The Good Place – A ‘fundamentally flawed’ system

If you’ve been keeping your eye on The Good Place, a TV series on NBC, then you’d know that the final season, Season 4 is about to come to an end. The show explores many philosophical topics, but I want to talk about their exploration of how a person is qualified ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

A quick background if you’re new to the comedy, no spoilers here – Eleanor Shellstrop wakes up to find herself in ‘The Good Place’, the show’s interpretation of heaven. She recalls her past self on earth and realises that she was not a good person – in fact, she calls herself ‘Arizona trashbag’. So she knows that they’ve made a mistake in placing her in The Good Place. Things start to fall apart (literally) when she acts badly. Pretty soon, Eleanor comes to the decision that she has to learn how to be good to earn a place in The Good Place.

According to the show, how people are judged throughout their lives on earth is through a point system – whenever they do something good, some points are added, and whenever they do something bad, points are deducted. The highest scorers make it into The Good Place.

In the later seasons, [MINOR SPOILER] one of the characters come to the conclusion that this system of determining who makes it into The Good Place is ‘fundamentally flawed’.

And I full-heartedly agree.

The reason is simple – no one can ever save themselves through their own works. As the TV show has demonstrated, the standards are too high. But let’s take a step away from its fictional world and into the real one – the one lovingly created by God, who intends for us (created by Him as well) to have a relationship with God and live under His rule.

Yet we have ignored God and desired to be our own ruler. Such a desire to be God is the root of sin. And since we’re sinners, we have fallen short of God’s perfect standard, and cannot redeem ourselves by our own efforts. And, because God is just, He cannot let our transgressions against Him go unpunished – we will suffer His wrath and eternal death – an eternal separation from God. Since God is the source of all life and light, then an eternal separation would mean eternal death and darkness. And not just that; God’s wrath would be upon us, and that is far worse than anything. Imagine experiencing the rightful wrath of the Creator of our universe.

So, while we still have time (who knows) on earth, how might we achieve God’s perfect standard and also right our ruined relationship with God?

Can it be achieved by doing good works, hoping that they will cancel out the bad, like the point system in The Good Place? The answer – nope.

Ephesians 2:1-5 tells us:

‘And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…’

If we were dead in our trespasses and sins, how could we help ourselves if we were dead? Paul (the author of the letter to the Ephesians) says that we once followed ‘the course of this world’, and ‘were by nature children of wrath’. If our very nature were of wrath, then every ‘good work’ we do would be in vain.

Then the only way to be reconciled with God and be made pure, is for someone perfect and pure to sacrificially take our place and suffer God’s punishment meant for sinners – which refers to all of us.

And that someone is Jesus Christ.

Jesus, fully man and fully God, lived perfectly under God’s rule on earth. In 33AD, he walked willingly to the cross that he may take our sins upon his shoulders and die for us. He took the wrath of God meant as punishment for us upon himself.

But Jesus did not stay dead. No, that would be futile, because since our sinful selves were crucified along with Jesus, we would have remained dead with Him. But that is not the case. God raised Jesus from the dead, so that those found in Him (that is, those who believe in Jesus) would be raised along with Him.

So, taking a closer look at Ephesians 2:4-5:

‘But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…’

It means that we are saved from eternal death and God’s wrath only through God’s grace, through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

When Jesus willingly took our punishment, he became sin personified. He faced the ultimate rejection from God for us, so that even God the Father turned His face away from His son, causing Jesus to cry out on the cross, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ in Mark 15:34, which in Aramaic means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

This is so that we may never have to utter these devastating words, for by Jesus’ death and resurrection, He has ensured that those found in Him will never be forsaken, and will have an eternity of being united with Christ completely to look forward to.

Let’s look further on in 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.’

This means that we did absolutely nothing to deserve such a gift of grace from God. Even our faith in Him is not a contribution to our salvation, but rather a response to His salvation. And so should our good works be as well.

This is stated in Ephesians 2:10:

‘For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.’

It means that no one may boast in their own works for it achieves nothing. Instead, we, as God’s creation, His workmanship, have been created for the purpose of doing His good works, which God has set out before us. These good works are our response to God’s gift – salvation through Jesus Christ.

So, if you’re still with me, it is only through faith in Jesus Christ that we can be saved – forgiven of our sins and made right with God. It is not by our works that we may save ourselves and be ‘good enough’, because not even a ‘good enough’ person is able to right the wrong he has committed against God, for all have fallen short of God’s perfect standard. And God cannot lower his perfect standards for us either, because that would make Him imperfect, and He would not be God. But He knows that we cannot meet His holy standards, and so has sent His son Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and right our relationship with Him.

The Good Place is an example of how everyone recognises that no one is perfect, and all have fallen short of being completely sinless. Fortunately, the one and only answer to life is simple – Jesus Christ. It is only through him that we have been saved and can be united with God.

This is the most important truth to me – if you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact me, or drop a comment below for discussion! 🙂

What it means to be loved

Hey, you. I’m back, after an agonizingly long hiatus. I did post a poem a few weeks ago, but other than that, it has been a dry spell. No, not that I’ve stopped writing; rather, I just can’t find a right topic, or something to discuss on this section of my blog – The Life of Me. It’s been pretty usual and routine, really. And that is just sad, isn’t it? Heh.

I guess I could talk about the new Harry Potter film, The Crimes of Grindelwald. But I have not watched it, so no need to worry about spoilers here. As a Harry Potter geek, I like to compare the ‘first dark lord’ with the second, AKA Voldemort. Grindelwald and Voldemort have very different childhoods, yet they both became ambitious and power-hungry people, and killed muggles for sport. At this point, I find it pertinent to note that I am not speaking with the authority of an expert in psychology, or anything fanciful like that. I am just a basic Harry Potter geek. Emphasis on basic.

But as I was saying, the backstories of both villians are vastly different – Grindelwald grew up with friends and family, while Voldemort had none of that. In that sense, could Voldemort’s actions be attributed to his upbringing? This topic has been greatly discussed, and I have read many theories, of how Voldemort cannot love because he was conceived under a love potion, which was a symbol of how he came from ‘a loveless union’, as JK Rowling put it. She adds that everything would have changed if he had been raised by Merope (his mother) and had been loved by her. Yet, we know that she died after giving birth to him in the orphanage.

I guess this ties in with what I’m trying to say – that we can all receive and reciprocate love because we have been first loved by someone. As a Christian, this resonates strongly with me as we realise that we can show love towards others because of God’s great love that was given to us.

God lovingly created us and the world, and made us that we may rule the world under Him. He made us such that we may have a relationship with Him. Yet, we tried to do things our own way, and made ourselves rulers, turning away from God’s perfect rule. But no human is perfect, as Romans 3:10 tells us ‘None is righteous, no, not one’. And so, our sinning, that is, our rebellion against God, has made a mess out of the world. As seen from the state of today’s world – broken relationships, abuse, and all that – we truly have made a mess out of it all.

But God won’t let us rebel against Him forever, and the consequence of sin is death. As we rebel against Him, our previously perfect relationship with God has been broken. When we sin, we are telling God to go away, because we want to do things our way, and not God’s way. But God is the source of all good and life, and when He leaves, all that is left is evil and death – a desolating place. Also, because God is just, He cannot stand by and watch us make a mess of the world – His world. We are to face His punishment – death.

But because God is also loving, He sent His son, Jesus, who was fully man and fully God, to die for our sins, and to take His punishment. I have known this fact for a long time, yet, I still marvel at this great and amazing and honestly quite unimaginable love of God. That he had made plans to save us from death, even as we were going against Him. But really, who on earth has that vast love? Honestly, I don’t think I’d be willing to die for just one stranger. Yet, Jesus loved us so much that he died for everyone.

1 Peter 3:18 tells us:

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God…’

Jesus was the perfect and unblemished sacrifice – because he never once committed a sin, although he was fully man and experienced the same troubles as us. He was the only one who lived under God’s rule and didn’t deserve to die. Yet, he chose to take our place, taking God’s punishment that was meant for us. His suffering was once and final, cancelling the need for future sacrifices, as he was perfect and did not deserve death.

But in doing so, Jesus mended the broken relationship between God and us. We can now pray, as in, speak, directly to God because we are now made right with Him!

1 Peter 1:3 tells us:

‘In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.’

It didn’t just end in Jesus’ death. God raised Jesus to life after the third day, thus conquering death (the consequence of sin). Jesus now offers us new life, and will return to judge us. And because Jesus has taken God’s wrath upon his own shoulders and pardoned us, we can be confident that we will be acceptable to God in face of judgement. We can be sure of this, because we did nothing previously in order to be pardoned of our sins, and yet Jesus still died for us.

But how should we receive this?

We can go back to rejecting God and trying to run our lives our own way, but the consequence of that would be as aforementioned – facing the condemnation of God, and death.

Or, we can acknowledge that Jesus is our ruler and live under his rule, knowing that we are blameless now that Jesus has died for us and has been resurrected. The consequence is that we will not face God’s wrath, but will be given eternal life instead.

John 3:36 says:

‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.’

This probably sounds rather frightening and threatening and confronting to you. Or maybe you are already striving your best to live under God’s rule. Or perhaps you’ve made a loud snort of derision, and dismissed this as a load of hogwash. I mean, who has ever heard of a guy coming back from the dead, after three whole days?!

It sounds impossible to us humans, but to me, God is so sovereign that such rules do not apply to Him, as He was the one who made them. And then again, there have been many eye-witnesses of people who saw Jesus after his death.

So, I think that God has shown us such a great love, that we can’t do anything else but to share it with others, and also sharing this hopeful message that all is not lost (the gospel), to those who may be unaware. As is emphasised consistently throughout the bible:

‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ (John 13:34-35)

If you want to know more about the gospel, or if you find what you’ve read familiar, it’s because it comes from Two Ways to Live‘s presentation of the gospel. Give it a peek, because there are illustrations too! 🙂

I am not here to change minds or to convince you of anything, because I really don’t have that ability! I just think that we are capable of showing love because others have shown us love, in one way or another, and as a Christian, this points me towards God’s amazing love. What do you think? If you have any questions, feel free to drop me a message!:)