“One question: where am I, who are you, and what’s going on?”
When Eleanor Shellstrop wakes up in a quiet room, she can’t remember the last thing that happened to her.
But there is something painted on the wall in front of her: “Welcome! Everything is fine.”
Unfortunately, as Eleanor quickly discovers, everything is not fine in “The Good Place.”
Eleanor is one of the main characters in NBC’s The Good Place, which has become one of the most popular sitcoms on television. The show provides an innovative perspective on an age-old question: what happens after we die?
Using Eleanor’s case as an example, humans die, wake up in an office, and find out if they’ve been good enough during their lives on earth to merit entrance into the Good Place, or heaven.
As Michael, the equivalent of an angel, explains, every action that a human performs on earth has a corresponding positive or negative point value. Someone’s keeping track, and if your point value is positive by the end of your life, you get to spend eternity in the Good Place.
If your point value is negative when you die, you go to the Bad Place.
Eleanor is thrilled that she ended up in the Good Place, especially since she doesn’t think of herself as a very “good” person. More often than not, her actions on earth were selfish, egotistical, and hurtful to others around her.
It’s not long before Eleanor realizes that her entrance into the Good Place was actually a mistake. But she’s desperate to stay, so before long, she embarks on a quest to become a better person—with the help of her new friend, Chidi, who was an ethics professor during his life on earth.
The Good Place certainly isn’t family viewing, due to some objectionable language and content, and many Christians may find it an offense against the truth of the afterlife.
However, the show does raise some excellent questions which provide opportunities for spiritual conversations.
1. What does it mean to be a good person?
Eleanor wasn’t what anyone would call “good” during her earthly life. She’s painfully aware of it and wants to trade her selfish, immature old-self for a righteous, pure new-self.
So she enlists the help of Chidi, who spent his earthly life teaching ethics and pondering great moral questions. Eleanor hopes he can teach her about ethics, assuming that once she understands different ethical theories, she’ll know how to make better decisions.
Eventually, however, she and Chidi realize that knowing what’s right and doing what’s right are two very different things. For even with all his moral expertise, Chidi still acted in hurtful and selfish ways on earth, though he appeared to lead a vastly different life than Eleanor.
The show’s writers introduce a variety of complicated and diverse moral systems, illustrating their impacts through the decisions of the characters, but the moral quickly becomes clear: no one can become good on their own.
Naturally, this secular show stops short of reflecting on the Gospel, but Christians will know how to respond to this discovery. If no one can become good on their own, the door is open for the grace of God, Who wants to make us righteous through the blood of Christ.
2. What must one do to go to heaven?
The characters in The Good Place unconsciously echo the parable of the rich young man in Matthew 19:16, who asked, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”
As the story progresses, all of the main characters—even Michael, who claims to know everything—realize they’ve been gravely mistaken in their understanding of the Good Place’s system.
Most of the main characters—professors, monks, philanthropists—think they’ve led good lives. But before long, their faults and sins are exposed for all to see and they’re forced to confess that they’re not as righteous as they thought they were.
In a system based on point values assigned to good and bad deeds, no one is “good enough” to enter the Good Place on their own merits. In fact, one of the show’s major plot points revolves around the fact that the Good Place’s standards are too high for anyone to match.
For a Christian, this is an open door to discuss grace. As humans, we fall painfully short of God’s standards for holiness. There’s no good deed that we could possibly do to earn an eternity in heaven.
But good news is waiting for those who realize this fact. As long as we confess our sins and trust Christ’s power for forgiveness, we can enter the Good Place.
3. What does heaven look like?
In The Good Place, heaven looks very much like earth. Eleanor, Chidi, and the other characters live in neighborhoods that embody perfection as we might imagine it on earth: manicured lawns, tidy houses, and an abundance of frozen yogurt shops.
The Good Place offers a clean, peaceful environment, but the main characters find their deepest longings unfulfilled. Eleanor and Chidi are unsatisfied with this shallow and shadowy concept of heaven.
But since it’s off the mark in terms of biblical truth as well, this opens a door for Christians to explore what heaven really is – a place where our deepest desires find their fulfillment in the person of God (Matt. 25:31-40), a place where our bodies are transformed beyond anything we could imagine (Phil. 3:20-21), a place where evil is banished forever (Matt. 25:41-45).
In heaven, Christians will meet God face-to-face. What could be more awe-inspiring or wonderful than that? It’ll be infinitely better than the tidy life of parties and desserts we see in The Good Place.
So when those around us ask what the Good Place will look like, we can give them a much more inspiring vision than this TV show offers.
Due to questionable language and content, The Good Place is not suitable for all audiences. For those who do choose to watch it, however, it’s an entertaining and surprisingly thoughtful exploration of goodness and eternity.
And it offers an opportunity to praise God for His grace in offering His Son as the way to the true Good Place.