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 also auto-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 (although interestingly, that deal was actually made for him by his mother).
- In the OVA version of Black★Rock Shooter, Mato decide to fuse with/become the eponymous character, in order to save Yomi from the Otherworld. In other versions, the eponymous character is... not quite so nice.
- In The Movie of A Certain Magical Index, Miracle of Endymion, the survival of almost all of the passengers of a crashing space shuttle is treated as this. But for the one who made the wish, Shutaura Sequenzia, it certainly feels like a Deal with the Devil, because the miracle cost the life of her father, the pilot of said shuttle.
- Dealing with The Truth in Fullmetal Alchemist starts out as a Deal with the Devil, what with its penchant for extracting payments in the form of bodily parts. But it's inverted right at the end of the series. Edward offered the ultimate price, his entire ability to perform alchemy, but Truth was absolutely thrilled at the offer, congratulated Edward for giving the correct answer, and grant him the ultimate prize in return: Alphonse's body, whole and unspoiled.
- In the The Sandman story "Ramadan", Haroun Al-Rashid makes a bargain with the Prince of Dreams: He offers to sell him his kingdom, a magical version of Arabia straight out of Arabian Nights, that it might live on forever in stories rather than fade away in Real Life. Dream obliges and The Magic Goes Away. Rashid awakes in a mundane version of Baghdad, having no memory of his kingdom having ever been anything more than a mundane, ordinary one. Fast forward two thousand years and we learn that this story is still being re-told, keeping the magical kingdom alive in a fashion.
- Child of the Storm has Lily, who is implied to have accidentally invoked, then struck a bargain, with the Phoenix Force, explaining the pyrotechnic tendencies of Harry's protection. Chapter 71 makes it explicit, and then Chapter 78 gives us the actual details of this bargain: in exchange for the Phoenix protecting Harry, Lily became Her avatar, the White Phoenix of the Crown.
- Watership Down has Hazel try to strike one of these with the sun god, Frith, but is told no dice. What is, is what be must be.
- Explicitly Averted in the Constantine movie. Constantine wants this sort of deal, fighting demons in exchange for access to heaven, but Heaven doesn't work that way (ie. selfishly trying to get into Heaven, no matter what deeds you try to exchange for it, is impossible).
- In Andrei Tarkovsky's film The Sacrifice, Alexander promises God he'll give up everything he owns, including his home and his family, if God will avert the impending nuclear holocaust.
- In Cabin in the Sky, God will keep Lucifer's minions from taking Little Joe's soul as long as he stays on the right path (i.e. quit doing sinful things). If he doesn't keep his end of the bargain, he'll get taken to Hell.
- An atheist is lost at sea, floating in a life preserver during a terrible storm. What's worse, a shark is circling around him. In a fit of panic, the atheist shouts out, "God, please help me!" Suddenly, everything stopped—the rain, the wind, the waves, the shark, all frozen in time. The clouds parted and a shaft of light shined. God's voice boomed out "You are an atheist. Why should I help you?" The atheist pleaded, "I'm sorry, God, but that's how I've always believed. If you won't help me, then how about making the shark religious? He may show compassion and not eat me." God pondered it for a moment then said, "Okay. I'll make the shark religious." The clouds closed back up and everything was set in motion once again. The shark circled around a few times then swam up to the atheist. He came up and looked the atheist in the face. The shark then put his fins together, bowed his head and said, "Dear God, thank you for this food I am about to partake..."
- 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 climax of book five, Enchanter's End Game, 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 the last fifty pages or so thinking that she's powerless and trying to become accustomed to it, before she finds out the truth in the last few pages.
- The negotiations have an additional bargain in them — the god Mara, whose people (the Marags) were exterminated, refuses to accept. Until Belgarath informs him that there is one still alive. Mara is stunned for a moment, and on hearing she's attracted to the Ulgo Relg, he asks UL (whose people the Ulgos are) for the rights to have the two marry so his people can be restored. Once the deal is made, he gives his approval for the resurrection.
- Harry Dresden, of The Dresden Files finds himself on the receiving end of a Heavenly Bargain in Ghost Story.
- A more implicit bargain in the same series involves the Knights of the Cross. In exchange for their services smiting evil, the Knights get amazing luck, their families are protected from the forces of evil by literal angels, and (presumably) a good afterlife if not retirement.
- 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.
- This is how one becomes a wizard in the Young Wizards series. The Powers That Be decide who gets to be a wizard, and offer those mortals the choice. Those who accept recite the Wizard's Oath, swearing to only use wizardry in the service of Life, and thereafter are granted the powers of a wizard. A wizard who later violates the oath not only loses their powers, but also all memories of having been a wizard. note
- In Pact, practitioners gain power by making deals with Others, offering them amusement or other things that may suit their goals. While most Others are malevolent in some way or another, others, such as Isadora the Riddling Sphinx, are more benevolent.
- The Guardians of Sunset in Reflections of Eterna are an order of supernatural warriors defending the known multiverse against the continuous onslaught of otherworldly evil. Before their main citadel, the eponymous fortress of Eterna, fell, they bolstered their ranks by scouting out the toughest badasses of the multiverse and offered them a deal: Ageless Immortality and powers of a Physical God in return for an (eternal) life of service to the multiverse. The main caveat is that by agreeing, the future Guardian must give up all memories of their mortal life, so he can devote himself entirely to his new duties.
- In The Secret of Platform 13, with less than an hour for her kidnapped son to return before the gump will close for nine more years, the Queen promises God that she'll never do anything bad again if he returns. The narration notes that she'd never done anything bad before anyway.
- In the history of The Blood Ladders the founder of humanity's predominant religion offered her life to angels to save her kingdom from a demonic invasion, they gave her magic instead. Later, Almond takes a sword meant for Morgan and an angel offers to either save her life, or remove the curse binding the elves' magic so they can defeat the current demonic invasion. She chooses the latter. Later on the angels also make her magically-engineered species viable.
- In Void City, Jean-Paul Courtney, a devout Christian knight who was bitten by a vampire, prayed to God for his vampirism to be cured and was granted a deal whereby his curse was lifted in exchange for the next seven generations of his descendants serving Heaven. Unbeknownst to him, he wasn't actually bargaining with the Christian God, but Scrythax; a demon who was previously worshiped as a god by various pagan religions and who has enough of a fondness for humans that he decided to answer his prayers when God wouldn't. Scrythax was purely benevolent in his intentions and completely upheld his end of the bargain, so Jean-Paul and his descendants never realized the truth.
- In the fairy tale "Godfather Death", Death gives a poor man's son the ability to see at once whether a sick person will live or die, plus the ability to cure anyone who is not destined to die. This makes the godson a famous physician, but when he uses his gifts to cheat Death despite Death's earnest warnings to do so, Death takes his life in exchange for the ones he saved.
- In Game of Thrones, Catelyn Stark never liked her husband's illegitimate son, Jon Snow, because he is Ned's son by another woman. When Jon was still a baby, she prayed to the Seven to take him away but then Jon caught a fever as a young child and a guilt-ridden Catelyn is horrified at herself for wishing the gods to take away an innocent child because she was jealous of his mother. Catelyn stands vigil by Jon's bedside, making a prayer wheel for him, and prays to the gods again to spare him, and she would have him legitimised and love him as one of her own. She remained by Jon's bed until he got better, but Catelyn couldn't keep to her word. Now the Starks are scattered, and her husband is dead. Catelyn feels she is responsible for everything that has happened to her family because she didn't follow through on her part of the deal for an innocent, motherless child. Though in the end, Jon is recognized as a Stark by the other lords of the North and is named King in the North after he defeats Ramsay Bolton and retakes his homeland.
- An episode of M*A*S*H had Radar getting bitten by a dog thought to be rabid. When the dog's test for rabies comes out negative, Radar is informed and he won't have to get any more shots:
Radar: (looking to Heaven) A deal's a deal, Sir. No more "hells," "damns," and especially not the big one.
- At the climax of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Sacrifice of Angels", Sisko bargains with the Prophets to wish away the fleet of Dominion warships traveling through the wormhole to reinforce the fleet. The Prophets tell him there will be a penance exacted:
Prophet!Dukat: The Sisko is of Bajor, but he will find no rest there.
Prophet!Kira: His pagh [soul] will follow another path.
- 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.
- A similar bargain happened in the Old Testament with the cities of Sodom and Ghamora. Originally God would only spare the cities if a hundred good people could be found within, but was eventually bargained down to sparing both cities if even only ten good people could be found. Since the cities were destroyed anyway and only Lott and his family was spared, apparently finding ten good people total out of the population of both cities was too much to hope for.
- Vestal virgins, in theory. They'd serve the goddess for twenty years, getting high social status and more political power than any other woman had in return, and then could leave and live a comfy life. The downside was that, if things went wrong, the politicians would look for a vestal virgin whom they could accuse of having violated the rules, and bury her alive.(But from the point of view of believers, the goddess would of course protect her faithful virgins from wrong accusations ...)
- Catholic nuns in the Middle Ages. Get engaged to Jesus, trade the option of marrying a mortal man for a decent education, next to zero risk of death in childbirth, improved safety from sexual violence and improved medical care. Overall, a pretty good deal.
- Dungeons & 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 acquiring powerful magic items.)
- A splat introduced a new 'race': the Hellbred. They are people who were extremely evil when they (first) lived, but have done something undeniably good at some point in their life, which means they aren't quite deserving of Hell. They bargained with the judges of souls for one last chance: if they can live a second life full of good deeds, then they will not be tossed to Hell.
- The 5E Warlock Celestial patron has this as the default, being good beings of the Upper Planes providing power under the terms of a pact to the warlock. It does have the same qualifier as the Deal with the Devil Fiend pact, though — there's nothing saying the warlock can't have conned the patron into a pact that provides power without actually requiring anything of the warlock, in terms of actions or soul-ownership.
- This was a twist to a Scarred Lands story — a man sold his soul to a stranger to become a sorcerer, and then used the sorcerous power to be as good a person as possible, on his death bed telling the stranger come to claim him that he'd done his best to make certain others wouldn't have to damn themselves the same way he did. The stranger chuckled and said the world would be a much darker place if fiends were the only ones who heard desperate prayers, enveloping the man in white wings...
- Magic: The Gathering: Multiple people bargain with the gods during Theros block. The most successful is probably Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, a Humanoid Abomination who got a useful arrangement with Phenax, God of Deception. Elspeth had one until her divine patron, Heliod, stabbed her in the back.
- In GURPS, the Pact limitation on an advantage is most likely either this trope or a Deal with the Devil. It gives a character an advantage (or several of them) in exchange for said character following a code of conduct (represented by self-imposed mental disadvantages), and serves as a discount on the point cost of the advantages it applies to.
- In addition to the ways found in its parent game, Pathfinder also includes the Celestial Bloodline for sorcerers, which is a counterpart for the Infernal and Abyssal Bloodlines that made pacts with the other end of the alignment scale. One of the ways a character can get the Celestial Bloodline is making one of these deals with a Good-aligned outsider. There's also the possibility that such a deal was made by the sorcerer's ancestor, which can result in a Light Is Not Good scenario.
- Jean Valjean Les MisÚrables was once a petty burglar who was caught after stealing silverware from a local bishop. Since he's already on parole and this could mean a much longer sentence back in jail, the bishop lies and tells the police the silverware was a gift. In doing so, he warns Valjean that he bought his soul for God and afterward, the guilt-stricken Valjean changes his ways and becomes an honest man. He mentions this bargain again later in the play during his epic song and Crowning Moment of Awesome, Who am I?
"My soul belongs to God, I know, I made that bargain long ago. He gave me hope when hope was gone, he gave me strength to journey on..."
- In the backstory of Avencast: Rise of the Mage, the Kyranians were under threat of extinction due to meddling with Morgath. They were promised (by whom is left ambiguous) that if every remaining Kyranian met him on a single field of battle, Morgath would fall and at least some of the Kyranians would survive.
- In The Binding of Isaac, it is possible to find Angel Rooms after finishing a boss battle. These are the "holy" version of the Devil Rooms and require you to ignore Devil Deals in order to reach them. These rooms contain free exclusive items and play a crucial role in finding the True Final Boss. They are, however, more difficult access and don't have an overall more effective item pool when compared to the Devil Rooms.
- In For Honor, the Warborn (Viking) order of Valkyries made a bargain with the gods so that they can acquire glory for those who cannot earn it, thus allowing individuals of the Valkyrie's choosing to go to Valhalla.
- In The Elder Scrolls series' backstory, St. Alessia formed one of these with the Aedra, the divine beings who sacrificed large portions of their power in order to create Mundus, the mortal plane. Alessia, whose people, the Nedes (human ancestors to most of Tamriel's races of Men), had been enslaved by the (primarily) Daedra-worshiping Ayleids prayed to the Aedra for aid. The Aedra answered her prayers and sent her aid, in exchange for adopting the worship of the Aedra as the official religion of her new empire. Following her victory, they gave her the Amulet of Kings as proof of her claim. Akatosh, the draconic God of Time and chief deity of the Aedra, mystically joined his blood with Alessia and her heirs, an act which maintained the barrier between Mundus and Oblivion, the realm of the Daedra.
- The world of Tales of Zestiria and Tales of Berseria has "vows" which several characters make (and break) over the games. Vows are powerful ritual magics which require accepting a strong taboo or code of conduct in order to attain power. Few would argue that a vow isn't worth it - you can get otherwise impossible powers or even genuine immortality out of one - but their restrictions prevent the taker from using them most effectively. For example:
- Lailah in Zestiria takes a vow that lets her grant the Flames of Purification to a Shepherd, so he can cleanse the spiritual impurity of malevolence. However, her vow forces her to provide a Cryptically Unhelpful Answer to any question about the nature of malevolence, Shepherds, and related topics - because as easy as it would be for her to provide all the answers and point the Shepherd at whatever needs to be cleansed, the Shepherd's resolve is everything and just handing him all the answers without understanding would leave him unprepared and likely to fall to malevolence himself.
- The explorer Mayvin has a vow that grants immortality, in exchange also forcing him to act as a cryptic Eccentric Mentor for much the same reason: providing all the answers clearly and simply would make them meaningless (or worse, destructive) before someone is prepared to truly understand them. It's also implied, however, that sometimes someone genuinely needs true, clear answers, and his vow means he (and his successors) will be there to provide them at the key moment, even if it kills him afterward.
- Every player character who becomes an Angel in Nexus Clash makes one of these, and the parallels with the Deal with the Devil that Demons make are very much intended. Angels get extraordinary supernatural power at the price of being bound to keep their Karma Meter in top condition for the rest of their days. Given that the god in charge of the Karma Meter defines goodness mainly in terms of killing his enemies, the catch becomes apparent rather quickly.
- Bayonetta: Much like how the Umbra Witches make a pact with the Demons of the Inferno, their light-based/masculine counterparts the Lumen Sages make a pact with the Hierarchy of Laguna, granting them enhanced physical prowess and White Magic on par with the Umbra Witches. When they die, their souls ascend to Paradiso where they are reincarnated as high-ranking angels in the Hierarchy.
- Archer of Fate/stay night made a pact with Alaya, the collective will of humanity, offering his service as a Counter Guardiannote in return for gaining the ability to save a few people he otherwise couldn't have saved. While becoming a Counter Guardian has allowed Archer 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 Alaya didn't have any malice in mind by giving them both what they wanted.
- In Fans!, with his loved ones about to be tortured to death, Rikk sells his soul to what he believes to be the Devil in exchange for their protection. It's only after the deal is done that he realizes he was actually talking to God.