Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Gospel According to Halo

This idea comes after spending WAY too much time playing video games in the last two days. It was birthed in the real world during a conversation over Qdoba burritos with my housemate, Ross.

So Ross and I were briefly thinking about why we play so much video games. We thought about what exactly it is about them that makes us and a lot of other (mostly) guys play them so much. I think there is something about staring at a screen that messes with your brain and gets you addicted but that isn't going to preach very well now is it? But there must be something about the games themselves that makes us so into them.

I think that video games offer us compelling and exciting escapes from our normal, mundane, uninteresting lives. Video games have epic stories of which we are the center, interesting characters that share the story with us (this is multiplied when you factor in online gaming), clear objectives, an empowered existence, and finally, resurrection. There are other things, but those are the first five that I thought of.

Epic Stories

Halo is about saving earth from an evil race of aliens bent on destroying us. Assassin's Creed is about uncovering a centuries-old conspiracy surrounding the foundations of everything it means to be human. Call of Duty is about stopping the outbreak of World War 3. Shoot, Super Mario Brothers is about the rescue of a princess from an evil Dinosaur and restoring peace an prosperity to an entire Kingdom of strange toadstool people.

The things we do in video games are important. Our success means the human race survives. Or it means the toads get to live in peace. Either way, we are part of something big and significant. The world of video games is a world where things matter.

I wonder if we experience a lack of this in our own lives. Do we see ourselves caught up in an epic story where our actions contribute to the redemption and restoration of this world? Do our lives matter?

Scripture would tell us that yes, our lives matter. They matter immensely. And we ARE caught up in the greatest story the world has ever and will ever know. It is THE story upon which every other story is based. And we are living it.

It is the story of God creating the world. Of God and human beings working together to make something beautiful and good out of it.

It is the story of the rebellion. When humans chose to go their own way and not listen to the one who gave them life. And the consequences that followed.

It is the story of God's rescue plan. He called out a people all for himself who would begin to push back on the rebellion but who would ultimately become a part of it. His plan would not be thwarted. God himself came down as one of the humans. he showed us a better way to live. He started a revolution culminating with his death for the sins of the rebellious humans and his Resurrection. God had brought forth a new creation to push back against the rebellion and bring healing, restoration, renewal, and reconciliation.

It is the story of the people who chose to join the revolution. Those who let new creation transform them and the world around them. They keep pushing back against the rebellion in the hope that one day, Jesus will complete the healing work and make this world good again.

That is a compelling story. Living in that makes our lives matter. It makes our choices important. Everything matters now because we are bringing new creation into the world in the power of God.

That is the story he invites us into. The question is, do we want in?

Interesting Characters

There are a couple of places you could go with this one. You could talk about how the characters in video games are, well, interesting. They often have mysterious pasts. They do what needs to be done. They are not always nice and don't always have the best social skills. Master Chief is not known for his wit. He meets the Arbiter, an alien who is a traitor to his own people because he doesn't agree with them or their nefarious ambitions.

They live lives we wish we could have. The story they find themselves in calls them to live an extraordinary life. They accept the challenge.

Maybe when we are able to see ourselves as part of the story, we will see the ways God is calling us to live an extraordinary life. The story will require much of us and it will transform us. There are no boring people in the Kingdom of God. He will use and transform anyone who makes themselves available.

Another place you could go with this is the rise of multiplayer games. We want to be in the story with others. We want to share the quest with friends. Even if it is racing around rainbow road.

Community needs a purpose. And adventure was never meant to be done alone. In single player games, your character meets up with people who will help them along or reveal more information to them. In mulit-player games, there are actually other people there with us.

God is inviting us to do this adventure together and to deeply know the people who are with us. Who knows what the person sitting next to us might end up becoming? What might God do with them? When we all start letting God transform us, what might we be capable of?

Clear Objectives

I may not know exactly where the story in the game I am playing is going, but I know with certainty what my next objective is. I may not know HOW I am going to achieve it, but I know what the goal is. I have to beat that boss. I have to destroy the outpost. I have to slay the dragon. I have to kill everyone else on the other team. I have to rescue the princess.

There are always bad guys we know we can fight. There is rarely any ambiguity in a video game.

We know the objectives in video games. There is rarely any doubt about what we need to to. There is clarity of purpose.

Our lives are not always so simple. How many times have we wondered what our purpose was? How many times have we not known what we were supposed to do next? How many times have we not known what was harmful to us and what was good?

I think we react differently in these situations. Some people, the go-getters, try to make something happen. They try to create adventure and a compelling story. Sometimes they succeed. Other times, they end up causing a lot of trouble and pain for themselves.

Some people, when they don't know what to do, do nothing. This is me. Actually, when I don't know what to do, I often play video games. Why? Well, there I know what I am supposed to do. I have purpose.

What would it be like to trust God each step of the way? What would it look like to keep his objectives in mind and let those guide us. Love God and love people. Help people around me experience and enter into the new creation that God has brought forth into the world.

What would my days be like if I woke up every morning and reminded myself of God's objectives for myself and for others? What if we started doing that together? Oh man. That would be awesome. The rebellion would totally get PWNED!!!!

Empowered Existence.

Let's face it, in video games you get to do cool stuff. You can run faster, jump higher, and generally do things that no human being will ever be able to do. I just played this game called "prototype." I could shape-shift into any person I wanted to. I could turn my hands into giant claws. I could run up the side of skyscrapers. I could cover the entire length of Manhattan in minutes.

Who doesn't want super powers? When I play a video game, I get to vicariously experience a life where I can stretch beyond the limits of my frail humanity.

When we compare ourselves to Master Chief, Samus, or even Mario (the brother can become invincible, shoot fireballs, ride a dinosaur, FLY, and hold his breath indefinitely underwater!) our lives are quite boring. We can't do things that are on par with that stuff.

And that leaves us stuck doesn't it. If this whole epic story thing is true, what the heck can we do about it? I can't push back the rebellion.

Or can I?

God's rescue plan included Jesus. And Jesus empowered people to proclaim and bring the Kingdom. He gave them authority to do the things he did. He even said his followers would do greater things than he. When you stop and think about that, it is pretty rad. That guy did some cool stuff.

I may never walk on water, but I might be able to be a part of someone realizing the truth of the Gospel. I HAVE been a part of that. I wouldn't trade it for anything. I could get involved with the tangible changing of someone's life. I could become an advocate for people who have no voice.

And this is not to mention gifts the Holy Spirit gives us. I have heard from God in prayer and spoken very significant words to people. That seems pretty dang close to super powers to me. Take a look at 1 Corinthians 12-14. When we chose to let God help us build up and encourage others, anything is possible.

Jesus empowers us to be new creations and to bring new creation to the world.

And this brings us to the final point:


Remember when you could run out of lives in a video game and actually have to start over?

Game over has gone the way of the dodo. Now when your character dies, you start over at the last checkpoint. Can you imagine having to get though Halo without dying? That would be SO HAAAAAAARD!!!!

Anyway, video games are built on the idea of resurrection and second chances. Imagin a game where your character died and then you couldn't play the game anymore. That's it. You made a misstep or a mistake, you died, and now you cannot play anymore. You had your chance and you blew it.

That would suck.

Thankfully, that does not happen in video games. No one would play them if that was the case.

But here is the really beautiful part: The fact that you know you can come back means you can take risks. You can try things. You can attempt ridiculous moves in a game because you know that if you fail, you will come back and you can try again.

What if we lived our lives this way? If we were free to fail in the attempt to succeed because we knew we could come back more experienced and try again?

Isn't that what Jesus does? Doesn't he give us second chances? Why don't we risk more? If I was totally free of the fear of failure, I would try all kinds of stuff. And I would epic fail at a lot of it but I wouldn't care! I would know that Jesus was cheering me on and helping me get back up. That is beautiful.

And finally, video gamers know that death is not the end. They know that when their character bites the dust, he will come back. The bad guys in the games cannot EVER succeed because your character can beat death. I can try to complete a level 100 times or more. I will eventually get it. They can't stop me!

Resurrection is built into the fabric of video games and it should be built into the fabric of our faith and our lives. Jesus refuses the game over. It has no power over him. The Covenant and the Koopa Troopas cannot stop him. He came back from the dead and conquered them. He robbed death, our ultimate bad guy, of all its power.

That is the Gospel people!!!

God is inviting us to take part in his epic story together. He is redeeming, restoring, and renewing his creation. He has cut off the rebellion at its source and brought the revolution of new creation. He empowers us to live it out and bring it forth with him. He will be with us no matter what and stick with us to see it through.

The question remains: Do we want in?

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