Please note: The following text contains spoilers. Viewer discretion is also advised – this episode of TV series The Twilight Zone (“A Nice Place to Visit”, Season 1 – Episode 28) is rated ‘12’. (No Christian content advisory is currently available for this episode.)
In mid-January, I wrote a piece in which I admitted to you, my dear readers, that I had “broken the sacred rules” of the Faith & Film blog. It wasn’t a decision I made lightly but did so for your benefit, in writing about an episode of spiritually significant, compelling television, over a film. But I must confess, I remain unrepentant – especially since I’ve recently discovered the strikingly prescient morality tales of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone…
In its original five season run (1959–1964), Serling’s ground-breaking show explored pressing issues of the day such as the fight for social justice, atomic war and government control – to name a few. One might even argue that Jewish-born Serling (who later converted to Unitarianism), also utilised the format of the anthology drama as a platform for sharing his love and passion for morality, with the world. Regardless of whatever issue Serling might have been addressing at any given moment, the through-line of his extraordinary series is that he continuously sought to leave the viewer with a challenging lesson to ruminate upon, in their day-to-day life – from learning that there are mysteries to the universe that even our greatest minds cannot solve (S2, Ep. 12), to the plea that humanity must do well to fight against its fallen nature (S1, Ep. 22). And yet, of all the episodes that my family and I have devoured so far (we’re currently working our way through Vulture’s 50 Best Episodes of The Twilight Zone), only one has lingered with me in a manner which has made me – as a Christian - both fearful, and simultaneously hopeful: “A Nice Place to Visit”.
Rocky: “What's going on here? Where am I?”
Mr. Pip: “Mr. Valentine, do you remember when we met earlier today? I told you I was in a sense, your guide and you said you needed a guide like a hole in the head.”
Mr. Pip: “Well, as a matter of strict fact, you had a hole in the head only a short time before: a bullet hole.”
Rocky: “Yeah, that's right. The cops, they... Then I must... I must be dead!”
Mr. Pip: “Mmm-hmm.”
Rocky: “If I'm dead, then all of this, the joint, the clothes and the booze… I must be in heaven. Yeah! That's it! That's it! I'm in heaven, right? And you're my guardian angel, something like that?”
Mr. Pip: “Oh, something like that. Yes, Mr. Valentine.”
Rocky is elated to learn that he ‘made the cut’ to enter Heaven, but is still a tad perplexed – how could a less than gentlemanly thief have everything he ever wanted, and make it into Heaven? Even he can’t seem to remember doing many or any good deeds at all throughout his time on earth, that could warrant such eternal bliss. In seeking reassurance from Pip that there hasn’t been some sort of mix-up with the almighty, Rocky is informed that there is a file kept on him in the Hall of Records, that would detail every action taken within his lifetime. At Rocky’s request, Pip leads him to the aforementioned hall, and then to a filing cabinet, from which he removes the file. Reading it aloud, Rocky soon realizes that his life was completely devoid of any good at all, for his file is simply a record of all that he has ever done wrong – and nothing more. Noticeably worried and confused, Rocky begins to panic. But Pip assures him that nobody could have made a mistake and that he’s exactly where he’s supposed to be. Whilst his fears initially subside, Rocky soon tires of being waited on, hand and foot, yelling: “If I gotta stay here another day, I’m gonna go nuts! I don’t belong in heaven, see? I want to go to the other place.” Pip, taken aback, flashes a wry smile, saying: “Whatever gave you the idea that you were in heaven, Mr. Valentine? This IS the other place!”. You didn’t see that coming, now did you?
At the top of this article, I mentioned that A Nice Place To Visit made the Christian in me both fearful, and simultaneously hopeful. Why might that be, you ask? Well, I was initially fearful because the episode prompted me to consider if God keeps a record of our mistakes, and in particular, my own. It’s a scary, heavy thought for anyone to consider, but consider it we must. For if God is all-knowing, then He is more than able to call to mind the wrongdoing we have committed against Him, and others. And in the Book of Revelation, that is revealed to be true, as it is written that our sins (the wrong we do in the eyes of a holy God) are recorded in a heavenly book and used to pass judgement upon us: “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.” (Revelation 20:12, NIV). One could easily feel dejected at such news – knowing that God is completely aware of all our wrongdoing, both in the public and private sphere, but also of the sins we committed and can no longer remember. After all, nobody would like to admit their own wrongdoing and would much rather hope that their good deeds outweighed the bad. But the biblical truth remains that “everyone has sinned” against God (Romans 3:23, GNT), and in His eyes, “our righteous deeds…are nothing but filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6, NLT). But perhaps more serious is that the Bible teaches our “payment for sin is (eternal) death” (Romans 6:23, ICB), meaning that those who are sinful will be separated from such a holy God. Therefore, if we are judged by God’s complete record of our many sins (just as in the case of Rocky Valentine) then perhaps you and I are also due to receive eternal punishment?
Well thankfully, there is Good News (hence my reasoning for being hopeful). Although our sins are both numerable and exceptionally evil in the eyes of a holy God, there is grace and mercy available to all. For to everyone who genuinely puts their faith, hope and trust in Jesus, the Son of God - asking Him to forgive them of their mistakes and turning away from them - will find that their ‘sinful record’ is wiped completely clean. But this was only made possible through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who was sent to earth to die for us on the cross, taking the penalty that we deserved for our many sins we had committed against God, so that we might be set free from death itself: “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NLT). Thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus, “if we confess our sins” to Him, “He is faithful and just and will forgive us (of) our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NIV).
Unlike the concept of God in this episode of The Twilight Zone, God in His great love for humanity chooses not to keep an uncleanable, glaring record of our sin, but has made a way for it to be wiped completely clean for those who seek His forgiveness: “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool” (Isaiah 1:18, NLT). Whilst yes, God has a clear knowledge of the sins we have committed against Him, He does not seek for us to be eternally condemned by the record of them. For “If you (God) kept a record of our sins, who could escape being condemned?” (Psalm 130:3, GNT), the Psalmist writes. Instead, God “forgives us…so that we should stand in awe of” Him (Psalm 130:4, GNT), turning from our wicked ways which only bring death, to then draw upon His love, forgiveness and mercy, which bring life everlasting. Heaven then becomes a destination that isn’t simply A Nice Place To Visit (something the Rocky Valentine character would very much like to do) or a place to dream of visiting, but it becomes a wonderful place that you and I can call home, with certainty, today.
Why not prayerfully invite a friend or family member who doesn’t yet know Jesus, to watch this episode of The Twilight Zone for themselves? Use the TV show’s themes to ask them what they thought of the episode, if they spotted any links to Christianity and what they might think of the Gospel’s response to this subject.
If you feel able to, ask them what they think about the episode’s understanding of what it means ‘make the cut’ and be accepted into Heaven. Do they think that God keeps a record of their mistakes on file somewhere? If so, how does that make them feel – anxious or afraid, perhaps? Do they feel that God might also keep a record of their good deeds too? If so, do they think that such good deeds might balance out the negative aspects of their lives, thereby providing them with access to Heaven? Be honest, if you can, in asking them if they think they’ve been ‘good enough’ to be accepted into Heaven. Regardless of their answer, be sure to then explain that nobody (humanly speaking) has ever been good enough to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, as our sins prevent us from getting there. But take the opportunity to share the hope of the Gospel message with them, by encouraging them in the knowledge that we can enter into Heaven because of what Jesus has done for us, by dying on the cross and rising again three days later, which defeated the power of death and darkness. Finish by letting them know that God has made a way for our ‘record’ to be wiped clean through the cleansing power of Jesus, and invite them to receive Him for themselves, today.
Prior to watching the episode for yourself, however, take a moment to pray that God would speak to you through the show. If you feel comfortable, pray this prayer over all of your future, film & TV-watching experiences:
Dear Lord, as I watch this TV show, I ask that you would be present here with me. Highlight to me anything within it that is honourable, anything that can be used in conversation for your Kingdom purposes. Amen.
The Twilight Zone – Season One, including the episode “A Nice Place To Visit”, is currently available to purchase through Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV and Google Play.