The Good Place is a secular take on heaven filled with lessons from moral philosophy which can’t help but borrow from the Christian worldview. In this NBC sitcom, Kristen Bell plays Eleanor Shellstrop, a “dirtbag from Arizona.” After living a pretty selfish life on earth, she dies and suddenly wakes up in a room with “Welcome! Everything is fine.” written on the wall in bright green. Soon after, Michael (played by Ted Dansen) calls her into his office and tells her that she’s now in The Good Place, that is, heaven. This isn’t biblical heaven, though. Michael says, “Hindus are a little bit right, Muslims a little bit, Jews, Christians, Buddhists,” basically, “Every religion guessed about 5 percent.”1
Minor spoilers ahead.
Eleanor eventually meets Chidi, a moral philosophy professor who loves the great, old, dead, thinkers like Søren Kierkegaard and Immanuel Kant. She also meets a fancy rich lady called Tahani and Jianyu, a Taiwanese monk. Things get a little weird when Eleanor finds out that Jianyu is really some Filipino guy named Jason Mendoza who wasn’t supposed to be in the Good Place. In fact, Eleanor knows very well that she shouldn’t be there either. Now, here’s the kicker. They soon find out that they’re actually in the Bad Place and that Michael’s a demon who designed a pretend Good Place in order to mess with their heads and subtly torture them for eternity.
But you know what? That’s what secular heaven really is. It’s hell. Without God and His everlasting, satisfying presence, any concept of eternal life is indeed hell. Can you imagine living forever without communion with the great lover of your soul? Without singing, “worthy is the Lamb who was slain?” Eternity without glorious fellowship with our Triune God is pointless, and it might as well be hell.
Now, throughout the show, the characters seek to reform their character to try to earn their way to the real Good Place. Chidi, the annoying moral philosophy professor, starts teaching classes on what it means to make morally good decisions as taught by the most brilliant philosophers throughout history. But, by what standard? What is an improvement of character? Who makes the rules? They start doing genuinely good things like sticking up for each other and sacrificing for others. This kind of behaviour is all seen as inherently good. But why? Says who? Says the angels and demons? Where did these righteous standards come from?
You see, they can’t help but borrow from the biblical, Christian worldview. Even in this fictional show, image-bearers of God can’t help but be…image bearers of God. All people have knowledge of God and His moral law, and through their consciences they know good and evil and their very own consciences condemn them. Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason know they’ve done wrong. They know there’s a problem, and they’re trying to look for a solution within themselves.
Unfortunately, you can’t reform yourself in the afterlife. “For it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgement” (Hebrews 9:27). Our hope is not in self-reformation. Our hope is in Christ and the perfect sacrifice He has made on behalf of sinners. Our hope is in His righteousness, not our own.
What we need is not to better ourselves in order to make us good enough for heaven. What we need is to turn from our sins and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ so that we might be declared righteous by God through His blood. It is through Christ’s perfect law-keeping, not our own, that God accepts us. Only then does an eternal Good Place make sense. This is what real heaven is all about. What makes the actual Good Place “good” is the ever-satisfying, manifest presence of the good God who loves His people with an everlasting love.