The following post contains spoilers from the 2004 video game Sonic Battle.
My first experience of loss comes from a video game. In the 2004 release Sonic Battle, the protagonist, Emerl, is a sentient robot who copies the behavior and characteristics of those he comes into contact with. Throughout the course of the game, you get to experience Emerl’s story through different eyes – those of Sonic, Tails, Shadow, Rouge, and a host of other characters. You watch him grow up, lovably mimicking everything and everyone he comes in contact with and developing over time a unique personality of his own. You see him go through fights to preserve his existence and his identity, and by the time you are reaching the end of the game, playing as him, your hopes and expectations are that he’ll have a happy ending.
Then the final boss fight approaches. The evil scientist Dr. Eggman has create a weapon capable of destroying the planet, and in an attempt to stop him, Emerl teleports onboard, possessing the full power of the seven chaos emeralds. When Eggman shows him the power of the blaster to destroy a group of stars, Emerl goes rogue. His personality and programming are overridden by an ancient subroutine buried in his code, and he goes ballistic, summarily defeating Eggman and turning the blaster to face Earth. In a desperate, last-bid attempt to save the planet, Sonic teleports up after him, and has to face his friend in battle. It’s a nearly impossible fight, and once you reach the end of it, you realize that Emerl is broken. Haltingly, falteringly, he returns to his normal personality, shaking and stuttering as his motors and circuits malfunction from massive damage. Looking at you, he tells you how much it meant to him to be loved and accepted, and to have fun with people who saw him for what he could be. The last thing he says is that he is scared, and then his programming deteriorates and he disappears in a flash of light, leaving only the shattered remains of the chaos emeralds behind.
I must have played that game when I was nine or ten, and I still remember how it ends. I still remember that I finished it before school, and that I went to school crying that day, hurting because there was a hollow ache inside where one of my favorite friends used to be. Even back then, games were so real to me that I grieved for Emerl as though he were my flesh-and-blood companion. I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep, and I didn’t even touch my GameBoy when I got home. The grief was real for me, and as a nine-year-old kid, I wasn’t ready for it.
Now, more than a decade later, I’m well acquainted with grief. I’ve lost relatives, had friends move away on me, and been rejected by groups I wanted to be a part of. I’ve seen more than my share of sad endings, and not all of them have been in stories. But it’s different when you experience it firsthand, and now, I’m watching my friends go through it, watching them struggle to come to terms with something that doesn’t make any sense, that doesn’t seem to have any meaning. Every time a Northwestern student dies, I see this grieving, but this time, it’s closer to home. One of my friends knew the deceased personally, and I can tell they’re not okay. To them, the pain is real, and that makes it real for me. What my friends feel, I feel secondhand.
When these kinds of things happen, many people ask why. They cry out for answers, asking if there is a God and whether he cares, whether he’s good and if so how he could let this happen. It’s an ancient practice, and it’s not getting any easier. Going back at least to the book of Job, people have asked of God what right he has to do things to us. In the words of the eponymous man, the question is answered thusly:
Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.
To us, these words may sound hollow – the praises of an empty-headed man who knew nothing of sin and grief. But there is every bit of evidence to the contrary. If you read the rest of the book, you will find that Job not only endured hardship, he refused to condemn God during it, despite the fact that it would have made his life easier and caused him less trouble with his friends. Job could have given up, but instead he choose to keep believing that God is good and that he would have his deliverance. In the end, he did.
We can learn a lot from the story of Job. In it, a man is reduced to nothing, made destitute before the Lord. And yet somehow, the Lord still sees favor in him. The Lord looks at Job and sees something worth loving, even when Job has absolutely nothing to offer. When Job looks at the Lord, he sees his hope and deliverance, even though the path that he will take to that deliverance is obscured. In many ways, Job has a relationship with God that is just like ours. He’s lost something. He’s grieving. He wants to give up hope, and to believe that life is just hard, and that no one cares – believing all of this would make his life easier, and enable him to harden his heart to all the pain. But instead, Job chooses to hang on, to allow himself to feel pain, to be human, because he knows that in the end God will deliver him. In a nutshell, this is faith.
So we know that Job had faith, and we know that we should, too. But sometimes, finding that faith can be hard. In a world where things can seem senseless and random, it’s important to remember that God doesn’t always get his way. We live in a fallen world, a world that has turned from God, and we have to deal with the consequences of that. From senseless wars and violence to the pain that we all feel when we lose someone, dealing with the reality of the everyday world is a condition we all must live with. It’s not Eden, and it’s not heaven. And it never will be, so long as the world is fallen. But there is hope.
When Jesus died on the cross for our sins, it wasn’t just payment. It wasn’t because an angry God demanded sacrifice and a blood price from us, or else he would condemn us forever to the fires of hell. In my belief, it was payment for us, but it was also payment to show us. Without Jesus, we would have no way of knowing how much God loves us. Jesus is the ever-present reality that God sent his son to die in order that we might know how much he loves us and how much he is willing to pay to get us back. God is all powerful. If he wanted to forgive our sins without Jesus, he could have – but we, sinful beings that we are, would never have believed it. The story of Jesus, then, is a story of God reaching out to us, of finding some way to show us that he still and ever-presently loves us, that he wants us no matter what we’ve done and no matter how broken we think we are, and that he’s willing to go the full distance – even to his life – to be in love with us. It’s a commitment only the creator of the universe could so justifiably make.
And that commitment brings hope. If God loves us, surely he won’t allow us to perish. If he wants to be in right relationship with us, he’s not going to condemn us because of something we did or didn’t do. He’s going to reach out. He is reaching out. And when we enter his embrace, all will be made well.
That can’t happen on this earth – not yet. But I believe that someday it will, and this is the promise of the second coming. Jesus promises us that he’ll come back, and on that day there will be great rejoicing and the world will be made new again. We’ll be in right relationship with God, and there will be no more sorrow and no more tears. Everything that was broken will be made right again, and all the pain we carry will be healed. Every last bit of it. I know that’s a promise we all need to hear on a day like today, and it’s a promise that brings us hope in the pit of despair. God loves us, and he will make it better. And that’s a future worth waiting for.