I’ll never forget the question I heard John Piper pose at the first Together For The Gospel gathering in Louisville in 2006. “If you could have heaven,” he asked, “perfect health, all the friends you’ve ever wanted, all the physical pleasures, purified, that you’ve ever wanted… and God’s not there… would that be okay?” (You can watch the video here).
That question was a gut check moment for me. Was the longing of my own heart for the blessings promised us in this life and in the life to come? Or was the longing of my heart to be with Jesus?
Piper answered his own question. “So many evangelicals,” he told us, “would say ‘yes.’”
I thought about John Piper’s question again a few weeks ago as I wanted the finale of the TV show The Good Place. I’ve been a fan of the program since it first aired back in September of 2016. NBC describes the show as “a comedy about becoming a better person.” But there was so much more to it than that. There were heavy doses of philosophy mixed together with all kinds of speculation about the afterlife. Mary Ann watched the first episode with me and, as the characters spouted so many unbiblical ideas, said “you’re on your own with this one.”
Fans like me were curious about how the show would end. After 52 episodes filled with all kinds of philosophical and theological speculation, what conclusion would the writers and producers come to?
Spoiler alert here. If you haven’t watched the final episode yet (I’m looking at you Michael and Mary Johnson), you may want to skip the next few paragraphs. The main characters in the series all make it to the imagined “good place” – a place where every hope and dream and desire can be realized. If you’ve always wanted to play quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars, now you can. All the books you’ve wished you had time to read? You can read them. Everyone is happy because everyone can have whatever he or she chooses.
But after eons of endless bliss, as writer Spencer Kornhaber observed in The Atlantic, forever is a problem. “The Good Place felt bad in the end.”
“It’s sort of an inescapable conclusion,” the show’s creator Michael Schur told The Hollywood Reporter. “It doesn’t matter how great things are, if they go on forever they will get boring.”
So will heaven be boring? Will the joy run out? The eternal state that the creators of The Good Place imagined was the kind of heaven John Piper suggested that most evangelical Christians would be willing to settle for – a place that promises eternal joy, no more sorrow, no more night, no more pain, being reunited with loved ones. And as the TV show revealed, that joy will not be eternally satisfying if God is not at the center. What ultimately makes eternity a place of endless delight is the infinite nature and infinite pleasures of being face to face with our eternal God.
Jonathan Edwards, in his sermon Heaven – A World of Love makes a case for our eternally expanding capacity for joy that will lead us deeper and deeper into God’s expanding eternal nature. “Further up and further in,” as Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy would say.
John Ortberg says it’s more than our view of heaven that needs to be adjusted. It’s our view of what it means to be united with Jesus.
“We think of heaven as the pleasure factory rather than life with God. We think of salvation as being able to avoid pain rather than being made right. We think of the gospel as the minimal entrance requirements for getting into heaven rather than the announcement that life with God is now possible on earth through Jesus. We think of faith as what we’re supposed to believe rather than the mental map about how things are that we carry with us and inevitably live from. We think of Christians as people who have got the heaven job done, while we think of discipleship as optional extra-credit work for spiritual overachievers.”
The real Good Place – Heaven – is good because Jesus is there. And life on earth is good for us as God’s children because Jesus is with us even now – He in us and we in Him. In the end, that’s what the gospel is. It’s the good news that in Christ Jesus, we who were once far off (from God), but that we have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13).
Have you turned in your order for your pizza at Family Fun Night yet?
Email Jen Gurney with any questions you have about the event. Her email is email@example.com.
It’s almost time for another church meal together. We’ll combine a potluck with our annual church business meeting. Here’s the info:
Speaking of church business…
Part of the regular rhythm of our church is to be asking God who He might be raising up for service as an elder or as a deacon. The Bible gives us guidance about the qualifications for these roles in passages like 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1 and 1 Peter 5. Please pray with us as we ask the Lord if there are men who He would have us bring into a more formal leadership role at RCC. And if there is someone you think we should consider for one of these roles, after you’ve talked to the person you have in mind and asked if they are open to being considered, please pass that name along to any of the elders.
Thanks for making this a matter of prayer.
WORK IS GOD’S IDEA
Don’t forget the special series that is coming later this month at The Well – our weekly Tuesday evening get together of young single adults. Here’s more info about what’s happening beginning next Tuesday night:
Virtue, knowledge, self control, steadfastness, godliness and brotherly affection – all of these character qualities that we are told we should add to our faith – are all useless unless all we do is done in love.
We’ll dig deeper into that idea as we gather for worship this week.
See you in church!
Soli Deo Gloria!