TRIGGER WARNING: This post is about dealing with darkness in this world. Some of that darkness will be explored, though not in explicit detail. The emphasis, as always, is on the hope of Christ.
Many Christians try to shelter themselves from the world. Maybe they believe that by ignoring sin, they will somehow make themselves more pure. I am both a perpetrator and victim of this problem. My mother sent me to a Christian school my entire life, even through university. I watched no movies with foul language or graphic violence, and I did not know the meaning of the word “sex” until I was engaged.
When I left that environment to work at a school for troubled teens and preteens, it was a rude wake-up call. Every day, I was surrounded by F-bombs, slurs, and threats. Some of these were directed at me, and some were directed at other students. Each day, I wrote these inappropriate words on discipline slips for my supervisors. I admit, I found it hard not to misuse those words myself when that was all I heard, but my failings are not the fault of those kids.
I no longer work in that environment. Now, I am once again surrounded by Christian friends and fellows. While I do not have to worry as much about my mouth getting away from me, I have other concerns. If everyone I know is already a Christian, who can I invite to church? If I have no one needy in my immediate circle, to whom can I minister?
If I had never taken that job at an alternative school, I would have never been exposed to such crude behavior. On the other hand, those students taught me more about the world than I could have learned otherwise. They came in broken, with stories that kept me awake at night.
Foster care. Drug addiction. Broken families. Abuse. Homelessness. Teenage pregnancy. Prison.
Misbehavior was a cry for help for these kids. No one had taken them to church or talked to them about the love of Christ. All they knew was violence and pain. Before I met them, my tiny world was bright with the light of Christ. But it had nowhere to go.
No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father (Matthew 5:15-16).
Since I am no longer at the school, I find myself actively seeking ways to help other people. How can I do that, though, unless I first understand their problems? How can I understand rape when I don’t know what sex means? How can I respond with compassion and empathy to someone who has been abused if I cannot imagine what that experience is like?
Before I continue, I have to make a disclaimer. I’m not advocating shaking hands with the devil in order to better understand the nature of sin. Not at all! Every Christian must follow their God-given consciences when it comes to discerning darkness. Paul stated, “Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2).
However, many modern Christians have become comfortable in their church bubbles. They keep their children from associating with “bad kids,” and they have only Christian friends. Keeping a close circle of spiritual support is imperative, but those cannot be your only connections. We have been commissioned to bring people to Christ, and that includes all kinds of people. They may not be the type with whom you would usually associate. Jesus loves the homeless, strippers, drunks, and convicts. You don’t have to be best friends with them, but sheltering yourself from them is not Christ-like, either.
Sometimes media can help us exercise compassion by letting us walk in the shoes of someone else. I find myself drawn to dark stories because I constantly look for hope within them. Even if there is no hope apparent, I try to empathize with the characters and determine how Jesus could affect the situation, creating hope where there seems to be none.
Mayjasmine: What is God? forced me to look at the depravity of the human sinful nature. It’s based on the true story of the May 1998 riots in Indonesia. While the real incident may not have been as gruesome as the game portrayed, something awful did happen. When the credits rolled, I found myself staring at the screen, tears streaming down my face.
The thing is, this game was about God. More specifically, where God is in the midst of difficulty. Every believer has heard the age old question: Why does God allow [insert problem here]? If God is real, why does suffering happen? Why did my friend have a miscarriage? Why are people starving all over the world?
If God is real, doesn’t He care? Why doesn’t He stop it?
As Christians, we often cite the sinful human nature and Satan as the root of all these evils, as we should. However, I think sometimes we are too quick to dismiss their existential struggle as arguing. Truly, we should be just as concerned as they are. No, we should be more concerned. After all, all those people who are suffering are also made in God’s image. He loves them enough to die for them! We should love them enough to feel their pain.
In Mayjasmine, the player character is a Christian. While he is hiding with a little girl, afraid for their lives, he quotes Scripture. The Scripture isn’t what you would expect, though. One of the verses I remember most is this one: “Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks!” Before you ask, YES. This is in the Bible! Psalm 137:9, to be exact. This character is terrified for his life, and he quotes this. He also quotes calamities revealed in Revelation. Why?
Throughout this game, I watched untold horrors play out for every character I had grown to love. When it was over, I spoke to my husband about how sad and frustrated I was. He didn’t understand until I mentioned the point of the game: Where is God? Where is God in genocide? In famine? Where is He when our loved ones are dying? Where is He when racism takes the lives of Black boys on the streets? Where is He when people live in cardboard boxes, when countries are in constant war, and when children are shipped like packages from home to home?
Don’t get me wrong, I would not recommend this game to many people, and I never want to play it again. But I’m grateful for that single playthrough because it made me take a hard look at the world around me. Instead of brushing off the tragedy as “just sin nature,” I got an eyeful of how horrific this earth can be. As noted above, much of this game was exaggerated. That does not change the reality of genocide, though; nor does it does change the reality of rape, infant deaths, starvation, or poverty.
Why did that character quote those terrifying verses? Because he didn’t understand. He needed to know where God was, but he couldn’t find Him. No one was there to lead him to the love and mercy of Christ, so he defaulted to vengeance. The end of the game saw the character taking a Deistic approach to life – God did not care, so he had to become his own god.
It’s so unfortunate this was the finale for such a thought-provoking game! If only he had looked a little deeper in those Scriptures he loved, he would have found the hope he desperately needed.
Loss of Childhood Innocence
Mohiro Kitoh is an author whose works lean toward the disturbed. He enjoys deconstructing normally harmless children’s genres by giving them more adult themes. Ironically, his manga (and its unfinished anime) Shadow Star Narutaru was marketed for children in the West, though that could not be further from the truth. I’ve read this author does not believe in the innocence of childhood, and this is evident in his works.
Bokurano is a tale about a group of middle school children who discover a mech during a class trip. This robot must fight against monsters or the world will be destroyed. The problem is, every time one of the children pilot the mech, they die. Each episode of the anime delves into the ill-fated kid’s life, allowing us a bit of character development before killing them one by one. By the end, the children discover they are fighting other mechs with children just like them. They are killing other kids and whole planets in order to save themselves and their families.
I spent a lot of time thinking about this anime after the final song played. How would I have responded to such a situation? How would Jesus respond? It’s easy to say, “Simple, just don’t fight.” That might work. However, by refusing, you are dooming not only yourself but your family, friends, and literally your whole world. Either way, the blood of billions of people are on your hands.
This is an extreme, sci-fi example of a moral dilemma. But people face these kinds of questions every day. Christians are on both sides of the capital punishment debate. Some are pacifists while others are comfortable going to war. Some Christians are fine with owning guns for self-defense, yet that idea makes others uncomfortable.
When I was growing up, the teachers told my class God would never want us to lie, even under penalty of death. We responded with the story of Rahab. James says, “Rahab the prostitute… was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road” (James 2:25). Didn’t Rahab lie to the guards searching for the spies? What about if you were hiding a church in a country where Christianity is illegal? Would it be a worse sin to lie and allow those people to live, or would it be worse to tell the truth and have them all die?
I have no answers for these questions. Rahab was equated as righteous, either because of her lie or in spite of it. God uses flawed people for His purposes. Through His grace, we don’t stay flawed, but we must be tuned in to His voice to make decisions in these gray areas. We also must realize not everyone, not even all Christians, would respond in the same way to the same situation. Judging others for a morally difficult decision is the last thing we should do. Instead, we ought to come together and help them deal with the consequences of their choice.
Shadow Star Narutaru does not deal with moral dilemmas. Instead, every character has intense trauma. The protagonist, a fifth grader, watches a platoon of soldiers wiped out by psychic creatures she could have stopped. She indirectly causes the deaths of numerous people, and her best friend tries to kill herself in front of her. Another friend devolves into a murderer and is killed while the protagonist looks on, helpless. I should mention, she is the most stable of the group. Other characters’ stories involve child abuse, pregnancy, abandonment, murder, and rape.
Most children are never exposed to tragedies of this nature. However, Kitoh is right in one thing – children are not innocent. They are born into a world of sin. Some of them, like myself, might grow up sheltered and privileged. Others will spend their entire lives in warzones. Some will grow up hungry or surrounded by violence. Others will not get the chance to grow up at all.
Our job as Christians is to be aware of these tragedies and learn how to speak the light of Christ into them. “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you” (James 1:27).
While we are caring for them, we cannot let the darkness of the world overtake us. Strong Christians surround themselves with spiritual mentors and friends who can speak life into their lives. They diligently read the Bible and pray. This way, they are able to continue ministering in places of great darkness.
The Bible itself does not stray from stories that make your heart, and stomach, clench. The book of Judges recounts bloody battles and questionable decisions, even made by God’s elite. Samson loses God’s favor by flirting with disaster one time too many. One man is murdered, and the knife hilt is covered by his fat. The most intriguing, unsettling story for me has to be the Levite’s concubine.
Trigger warning: This story involves sexual assault. You are welcome to skip the coming paragraph if needed.
Basically, a Levite locks his concubine out of the house, and she is raped to death (Judges 19). The Levite is later angry with her attackers, cuts the body into pieces, and mails a piece to each of the tribes of Israel. This story has always confused me. Why does he get upset when he knew their intentions? He was the one who locked her out, after all. Most of all, why is this in the Bible to begin with?
I can’t answer questions pertaining to why certain stories are included in Biblical canon and what purpose they serve. However, I cannot ignore that it is there. For some reason, this confusing, violent narrative was included in our holy book. Something about it must be able to draw us closer to God.
Confronting the Darkness…
We must grapple with these stories, in the Bible as in reality. After I read something like this, I have to seek out other Christian friends and discuss it with them… especially stories as heart-wrenching as this one. This helps renew my faith, as I find myself digging deeper into the Scripture and praying more earnestly – desperate to understand. I truly believe God has given me a heart to feel the needs of others.
Some of this empathy practice comes with the media I expose myself to. Now, I can’t consume this stuff all the time! I temper it with more light-hearted fare and lots of Bible study. But I have to see this darkness for what it is. Before Jesus went to the cross, he had a prayer for his disciples:
I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world (John 17:15-18).
His intention for His followers was for us to be holy while in this dark world. We are the salt of the earth, and we can’t afford to ignore the problems around us. The Lord told Israel to take care of the widows and orphans because He knew they would be here. He knew this sinful place would take people away before their prime. He knew we would all need a Savior, and He knew that Savior would send us out as His ambassadors.
Playing Mayjasmine and watching both Bokurano and Shadow Star Narutaru was not a lapse in my faith. It was an exercise in compassion. I didn’t cry over fictional characters because the writing was good (spoiler, it wasn’t). I cried because in my short life, I have met people going through similar situations. I’ve met hurting parents. I’ve met children whose innocence was stolen by sin.
And I hurt for them. As I should.
If I can’t hurt for those who are hurting, how can they see the love of God in me? Romans 12 details the idea far better than I can:
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. … Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. … When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. … Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. … Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good (Rom. 12:2, 9-10, 13, 15, 21).
…To Shine Light on It
This world is dark. It is coated in sin and horrors too terrible to name. If we continue to sweep issues under the rug, we cannot showcase the love of God like we are meant to. Innocence has been lost. Children are starving. People are dying and being tortured.
But we have a hope greater than anything they’ve experienced!
Where is God in all this suffering? He’s right there. He has watched the suffering of His people, and He is not far away. He grieves with the mourning. Even Jesus wept at the loss of his friend. God is not unmoved by our troubles. However, He sees the end of the line. He knows we will be stronger, and eventually He will wipe the tears from our eyes Himself.
Until then, we can lean on Jesus’ words: