Rod Serling was one of my heroes growing up. Still is. His genius is what bromances are made of. Best known for his psychodrama series, The Twilight Zone, Serling pioneered the television drama into what it is today.*
Season 1, episode 28 of the The Twilight Zone is entitled, “A Nice Place To Visit” after the saying, “It’s a nice place to visit, but I would not want to live here.” The episode begins with law enforcement officers shooting a career thief in an alleyway. In the afterlife the thief is informed that he is dead and is given a guardian angel–who happens to be a middle-aged handsome gentleman. The guardian angel then escorts the thief to a mansion, where he is served a delicious dinner, given a hot shower, and told that the mansion is his.
Inside the mansion, the thief entertains beautiful women, indulges his insatiable appetite for gambling, and generally engages in the lavish life he has suddenly inherited. After a while, though, the thief begins to wonder whether something is wrong, and he summons his guardian angel, saying, “I don’t get it. I was a bad guy in life. I killed people. And I’m given all of this? Did God make a mistake with me?” The guardian angel then suggests that the two of them go to a hall of records to check out the thief’s file.
When they inspect the file, it contains a detailed history of the thief’s sin-filled life. “I don’t get it. But I guess if God is OK with me here, then I’m fine with that,” the thief puzzled.
Back at his mansion, the thief continues to entertain all of the women he wanted, he continues to win every time he gambled, and nothing is ever wrong. His favorite meals are abundant. Everyone around him is always happy and laughing. In essence, things are … perfect. But this begins to get old for the thief.
Once again, the thief summons the guardian angel and asks if the angel could arrange for him to see some of his friends and family who had died before him. The angel said that would be difficult, impossible perhaps, because this place was designed for the thief and no others.
Time goes on, and the thief grows angry, almost to the point of insanity. He again summons the angel. “Angel, if I have to live through this place one more day, I’m gonna go nuts. I don’t belong here. I don’t want to be in Heaven any more. I want to go to the other place!” The angel pauses and, with a wry look, asks, “What made you think this is Heaven? You are in the other place.”
I first saw this episode when I was a 15 year-old Teacher. I recall so well how my entire existence seemed to suddenly freeze when the angel said that the thief was in the “other place,” and insidiously laughed. I recall immediately asking myself: “What is your concept of a heaven? What is your concept of a hell?” At that moment, the “three degrees of glory” diagrams I had been used to viewing in seminary seemed so procedural, so antiseptic. “How can an ‘eternity’ of anything be exciting?”
As I sat around in my pajamas over the recent Thanksgiving weekend flipping channels, I came across KTLA’s annual marathon broadcast of The Twilight Zone—an event that I loved as a teenager and looked forward to each year, but which I had forgotten about it. But what was even better was that “A Nice Place to Visit” came on, and I was reminded of these ideas. And so I ask you: Is your concept of Heaven a place of no trial, no challenge, of constant family, of endless indulgences in the things you love about life? Facetiousness aside, what is your concept of heaven, of hell, and of any eternal state of existence in between?
*Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope was released in 1948, with its angular oddities, sharp contrasts, and bizarre lighting. It was the first feature film in which the entire plot took place in a single-room. The film consists of only 10 or 11 takes, as Hitchcock let the film continuously roll while he moved from actor to actor, angle to angle! Rope was a watershed in the psychodrama, which Serling took and perfected into half-hour gems.