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Maybe some of you have just finished watching The Good Place on Netflix. Or, if you’re lucky, you’ve been keeping up with Peacock and were able to finish much earlier than me. I will try not to go into too much detail about how this unique and thought-provoking show ended, but said ending did give me mixed feelings.
There are lots of shows that deal with the supernatural. A lot of them I love, for their detailed, often strange musings about what God, heaven, hell, end times, and the afterlife are like. There’s The Good Place. There’s Lucifer. And one of my new favorites, Snowpiercer.
These are not actually based on a true interpretation of the Bible, though. For example, The Good Place runs totally contrary to the idea that you can’t earn your way to Heaven. (Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” or John 14:6 “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'”)
Lucifer turns the Devil from the Father of Lies (John 8:44: “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”), and tempter of souls (1 Peter 5:8: “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.“) into someone affable and mischievous who can’t lie, and claims he never makes humans do evil things. In fact, he loves punishing the evil because he thinks they deserve it. He’s the “Ruler of Hell,” instead of the firstborn of the damned, for whom God has prepared a place of lonely, eternal turmoil. (Revelation 20:10: “And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.“
And while Snowpiercer doesn’t claim to offer any sort of supernatural, spiritual or religious philosophy, it does remind me of how humans believe they can use technology to solve any problem the world throws at them, even if it’s something they’ve caused themselves. Whether it’s building an “eternal engine” or trying to use cryosleep to preserve life in case of a fatal emergency, many shows portray humans as infallible due to their genius . For those whose only sense of life is an earthly one, it’s easy to see why they would want to extend and preserve their earthly life even beyond the point of death. ( 2 Chronicles 26:15: “…he made engines, invented by skillful men, to be on the towers and the corners, to shoot arrows and great stones. And his fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped, till he was strong.” Wow!)
Anyway. I always find it fascinating to see how human artists and creators try to make up their own theories about spiritual and supernatural topics, sometimes in exploration of alternatives to Biblical truths. But then again, does The Good Place really say that you can earn your way to heaven? I think in a way, it does acknowledge the fact that it really is nearly impossible by the time our main characters enter the Afterlife scene. Life has gotten so complicated that a seemingly good action actually has multiple, innumerable, unintentional bad consequences that severely reduce your “points.” So in this version, you really can’t earn your way.
The most shocking part of The Good Place (for the characters as well as for viewers). Is the fact that the titular section of the afterlife is not as wonderful as it should be. The ending really had me questioning whether I truly do want to live forever. Apparently there’s a stream of philosophy stating that eternity really isn’t that great, even if it is “perfect” and fulfills all your desires. The only thing that gives life meaning is its eventual end. Having forever will make you lose all sense of morality or duty, or it will completely turn your brain to mush. I admit I’ve wondered that myself. The thought of eternity is so incomprehensible to me that I can’t even fathom how it could possibly be a good thing. Not that I want to cease to exist, but just the fear of being bored forever with no way to escape.
And maybe that’s what the creators of the show felt, too. Who knows really what their religions are, but it’s easy to believe that if you do not have hope in Jesus Christ, but rather in your inherent goodness, or reincarnation until you “pass your test,” that once that goodness no longer counts, or once you can no longer be resurrected, what really is next for you? All is said and done. What on earth could possibly tether you to existence? The show posits that life is not about getting what you want instantly, but rather the challenge of life, of overcoming, of joys juxtaposed against loss. Can light really exist without shadows?
And the questions for Christians like you and me is: Can God really “prepare” a place for us which we would be satisfied with for eternity? Is that really even possible? (John 14:2: “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?“)
When my younger self read the Bible, it seemed like heaven was going to be a place of eternally singing praise songs and bowing down to God. Forever. And ever and ever and… Part of me was like, “forget that.” And part of me was resigned. “Guess it’s better than hell.” To be honest, Heaven did not sound like a place I would want to be for eternity. (Revelation 15:3)
But thinking about it now, I remember that God is the God who created the Garden of Eden. A beautiful place, with lovely rivers, plants, and animals. Where Adam and Eve and their children were supposed to spend eternity with their loved ones and God, walking with him as a friend, learning from him, and doing their work of tending to the living things. I think of the love I have for my friends, family, and my son, and what it would be like to feel deeply connected to them all the time, and get to enjoy their unique personalities and gifts, all without depression, anxiety, frustration, anger, sadness, or misunderstanding getting in the way. Perfect harmony, forever, yet still distinct persons. Laughing our heads off, enjoying new wonders together. Being so overwhelmed with joy and gratitude that it overflows into unending praise for our Creator. (Revelation 21:4: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”)
One thing that I think The Good Place is on to is that humans do need that challenge. They do need that sadness, that desperation, that heartbreak, in order to find meaning in the good. I think that might be one reason why God gave us not only free will, but real choices between listening to him or not. And real consequences. Why he drew further and further away from us at our request. Adam and Eve choosing death instead of listening to God, and being banned from the Garden (Genesis 3:23). The Israelites demanding a king instead of acknowledging the sovereignty of God (1 Samuel 8:4-9). Jesus being crucified for trying to show people how to live, and actually performing outright miracles, and straight-up telling people that he was God (Isaiah 53:9). I think that until we really realize what life is like without God, this almost literally Godforsaken earth we’ve advocated for since the beginning of time, it would be impossible for us to truly understand that an eternity of perfect communion with God and each other is the only antidote to this aching pain we have deep within us. Once we get to heaven and our sinful, selfish blinders are removed, I don’t think we’d have eternity any other way.
So what do you think Heaven will be like? Will there be technology? Will it just be like the Garden of Eden, completely natural? What will we do there? Comment below!
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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.”
~ Romans 15:13