*Warning, this post contains major spoilers from the first season of The Good Place and minor spoilers from the second season*
“When I die, will I go to the good place?”
When watching the pilot of The Good Place, NBC’s breakout comedy, that’s a question you inevitably end up asking yourself. While the show specifies that their depiction of the good and bad place is not heaven and hell, it sure seems to most closely resemble the way people picture the Christian version of the afterlife, even if it isn’t accurate.
The show begins with Michael (Ted Danson) telling Eleanor (Kristen Bell) that she has died and is now in the good place. As Michael explains it, people in the good place live in unique neighborhoods filled with puns and this is the first one that he has been the architect of. To determine who goes to the good place, there is an elaborate point system with actions that earn you points and actions that cost you points (similar to Hogwarts). The points the actions are worth vary based on your motives and the impact they have. Only the top point scorers are deemed worthy of the good place.
The show centers around Eleanor and the three other main human characters coming to grips with the realization that none of them actually deserve to be in the good place. For Eleanor and Jason (Manny Jacinto), they immediately know that they aren’t where they belong because they have been mistaken for someone with their same name who died at the same time. For Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and Chidi (William Harper) the realization that they actually belong in the bad place is a shock.
Let’s look at how they failed to earn enough points:
Eleanor grew up in Arizona and is incredibly selfish. While alive, she sold fake medicine to senior citizens (and was really good at it). She littered in front of an environmental activist, set a mailbox on fire, and drove away all her friends with her inability to help them and constantly taking advantage of the.
Jason is a DJ from Jacksonville, a Jaguars fan (Go Bortles!), and a drug dealer. He has a childish selfishness and died from locking himself in a safe with a snorkel for breathing during an attempted robbery. He’s less a hardened criminal and more someone who doesn’t even understand what it means to be good.
Chidi is a professor of ethics from Senegal. He is introduced as someone who actually belongs in the good place, having dedicated his life to studying philosophy and knowing the right thing to do. The problem is, Chidi is so concerned with doing the ethical thing that he is unable to make decisions and risk being wrong or unkind, which results in him hurting the people in his life. He misses his mother’s surgery because he couldn’t break a promise to help his landlord, he can’t be best man at his friend’s wedding because he has a breakdown over trying to write his speech, and he can’t even choose what to order for dinner. One of the funniest examples of this is Chidi doing a real life version of the trolley problem.
Tahani is a philanthropist from a wealthy English family who reportedly raised $60 million for charity while alive and volunteered around the world. However, she didn’t earn any points for it because she did it to impress her parents and compete with her sister Kamilah, who is incredible at everything and more loved than her. She brags about herself and is a flagrant name dropper. (“I haven’t been this upset until my good friend Taylor was rudely upstaged by my other friend Kanye, who was defending my best friend, Beyoncé.”)
Is anyone a good person?
As each character is revealed to be undeserving of the good place, they take ethic lessons from Chidi, working to begin to become better people and apply their lessons by helping others. Season one ends with a huge twist. The group of four discover they are actually in the bad place, put there to torture each other. They then try to figure out what it will take to become the best versions of their selves and escape to the good place.
The process of earning your way into the good place and realizing that Tahani and Chidi are actually also people who don’t belong there makes it seem like virtually no one will ever be worthy of it. A study of what the Bible says about heaven shows that’s actually true. No one can live a life worthy of heaven.
“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” – Romans 6:23
The cost of sin, or failing to do as God commands and meet his standard of perfection, is being separated from God in eternity. If you’ve told a lie, acted selfishly, been proud, gossiped or any other sin, you are no longer worthy of heaven. But the gospel teaches that out of God’s love, he chooses to forgive sin by having Jesus pay that wage of death. A more helpful way to think about this is that it’s not about being good or bad, but about everyone being broken, unable to fulfill God’s commands and be worthy of his glory.
“But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faithin Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” – Romans 3:19-26
Faith in Jesus as a savior results in God viewing that person as righteous and without sin, able to spend an eternity with God because of his gift and character, not through humans earning enough points.