Does God Watch “The Good Place”?
How a show that tried to reinvent the afterlife accidentally told God’s story
By Jaime Ryan
DISCLAIMER: Spoilers ahead! This article analyzes season three of The Good Place. Go watch the show, then come back and read this!
ADDITIONAL DISCLAIMER: This is a religious piece! Please read with an open mind.
As a Christian, it’s hard to watch TV. Most shows today are pretty spiritually unfulfilling, and most shows that do explore faith are often, well, bad. Not just bad as in poorly written, but failing to communicate how people connect with God on Earth. But I finally found a show that entertains me and brings me closer to God every time I tune in: The Good Place.
If you aren’t religious and watch The Good Place, you may be thinking “this girl obviously doesn’t get the show at all. The show makes a point of making it totally not about God.”
I’m not arguing that the show writers’ aim was to show people who God really is — they were trying to do the opposite. Michael Schur, creator of The Good Place, has said in numerous interviews that “if you’re looking for an examination of God, look somewhere else.” However, though the writers didn’t intend to address God, the media they created did. While I see a lot of biblical themes in the first two seasons, I’m even more thrilled at how the first eight episodes of season three remind me of a holy life on Earth.
This is the closest The Good Place has come to demonstrating earthly life with God, and I’ll show you how.
Let’s start with season three episode one: introducing the characters as elements of a religious allegory.
Season three opens on Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason moments before each of them is supposed to die. Up to this point in their lives on Earth, each of them has lived a flawed life riddled with selfishness, arrogance, thoughtlessness, and a lack of self-control.
The world is humanity’s greatest challenge. The Good Place touches on the world’s challenges a lot, pointing out how “it’s terrible everywhere and always in a different way” (Maya Rudolph as Judge Gen, S3:E11). Eleanor, Tahani, and Jason have less-than-perfect parents who lead them astray from their most righteous selves. Even Chidi, someone devoted to understanding morality and ethics, cannot himself practice what he preaches because “humans think that they’re making one choice, but they’re actually making dozens of choices they don’t even know they’re making” (Ted Danson as Michael, S3:E11). Chidi is unable to cope with the world’s hyper-gray areas of morality.
God agrees that the world entrances people with its promises of comfort and pleasure at the expense of returning to Him. As He says:
“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” — Mark 8:36
Both The Good Place and God are in agreement that the world is far from the ideal place to live a good life. The humans, both our four heroes and ourselves here in reality, are lost in a sea of clashing cultures, two-faced messages, and devil’s advocates. On its own in this environment, humanity is doomed to fail.
Then Michael swoops in.
Michael comes to earth with a grand plan: He gives the humans a second chance, gets their attention, and makes them say “I’m going to try to become a better, kinder, more generous person” (Kristen Bell as Eleanor Shellstrop, S2:E12). Michael got their attention and set them on the right path.
God gets our attention in many ways.
From donkeys (Numbers 22:21–31) to locusts (Joel 1:2–5) to near-death experiences, God has ways of making His power visible to us. And like the characters in The Good Place, people who notice God’s call tend to answer with a similar passion:
“‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.” — Matthew 4:19–20
If you were in the middle of work and some guy you’d never met before was like “Follow me guys, let’s fish for people”, that guy would have to be pretty spectacular for you to immediately leave and follow him, right? Let’s see Him do it again:
“He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.” — Matthew 4:21–22
These two fishermen abandon their father right in front of him! This is the power of God’s call; Michael’s influence on his human friends represents this power.
Michael also exemplifies God’s ways of bringing people together so that they can help each other seek and find Him.
Michael sees Eleanor and Chidi struggling on the path of righteousness, so he sets out to “nudge the two of them together. Just nudgey nudge nudge” (Michael, S3:E1). This nudge connects Chidi and Eleanor, gets them studying ethics together, and leads them to become better people.
God has nudged so many people into my life who help me improve every day. Without the help of God and the people He puts in my life, I’d be alone on the most dangerous battlefield: the fight for good in an evil world. No one can do it alone, and that’s why:
“From one man He made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from any one of us.” — Acts 17:26–27.
Every single person is nudged, just like Eleanor and Chidi, into opportunities to see God. How have you been nudged? How is God using the people, places, and circumstances in your life to get your attention?
Though Michael is the show’s version of divinity, Michael as a character is far from infallible. His own demonic history means he is in need of reform just like the humans, and almost all of his plans to guide the humans on earth backfire. I argue that Michael isn’t supposed to be a perfect parallel to God, which is actually a great way that The Good Place makes the concept of a higher power relatable yet respectful. No one can do the miraculous things that God does, so props to the show writers for keeping Michael in his own lane.
Those who jump at the opportunities to see God do something very similar to what our four Good Place friends do: STUDY!
Moral philosophers in one case, the greatest moral philosopher of all time in another. The Brainy Bunch and people here on earth head toward righteousness as a community, supporting one another on the path to a better life. Michael and God are pleased, watching their loved ones live happier, more fulfilled lives.
Then the bad guys show up.
Yup, demons. They’re everywhere. If you already think I’m crazy, buckle up.
As we covered, the world is a tough place. Unfortunately, this world is ruled by the Devil. I know, it’s a bummer, but:
“The devil, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel” — 2 Corinthians 4:4
That one is intense, so let’s look at how The Good Place’s version of earth adds some humor to the horror.
First comes Trevor, and wow, that guy is a demon. In season three episode two, Trevor is sent from the bad place to earth where he joins the Brainy Bunch. He lies through his teeth, pretending to be a super nice guy so he can manipulate the humans’ decisions. Classic demon stuff:
“He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” — John 8:44
Trevor uses his native language of lies to infiltrate people on the path to righteousness. He distances these righteous people from one another, isolates them, and attacks: targeting their insecurities, pushing them off the path and back to their old ways. And the worst part is, he does it without anyone noticing his true, terrible motivation: to keep the world nasty and get to have a little more company in the bad place. Trevor is a scary guy.
“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” — 1 John 3:8
The Brainy Bunch stay firm in their studies. Trevor is rendered powerless. By sticking together with other people who want to serve God, and by building spiritual strength through the Word of God, righteousness shall prevail. And it does for the Brainy Bunch, because they become…
This was the part of the show that hit me in the face, like “wow, the writers made a distinction in nomenclature between when they are simply studying the Word and when they realize the truth and decide to devote their lives to God’s work. How could Michael Schur not be trying to talk about becoming a disciple?”
This glorious moment starts with a bit of tragedy. The gang finds out via Michael and Janet that they were dead and sent to the bad place, and that now they had no chance of getting into the good place. The humans are despondent and heartbroken. As Janet puts it, “They’ve seen through the door into the afterlife and they know how it works” (D’Arcy Carden, S3:E4). Life has changed forever and there’s no going back.
This is what it’s like to know how Jesus died for us.
“This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” — 1 John 4:9–10
“There is no greater love than this: to lay down your life for your friends.” — John 15:12–13
To know Jesus’s life is to know His death, and to know His death is to know that we are responsible for his death. But all of His pain all of His suffering, all of what He did not deserve was endured to save us. To bear the weight of all our sins so that we could have that weight lifted from our shoulders. This is god’s sacrifice to us.
But glory hallelujah! Because He rose from the dead, and through baptism we get to participate in that resurrection. We change forever from people lost in the world to the Soul Squad! And what does Eleanor say the six of them should do as the Soul Squad? “There are still people in this world that we care about, so I say let’s try and help them be good people” (S3:E4). With this, Kristen Bell begins the mission of the Lord:
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” — Matthew 28:19–20
So there you have it, the end of the gospel, and the beginning of life as a disciple of God. The show goes on, the Soul Squad is still human and therefore imperfect, but they can always go back to the Word and go back to each other and try again, starting a new day in the light.
I’m grateful to The Good Place creators for opening a dialogue about heaven, hell, and how to be good. And I’m glad that deep down under some layers of good deed points and flying shrimp, they told a greater truth.