SPOILER ALERT:
If you are currently watching The Good Place, or are intending to watch it in the future, please come back to this post later. It will give away the ending.



“Priming” is a word used by psychologists to describe how exposure to one word, image, or idea can influence how people respond to related words, images, or ideas that they encounter later. For example, studies have shown that people tend to walk more slowly after having read the words “cautious” or “leisurely”.

I’m someone on whom priming has great impact. The other day, Peter and I watched our usual TV show together during our lunchtime break. Recently, we’ve been going through old episodes from Lois & Clark: The Adventures of Superman. They’re cheesy, nostalgic, and we’re enjoying it.

When the show ended, I turned to Peter. “Where are your glasses? You should put them back on or you won’t be able to see. You’re not Superman, you know.”

His face filled with confusion. I hadn’t expected to see th—“Oh wait! You’re wearing contacts, aren’t you?”

The tears flowed as we were overcome by gales of laughter. He’s been wearing contact lenses for the past two years.

I’ve come to realize that priming matters a lot in our spiritual lives, too. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit enlightens our hearts and minds to understand God’s word. [1] Priming is one of the tools He uses to show us new things within passages we’ve read countless times before.

Last week, I’d been thinking about The Good Place, a TV show whose starting premise is: “What would happen if some not-so-good people accidentally made it into heaven?” At around that time, I was doing a Bible study about heaven, and the hope of all we have to look forward to. As my notes lengthened [2], realization struck.

If someone were to accidentally end up in heaven, someone who shouldn’t be there, I don’t think it would be paradise for them. Yes, there are physical riches there, but as I read those Bible passages and made my list of things to look forward to, I realized the majority of rewards in heaven are only meaningful if you love God. Without such love, they are empty.

The Good Place provides a perfect example of this. When Eleanor and her friends finally make it to “The Good Place”, they’re ecstatic... for a while. As the eons wear on, though, they become bored. Getting everything they ever wanted becomes tedious, even though people they love are there. Eventually they decide to nihilistically end their eternal lives.

I think this outlook is spot-on. If heaven is only about satisfying our every whim, it gets boring. Perfection needs a focus—Someone greater than ourselves to give it meaning.

I’ve always thought of God as the source of all good things, and therefore the absence of God is hell. We give lip service to the idea that heaven is only heaven if God is there, but this is truer than we might realize. Human beings were created to crave relationship and meaning. Without the ultimate Relationship, even the satisfaction of receiving all we desire becomes a form of torment. Jesus truly is the only source of lasting pleasure and delight.




NOTES

[1] 1 Corinthians 2:7-12, John 14:26.
[2] If you’re interested, here are the passages I looked at, while considering what we have to look forward to in heaven: Matthew 8:11, Luke 23:39-43, John 14:1-4, 1 Corinthians 2:9, 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, 2 Corinthians 12:1-4, Ephesians 1:18, Hebrews 11:16, Hebrews 12:22-24, 1 Peter 1:4, 2 Peter 1:10-11, 2 Peter 3:11-13, Revelation 21:1-22:17 (Taken from Catherine Martin, Pilgrimage of the Heart, Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2003, 50-51.)

(Picture source)