, very rough to be joyful in the midst of pain, I know. I am with you on this one. I have heard this movie is wonderful and plan on seeing it. I just thoroughly enjoy decent, uplifting movies and support them whenever I can.
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    • Thanks, Lori! I’m feeling a lot better now, but not as good as I was yesterday which makes me a little nervous. Given how quickly I felt better, though, I really have to give God and prayer the credit. I have a lot of speaking coming up so it’s just stressful for that reason alone!

      • Whenever you begin panicking from the pain {I have had a lot of experience with this}, just keep reminding yourself that you can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens you. It is so easy to fall into fear and depression when you are in a lot of pain so it takes a lot of renewing your mind with God’s truth to get through. I will pray that God heals you completely of all your pain and if it doesn’t resolve itself, that doctors can quickly find out the problem. Blessings to you!
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  6. Since I have an infant, I haven’t been following what movies are out AT ALL. Hubby and I haven’t seen a movie in a theater since she was born, and have probably watched one at home less than once a month. It sounds like this is one we’d both enjoy. It might be time to find a babysitter! I agree with you that Christians shouldn’t be angry when there isn’t a full salvation message in a mainstream movie. My thought would be that’s why we should be watching the movie with their friends, or talking to them about it after they’ve seen it so that we can fill in the missing pieces for them afterwards.

    • I remember those baby days!

      One older movie I just loved that did have a very biblical message about prayer and forgiveness and all of that was one that Christians didn’t even talk about–Disney’s Ruby Bridges. The way that they portrayed little Ruby and her family was so beautiful, and the message that Ruby’s parents gave her about prayer and God being with her was perfect. Nothing to complain about at all.

      It was never marketed as a Christian movie, which is perhaps why Christians didn’t comment on it much. But I always thought it was one of the most Christian movies I’ve ever seen, even if it was done by Disney (at least I think it was).

      • It is indeed a Disney movie of Jan. 1998 and you can buy it on Amazon for $9. Of 85 reviews on Amazon, 73 are 5 star and 8 are 4 star. Again, another “true story”. This time about the integration of the New Orleans school system and the role she played in it.
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  7. Thank you for your comments. The public calling out of each other is disheartening so I like a balanced approach. For those who want the letter of the law followed, they have been forewarned to stay away from the movie. For those who want an inspiring message and a glimpse of heaven, this may just be for you. I have a dear friend who lost her 21 year old son to a drunk driver 2 years ago. I cannot imagine her pain and heartache. She was there opening night and wept thru the whole thing. I think she needed some reassurance for herself about Matt. I would not dream of diminishing her needs and I’m grateful for the comfort this movie has given her. I guess, all that to say, we don’t know what the needs of other viewers is (much like your questions) and we need to step back a bit.

    Two, if we want to see movies with a message of faith, we are going to have to accept that there may be some inaccuracies. That said, the movie provides a place for honest, one-on-one discussion about the theology. Those one-on-one discussions are the most likely place that true evangelism and ministry can take place. Instead of complaining, we should be thankful for the opportunities provided by the movie.

    On another note, we went to see “God’s Not Dead” a few weeks ago. I went partially because the theme song to the movie was written by a worship pastor at our former church. It was cool to see that way his song is being used. Having said that, the movie is very well done. It tackles some more hard hitting questions of belief. There are a lot of options out there right now. So thankful the name of Jesus is out there.

    • Jenny, you’ve said pretty much what I was going to say! :) I would only add that just like different people enjoy different types of worship services, different people are encouraged by different things based on their life experiences. As long as it doesn’t pull people away from the truth found in Scripture, I don’t have a problem with it. I’m glad Sheila found comfort in the movie, and I hope the issue with her leg is resolved soon!

      • Thank you, Judy! My leg is feeling not too bad today. I’m going to try going for some more walks and see if just stretching it out can help.

    • I haven’t seen God’s Not Dead! I think I heard about it briefly but it isn’t really on my radar screen. We live in a small town and a lot of those movies don’t make it here. But I’ll be on the lookout when I visit bigger cities coming up.

  8. Haven’t seen it yet but want to! :)

  9. Well said Sheila! I heard that on one smart phone Bible app that over 300,000 people read the story of Noah on opening weekend of the movie. Over 300,000 on just one Bible app! Imagine how many hundred of thousands or even millions read the Bible that weekend alone just because the movie spurred them to find the truth for themselves. As Timothy Keller says in his book “Encounters with Jesus”, we are spiritual billionaires because of what Jesus did for us but we are often wringing our hands over ten dollars. God needs me to demonstrate Him much more than he needs me to defend Him! He is perfectly capable of defending Himself and I would botch even that up but the opportunties to demonstrate Him are all around us and far more eternal in their impact.

  10. Jen Poppe says:

    Great post, Sheila! If you are looking for another wonderful movie to watch, run don’t walk to watch the movie, “What If”
    You will absolutely love it if you have not seen it already.

  11. So very well said thank you! I am so happy to see these movies being made. I have gone with an open heart and nonjudgmental mind and ask that we all pray and support the message! Another great one to add to the list God’s Not Dead!

  12. Really appreciate you sharing this article.Truly looking forward to read more. Really Great.

  13. I have not seen the movie or read the book, but what has stood out in your post is this – I had a miscarriage before Baby Girl’s arrival in our lives. It was an awful time for hubby and I (as I am sure it is for anyone else who experiences this). I thought I was at 13 weeks, but the baby had stopped growing at about six weeks. For the first time today, after reading your post, I wondered about a name and had this image of a little one in heaven, a sibling for Baby Girl, waiting for a name. Such a treasure, because I do believe Heaven is real and now have fully considered the possibility of that little soul waiting for us…. So beautiful, thank you.
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  14. This slayed me. Especially the part about his sister. One of my dearest friends suffered a miscarriage last year. So…yeah. Wow.

  15. Haven’t seen it yet, but I loved the book and I agree that as Christians we need to look for opportunities to converse with non-believers rather than just complaining. We do sound so angry — I can’t imagine that’s attractive at all to anyone.

    That being said, PLEASE do not stay ignorant about “Noah”… I think it is really made out of evil, not good. This blog explains it well:

    Even if you disagree, I think you should be informed because I don’t think it should get lumped in with “good movies” like Heaven is for Real and God’s Not Dead.

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