I’ll watch anything with an afterlife theme, at least once. I’ve been watching a show called The Good Place. It’s not deeply theological, but it’s amusing. The premise of the show is a woman who is a bad person has, through a clerical error, ended up in The Good Place. She’s selfish and rude and really has no business being there, which she quickly realizes. The problem though is there are only two options. There is The Good Place, a place of eternal bliss with frozen yogurt shops and all kinds of fun activities. And, there is the bad place, a place of eternal torment. She has no choice but to keep up the charade or face eternal torment.
The way you get into the good place is an accumulation of points during your life on Earth. Good deeds have a positive point value. Bad deeds have a negative point value. At the end of your life, if your point total is high enough you’re allowed into The Good Place. Fall below the line and you’re in the bad place, presumably forever.
Sadly, this is way too close to the theology I grew up with. There was a binary choice of heaven or hell. You were either going to unbelievable eternal bliss or to lonely eternal torment. It never made sense to me that this was the way it is. Why not a medium place for people who were pretty good, but not necessarily deserving of bliss? If you missed the mark by one point, you were going to the bad place? They told us all we had to do to get to The Good Place was believe in Jesus and we’d be saved. But, on the other hand, they handed us this huge set of rules- no swearing, no drinking, no smoking, no dancing, no… well you get the picture. And, if you were doing any of those things when Jesus came or you died (whichever came first), the whole thing could be blown by an unconfessed sin. Get caught in the wrong place, like a bar or the movie theater, when Jesus came back and He wasn’t coming in to get you.
Even if you did make it to the end of your life without Jesus coming back catching you in the wrong place at the wrong time, you were then going to face a single elimination evaluation that would determine where you would spend eternity. No do-overs, no excuses. Just you and The Judge and then off you go.
What I now believe is there isn’t a binary choice of where we go- bliss or torment. There are places that we migrate to based on what we’re ready for after we have left this life. Earth, some say is the lowest place. Some say there are lower places. There are definitely higher places and there are more than one place. And it’s not a one and done proposition. We can and do move from place to place even after this life is over.
The Good Place is on episode 11. Poor Eleanor (the main character) has been trying to figure out how to stay in The Good Place and has several times argued there should be a place for people like her, people who hadn’t earned enough points to go to The Good Place, but weren’t exactly serial killers and rapists. At the end of episode 11, they have introduced the concept of a Medium Place. Makes sense to me.