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A Bargain With Heaven can usually be distinguished from its more wicked Sister Trope by certain key elements:
- The entity or entities that the character makes the bargain with are not evil and have no malicious intent toward the character.
- There are few if any negative repercussions to the character or those around him. Breaking it, on the other hand...
- Before/after the Bargain is struck, the Character must perform some great and noble deed or accept some bizarre code of behavior in exchange for the power or rewards sought.
- So long as the character upholds their side of the bargain, whatever that may be, they appear to be getting more out of it than they put in, and/or it is easy for them to get out of the bargain if that ceases to be the case.
- The bargain is made with the character's eyes wide open to the benefits and drawbacks of the bargain, with good intentions on all sides.
Generally, to be an example of this trope, at least 3 of these conditions should apply, but there are exceptions, such as the "I am the Lord" loophole in western culture where any deal made with God/YHWH/Allah automatically counts and the one in eastern cultures where most deals with nature spirits may also qualify.
This trope is Implicit & Explicit in many Fantasy settings and especially in popular RolePlaying Games where Clerics and White Magician Girls often get their powers this way. In these settings, making a Bargain With Heaven is a fast way to Take a Level In Badass or earn several instant credits in asskicking.
During the Middle Ages this trope was also partially truth in storytelling, with priests of the Church bargaining away their right to have children and a sex life in exchange for lifetime job security and personal safety.
The classic example is Samson and his deal with YHWH to never cut his hair.
Film - Live-Action
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: Grail, great seal, price of immortality...
- In David Eddings' The Belgariad series there are several, justified within the work because the Gods all have a physical presence in the world. The clearest example occurs at the end of book four, Castle Of Sorcery, when Polgara (a powerful sorceress) directly begs Aldur (a God) to restore Durnik (a normal mortal) to life, because she loves him and would marry him. Aldur agrees to try to convince the other Gods to go along with it, as long as Polgara agrees "to live out the rest of her life with no more power than Durnik has" and she willingly consents even while she recognizes that these terms mean that she will lose all of her powers. Except that's not what the Gods do. Instead, they give Durnik sorcerous power equal to hers. They don't mention that part to her and she spends a largish chunk of book five Enchanter's Endgame, thinking that she's powerless and trying to become accustomed to it.
- Harry Dresden, of The Dresden Files finds himself on the receiving end of a Heavenly Bargain in Ghost Story.
- In The Barsoom Project, Yarnall is a game actor who becomes "stranded" in a live-action adventure game due to sabotage. He makes a bet with the Game Master that he won't be killed out by the end of the day, and the Game Master seals the deal by sending a (holographic) heavenly arm to reach down from the clouds so they can shake on it.
- In Simon R. Green's Verse, the title of "The Walking Man" is granted to someone who swears himself to God's service and becomes the living Wrath of the Almighty on Earth.
Religion and Myth
- The Bible, multiple times. Sometimes, God initiates the bargain.
- The Muslim tradition has the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) literally Bargain with Heaven (or rather in Heaven with God). During the Night Journey (to Jerusalem and Heaven), Muhammad meets the prophets and God, exchanging greetings, etc....and then God tells him (more or less): "Now to business. These are My commandments regarding prayer..." one of which is "pray fifty times daily." Muhammad says (more or less) "Sure, why not," and goes down, where Moses intercepts him and asks, "So...uh...what did He ask of you?" "Fifty prayers a day." Remembering the pain his own people had keeping 613 mitzvot, Moses said, "That's a bit much. Go up and ask Him to cut it down a bit." And Muhammad does, and then comes down to Moses, who keeps sending him up, until they're down to five prayers a day. Moses tells Muhammad to keep going after that; Muhammad says, "You know what, I'd rather not" and goes home.
- Dungeons and Dragons:
- In theory, this is how you get to be a paladin.
- The game also features lots of vows and oaths that are usually exceptionally powerful options with a balancing drawback. In third edition, the Vow of Poverty required you to give up all your possessions but gave you enough abilities to mostly balance it out (which is a lot considering how much the game is balanced on the assumption of characters aquiring powerful magic items.)
- Jean Valjean in Les Misérables says he did this in his epic song and Crowning Moment of Awesome, Who am I?
- Archer of Fate/stay night made a pact with Gaia that turned him into a Counter Guardian, a form of immune system to the Earth, which has made him an immortal guardian saving the Earth from things that could destroy it or disrupt the natural balance. What he asked for in return was to be able to save a few people he otherwise couldn't have saved. While becoming a Counter Guardian has allowed him to save even greater numbers of people than before by effectively saving the world multiple times, the methods Counter Guardians are forced to use made it something of a backfire for him even if Gaia didn't have any malice in mind by giving them both what they wanted.