Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
Many Christians quietly hope for a sign from God to affirm or strengthen their faith in troubling times. Two Sundays before Easter, my mother was brought to tears because the pastor spoke out loud a prayer that has long been on her heart: he desired to see an angel. Many of us quietly pray for the very same thing, if only to have some powerful encounter with the almighty that will strengthen our resolve, comfort us in a dark time, or give us a message of hope. Angels have become iconic symbols of God’s power, his compassion, and his guidance. Through the biblical account, angels serve as messengers of God, defenders of the innocent, and bringers of hope. In times such as those that we live in, it’s very easy to loose hope and despair.
Turn on the news. Every day we are faced with literal evils that we were warned about thousands of years ago. It seems that the world has lost its way. Everything that was considered just and good is now frowned down upon, muzzled, and outright hated. The things that were considered vile, wicked, and abominable are being held up as the new standard of morality and goodness. The religion of the world is the religion of self. We hear horrific stories of our brothers and sisters in Christ losing their lives in other countries while here in the United States, Christians are facing public scrutiny simply for trying to live out their faith. Every day the very foundation of our lives is being challenged and we are being forced to choose between standing on the right side of God or the right side of man’s law. For many, it’s an age of despair and darkness. The hearts of the people around us are so dark. The prayer to have some message of hope, some sign that we aren’t alone, some shining figure to step forward and give us a renewed strength is not an uncommon one.
Tales of Zestiria hit several powerful cords with me. Its timely release in these troubling times resonates with me. The world presented in that game is one that I found myself personally invested in for a number of reasons, but the parallels to both modern times and the scripture are what really stood out. It’s a fairly new release, and while the Tales series kind of falls into the shadow of bigger RPG names like Final Fantasy, they’re always very solid in their story structure and present a powerful cast of characters. If you’ve not had the chance to play the game, I recommend that you give it a look. I do want to note that there will be major spoilers in this article as to properly articulate my point, so if you’ve yet to play the game or complete it, be warned.
A world in despair…
Tales of Zestiria is the tale of a youth by the name of Sorey who was orphaned as an infant and raised within a hidden community of Seraphs. He’s an innocent in every definition of the word, almost to the point of painful naivety. He’s a glutton for knowledge and actively explores the ruins close to his homeland with his best friend, a young Seraph named Mikleo, in order to learn more about the cultures that came before. Sorey’s comfortable life is interrupted when a hellion, a being or creature tainted by malevolence, enters the domain of the Seraphim and murders one of them. He and Mikleo eventually leave their homeland to cross into the world of the humans which has been infested with malevolence.
Sorey, having been raised alongside Seraph, is obviously able to see and interact with the Seraphim themselves. Along with this, he is able to see and comprehend the beings known as hellions and the force behind their creation, the malevolence. The majority of humanity is unable to hear, see, or even sense the Seraphim, even as they walk among them. There are churches dedicated to the Seraphim and the people openly acknowledge them, but many believe that the world is in the state of darkness because the Seraphim have abandoned humanity. Humanity as a whole is oblivious to the malevolence created by their own dark desires and emotions. Unfortunately, just as they are unable to see or sense the Seraphim, they are oblivious to hellions, even when those closest to them have become one. Hellions, in essence, are beings or people who have been so consumed by malevolence that they have become twisted, demonic creatures. To the majority of humanity, hellions appear to be normal, average individuals. Some hellions are aware of their state of being while others seem to be absolutely blinded by the darkness.
The world presented in ToZ is one that is overwhelmed with malevolence, often fueled by the growing political tensions between two warring nations, natural disasters, illness, and grief of loss. The malevolence is so concentrated and powerful that it’s begun to infest the wildlife from flora to fauna in the over-world. Humans, especially those within the main cities and towns of the game, are the primary source and victims of the malevolence. The only being capable of saving those who have become hellions and clearing the malevolence is a legendary figure known as the Shepherd. A shepherd is a being who walks with the Seraphim, able to communicate with them and perform miracles using their power. Long story short, Sorey is destined to take on the burden of the Shepherd and fee the world from the hellions and malevolence itself. With his power, he is able to purify malevolence and free those afflicted from its influence. Sorey is an icon of hope in a world that’s being eaten alive from the inside-out.
The power of the shepherd…
Among the fruits of the spirit comes the ability to discern spirits. Those who carry within them the holy spirit are not deceived by demons masquerading around as angels of light; we are able to discern them for what they are. Unholy spirits tempt us on a daily basis, and those without the gift of the Holy Spirit keeping them at bay are easily infested by them. Even if one dark spirit is driven away from someone, unless Christ dwells within them, the demons will only return. Those with a strong sense of discernment can feel when something is wrong about a person, a place, or a situation. There’s a deep, unsettling sense that seeps in. In a way, this is the holy spirit alerting us that there is something wrong. Certainly, every one of us has felt something distinctly off about someone or something at a point in our life. On the surface, everything may appear to be perfectly normal and average, but we cannot ignore that nagging feeling in the deepest part of our soul. This is discernment warning us against something unseen.
Likewise, in Tales of Zestiria Sorey is able to see malevolence and the resulting effects of concentrated amounts of it. He can see when someone has been consumed by it. Their appearance to him is that of a demonic being, twisted by the evil within the heart of the victim. The hellion senses Sorey and recoils from him. When pressed, the hellion will outright attack Sorey. As the shepherd, Sorey is the only person who is capable of purging the hellions and restoring the victim to their natural state without outright killing the victim ensnared by malevolence.
On the other side of the coin, the common folk in Tales of Zestiria are unable to see, hear, or directly interact with the seraphs. A seraph could be standing beside them, speaking directly to them and the common folk are simply unaware of them. Most people know of their existence, they even pay tribute and maintain temples to them, but they are unable to see them. Sorey has developed a personal relationship with the Seraph and has no difficulty seeing, interacting with, or existing in a friendly manner beside them. To Sorey, the Seraph are as real as his own fingers and toes. While he’s seen as odd for seemingly speaking to himself and his up-beat, optimistic view of the world, it’s really the world around him that’s fallen into a state of madness.
In a way, this imagery is a powerful reflection of our own culture today. Too often, professed Christians will attend church on Sundays, acknowledge that they are Christians, but in their actions and in their hearts they are anything but. One of my closest friends will not deny the existence of God, but she subscribes instead to the religion of the world and places her faith in the sciences of man rather than the power of the author of those sciences. Knowing that something or someone exists doesn’t change you as a person, your perspective, or your heart. What separates a theist from a Christian is not the knowledge of God’s existence or even the ritualistic practices of church attendance, taking communion, and jumping up and down during worship.
You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.
~ James 2:19
The difference between being a Christian and being a theist is a personal, intimate relationship. Embracing the Holy Spirit truly transforms us. The Bible calls his being born again. The scales of the world fall off of our eyes and we are transformed, given new desires and new perspectives. The Holy Spirit allows us to open up senses and parts within us that have been wrapped in the scales of the world. Shades of gray fade away and we are able to see the world clearly through the eyes of the Holy Spirit. It changes us from the inside out, chipping away at the shell that we’ve put around ourselves until a new creation emerges. We are able to feel out what others are blind to, including the influences of good and evil.
Along with the ability to see, sense, and directly communicate with the Seraphs, Sorey is able to purge mortals of the evil that has infested them, turning them into Hellions. Often times, this act in our own world is refereed to as exorcisms and has been far over-hyped. TV pastors and false teachers make bank on their ability to deceive people with false exorcisms and healing. We’ve all seen the pastors on television screaming at the old guy with a bad knee only for that old guy to proclaim that he’s been healed. We’ve seen supposed demons cast out by celebrity pastors and priests. Shortly after, the priest turns to the camera and asks for a prayerful donation to them. Jesus warned us of this in the days to come and ironically, Tales of Zestiria addressed this as well.
Through the course of the game, a man named Malfore is encountered preaching on the corner and posturing as the Shepherd. At times, it seems that the church gives this man their full support and protection. Sorey, however, ignores this. He doesn’t waste his time trying to prove the man wrong or even disgrace him. Instead, he focuses on his own mission and his works show him as the true Shepherd. He never asserts himself as an authority figure or demands payment for his deeds, he does what’s right for the sake of doing what’s right.
Without Christ, we are absolutely powerless. Miracles are worked through believers for certain, but these works are done through believers because of their faith and at no point are the believers to be given credit for the miracle. We can rebuke demons away from us in Christ’s name but it’s by his power, not our own, that we are able to stand against evil. ToZ reflects this in its own way as alone, Sorey is just a mortal human being. It’s through his deep relationship with the Seraph, their ability to work through him, and their power that he is able to perform any great feats. Never at any point is Sorey boastful of this. In most cases, he does only what’s needed in the moment and presses on. His humble, meek nature regarding his abilities is a stark contrast to the poser misleading a good chunk of the world’s population.
Even angels fall…
Just as in our world, within the ToZ universe the most dangerous variety of hellions are those created from fallen Seraphs. Like humans, Seraphs can become corrupted by the malevolence. However, unlike their human counter-parts, when a Seraph becomes a hellion, their new grotesque forms are there for the world to see. Seraphs who were more powerful in their natural state become terrors such as dragons.
In one of the pivotal moments in the game, a Seraph is intentionally tossed into the heart of a battlefield where the malevolence of the humans warring among one another is overwhelming. We see the tortured being cry out as his body is filled with the evil force and he is twisted into the creature, Tiamat. The dragon proceeds to wreak havoc over the battlefield, tearing through the lines of soldiers like tissue paper. Sorey and his companions stand against him but unfortunately, Sorey is unable to purge the evil from the dragon and is forced to slay the beast to save those on the battlefield.
In ToZ, Seraphs-gone-hellion are often victims of humanity and the forces of evil rather than their own decisions. While the means to their fall is quite different from fallen angels of our world, the end result is very much the same. Fallen angels are the worst sort of demonic beings. Angels were created very different from humans with a very different role to play. The word Seraph comes from the Hebrew word for “love”. They are considered to be the highest order of angels in Jewish (and some Christian) theology as their position in heaven is above the throne of God proclaiming his praises. The Bible is vague on the topic of the seraphim, likely so humanity does not instead worship the creations but rather the creator of these powerful beings, but they are described in Isaiah 6 briefly.
Fallen angels are the most deceptive of all evil beings. To those without the Holy Spirit and the ability to discern spirits, they can appear as beautiful angels of light. Those who encounter them are easily led astray, believing them to be holy beings. Even Satan himself was once considered perfect and beautiful, the most radiant of the angels. His given name, Lucifer, even means “the light bearer.” It was by his own free will that he turned away from God and was sent to suffer on the earth. He’s become the great deceiver of mankind, the father of lies, and the great destroyer of souls all through his own choosing. The Bible mentions other angels having fallen with and after him, some even mingling their blood with the blood of human-kind to create giants.
ToZ’s symbolismof fallen Seraphs becoming dragons is a powerful Biblical parallel to the nature of Satan himself. Multiple times in scripture he is described as a great dragon and like the dragons in ToZ, there is no redemption for him. In order to save mankind, the dragon must be slain.
And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
The ultimate sacrifice…
The story of ToZ ends with Sorey having to make a very difficult decision. Without getting too plot-heavy, he essentially has to drive the malevolence out of the mastermind behind the current conflict known as The Lord of Calamity. This most powerful of all hellions was, in fact, once a human man who had been pointedly driven into a state of despair so deep that his soul became infested with malevolence. He embraced the despair, as it was all he was able to feel anymore, and turned his wrathful attention on the world at large. He secured his position as the most powerful of Hellions by forcing the strongest of the Seraphs, an entity known as Maotelus. This seraph has made the entire world its vessel and with it having been bound by the Lord of Calamity, the entire world is at his mercy.
Sorey not only has to face the Lord of Calamity head on, but he is also a forced to use the souls of his friends to chip away at the malevolence before he can deal the final blow. His friends, the Seraphs, one by one are forced to leave him until Sorey is ultimately left alone. Following the fall of the Lord of Calamity, he must allow the weakened Maotelus to use him as a vessel until a new Shepherd awakens. In essence: Sorey, who is completely innocent of anything malicious or devious himself, must shoulder the burden of the entire world in order to save it.
While not the sacrificial death of Christ, the unspoken parallels are present and the end result is tragic as it is powerful. His seraph friends are forced to break their bond with Sorey and leave him sealed away for an unknown amount of time. Players are offered a glympse of hope during the final scene, but I won’t spoil that—you’ll have to play for yourself. (Or be a cheater and youtube it.) In the end, Sorey must sacrifice all the power and divinity he has in order to shoulder the burden of a world that he was not even a part of for the majority of his life. No one can say a sour word about his character, but he didn’t hesitate even a moment.