Adrienne and I are in a bit of a TV lull at the moment, with few of our shows being in season at the moment. I’d had my ear out for new ones to try and while listening to the /Filmcast, heard them rave about NBC’s The Good Place, so we figured we’d give it a shot.
So far, we’re a whopping one episode in, but there was something that jumped out to me so strongly in that first episode, I had to write about it. The general conceit of the show is that Kristen Bell’s character, Eleanor, has died and ended up in The Good Place1 by mistake. She’s been confused with someone of the same name that was a humanitarian and philanthropist, while our Eleanor defrauded senior citizens with a bogus pharmaceutical company for a living.
Like I said, we’re only one episode in, so I can’t tell you much about whether or not the show is good or worth watching for yourself.2 But, I was struck by the way they describe the way The Good Place works and how it’s determined who ends up where.
You see, all of your life’s actions are assigned a point value. Open a door for an old lady, you get positive points.3 Flick a cigarette butt out your car window, you get negative points. The points scale with the goodness of the action, as well. If you dig a well for a village to get clean water, you get major positive points, whereas saying “please” or “thank you” will only net you a minuscule bump.
Watching this be explained, I could only muster a sense of fear and dread. If true, this would be an unbearable load to carry! Thinking that all of your actions are being watched and tallied against you and only by stacking up enough good points could you have any shot at paradise would be a nightmare.
If you think about it, though, a lot of us think and live this way. I mean a lot of us do. When someone says, “I’m a good person,” what do they mean? They usually mean that they perceive their point total to be in the green. I’d guess most of us think that we’ve done more good than bad and thus we should qualify. And we set that bar of qualification for being a good person at slightly lower than where we imagine ourselves to be.
This is where the Good News of the Gospel has to be preceded by some bad news. None of us are good. We all like to think that we are good and the people we disagree with are bad, that the evil is somewhere “out there” and we’re fighting this external foe. The truth is that the evil is not all “out there.” It’s inside every one of us.
We all have the capacity for great evil. We all are deeply selfish to our core. We all have hearts that are factories of idols,4 wanting to make ultimate so many things that cannot truly satisfy. Paul says in Romans that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”5
That’s why I feel fear and dread when I see this points system. I don’t look at it and think, “Oh, well of course I’d be well into the green.” I know I would be redder than a Hot Tamale. The evil isn’t “out there,” it’s “in here” and what hope would I have?
This is why the Gospel is such great news. Jesus, through his death on the cross and his resurrection from the grave has paid the way for us. When he said, “It is finished,” he meant our work too. We don’t have to live the exhausting life of keeping tabs on our account balance and trying to be good enough. We never could be.
The grace of God says, “Here, it’s yours. Take it for free.” No amount of good deeds will ever get you there. All it takes is to quit relying on your work and your effort and to trade it in for the finished, perfect work of Jesus Christ.
The Good Place is bad news.
But the Gospel? That’s something to celebrate.