Monthly Archives: August 2013

Heroes and Villains – Ryu

“Sometimes the most important battle, is the battle within…”

-Ryu

Ryu

Ryu is one of the most well known video game characters, right up with the likes of Mario and Megaman.  He made his first appearance in the 1987 arcade game “Street Fighter” and has since become something of a mascot for the Street Fighter series and the company which created it, Capcom.  Ryu is a martial artist who travels the world fighting all kinds of opponents seeking to further hone his skills.  Despite his benign goals, he is plagued by a dark power within him, the Satsui no Hado or dark hado.  The Satsui no Hado (translated as “Surge of Murderous Intent”) is a sinister power that arises within individuals when they become so consumed with rage or the desire for power that they are willing to kill for it.  In Ryu’s case, it was awakened in him when he was pushed to his absolute limit while fighting a powerful opponent.  He eventually loses control of himself and wins the bout with a single vicious attack powered by the dark hado.  Ever since that time it has threatened to consume him and take away his heart and his humanity.  Ryu’s heroics do not lie primarily in fighting villains, but in his struggle with the evil within himself.

Like Ryu’s Satsui no Hado, sin is and remains a constant threat to us during our lives here on earth.  Paul writes about our struggle against it in Romans 7:21-25:  “I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good.  For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man.  But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.”  Even though sin’s power over us has been broken, this does not mean that evil remains idle.  God’s warning to Cain back in Genesis 4:7 is every bit as applicable to us today:  “If you do well, will you not be accepted?  And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door.  And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”  Sin no longer has the last word, but that doesn’t stop it from constantly trying to coax and cajole us back into its service.  It lies at our door (“crouching” in the English Standard Version) accosting us at every opportunity.  God also wants us and seeks us at every turn, but His desire for us is very different than sin’s.  Sin wants us so that it can consume us.  God wants us so that we may be filled with Him thereby receiving life everlasting and being shaped into the person He created us to be.

With sin so persistently after us, Paul advises us to think of our Christian walk as an athletic contest.  He writes, “Do you not know that those who run a race all run, but one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may obtain it.  And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things.  Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.  Therefore I run thus:  not with uncertainty.  Thus I fight:  not as one who beats the air.  But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)  The prize that athletes receive for winning a contest is a perishable one, one that does not last (as a matter of fact, Paul is probably here referring to the crown of laurels that was awarded in ancient Greece, a crown of leaves and branches that would wither).  Paul states, however, that in our Christian walks we are striving for a crown of eternal consequence.  The imperishable crown of which he speaks is the crown of life used as a metaphor for the eternal life with and in God that we receive. (Revalation 2:10, 3:11)  The contest of Christianity has the highest stakes and we compete, not against others, but against ourselves, sin, and the devil.

Although Christ has won the victory for us against sin, we cannot sit back and rest on our laurels, for we must follow Christ in order to cross the finish line.  Paul urges us to be deliberate in our living:  “Therefore I run thus:  not with uncertainty.  Thus I fight:  not as one who beats the air.”  The decision to follow Jesus is a deliberate setting of ourselves against our former ways and a decision that we must make many times each day (as many times as sin urges us to return to it).  Making this decision is no easy task.  Just like a martial artist (or any other athlete) we must train ourselves as we pursue our goal.  Martial artists train themselves by such means as weightlifting, practicing kata, running drills, cardiovascular exercises, etc.  Christians train themselves by meditating, reading Scripture, praying, serving, etc.  The goal is the same:  to further immerse oneself in and become more proficient at one’s art.  The Christian’s art is to rely on God alone and become ever more conformed to Christ’s image.

Ryu’s training and travels may serve as a metaphor for the kind of pilgrimage that Christians are on.  Though he is well traveled, Ryu’s destination is not a physical place, but an intangible one:  ever further mastery of his art.  Likewise Christians, no matter how far we go or how spiritually mature we become, have no physical destination.  As a matter of fact our destination cannot be found in this world, tangible or intangible.  “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.  For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland.  And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:13-16)  Christians constantly seek the heavenly country that God has prepared for them in eternity.  The Kingdom of Heaven which grows in our hearts is a foretaste of the rest which awaits us.  Despite the constant attack of the dark hado upon him, Ryu remains dedicated to his journey.  Likewise, despite sin’s attack we ought to remain dedicated to our Christian journey.

It is worth noting that Ryu doesn’t have a perfect track record when it comes to resisting the dark hado.  There have been times that it has successfully taken over him, but he was able to come to his senses again, not due to his abilities alone but with the help of his friends who called him back to himself.  Ryu’s battle with the dark hado is not a solitary one, but one in which he is helped and supported by others.  Our battle against sin is not a solitary one either.  God is always with us and He has also created the Church in which we are able to help and support one another as fellow pilgrims.  We cannot stand alone against sin because there will be times that we stumble or lose our way and need others to help us up and to lead us back to the straight and narrow way.

Ryu shows us that being a hero isn’t always about battling villains but sometimes consists in battling the evil that dwells within us.  It is about the daily resisting of that evil and the training that helps us to resist.  For Christians, this means learning to rely on God rather than ourselves and to draw from His strength rather than our own.  “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man:  but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Food for Thought:

  1. Am I actively following Christ’s call to heaven or am I sitting idle and waiting for heaven to come to me?
  2. Do I merely go through the motions and fight as one who beats the air or do I discipline myself and bring myself in subjection to Christ?
  3. Consider what a mercy it is that God helps me in my struggle to follow Him.
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Heroes and Villains – The Ringwraiths

“Nine he gave to Mortal Men, proud and great, and so ensnared them.  Long ago they fell under the dominion of the One, and they became Ringwraiths, shadows under his great Shadow, his most terrible servants.”

-Gandalf concerning the Ringwraiths

Nazgul_1

They cast a shadow far before them and seem to materialize out of the rumors whispered throughout Middle Earth.  The Ringwraiths’ sinister presence leaves an impression on any audience.  Originally humans, the Ringwraiths, or Nazgûl, were each given a ring of power by Sauron (the chief antagonist of Tolkien’s trilogy) which corrupted them and eventually led to them being enslaved to his will.  Despite their former glory and vivacity, they have been rendered mere shades that lead a nightmarish existence between worlds.  They ruthlessly and tirelessly serve their master and inspire fear and despair wherever they tread.

Dark as the Nazgûl are, their story casts light on the nature of sin in our lives.  James writes:  “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.  But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.  Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it full-grown, brings forth death.” (James 1:13-15)  James states that sin has its beginnings in desire.  This is why we cannot be right with God just by doing the right things (being a “good person”, following the Law, etc.).  Despite our outward appearance, our first loyalty is still to ourselves and sin rather than God.  Our own efforts are not able to get deep enough to reach sin’s root.  Thus, though we may chop and hack away at the branches, they will quickly grow back, tougher than ever.

In the case of the Nazgûl, their desire for greater power and prestige led them to accept the nine rings from Sauron.  It was at this point that their fates were sealed because they had given him the foothold he needed to corrupt them.  It is worth noting that we find ourselves in the same straits because our desire is already in rebellion against God, leading us away from Him and indulging our pride, greed, and base sensuality.  The difference is that we have a Savior who has broken the power of darkness over us and given us a way of escape that we may “have life and have it more abundantly”.  Part of the renewing work that God does within us is to reclaim our desires so that they are conformed to Christ.  That is to say, we come to desire the same things as God:  we are pleased by the same things which please God, we are saddened by the same things which sadden God, etc.

Sinful desire, in its due course, eventually gives rise to sinful action:  the outworking of that desire.  The rebellion that began as desire has diffused throughout our body like a poison and manifests itself as words, deeds, and thoughts.  In the Book of Romans, Paul admonishes:  “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey its lusts.  And do not present our members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” (Romans 6:12-13)  When we fall into sin, we surrender to our sinful desires and allow them to rule over us.  As Christians, the times when we stumble ought to serve as a stark reminder that we must seek the grace of God daily and constantly strive to remain in His love, for sin only requires a small foothold to scale the walls of our heart.  The Ringwraiths did not become shades overnight, but were slowly and steadily consumed by the power of the rings they held and brought under Sauron’s dominion.  It is often said of them that they are slaves to his will.  The desire in which they took the rings led them, inevitably, to give their very beings over to serve the will of Sauron.

Sin ultimately leads to death, and not mere physical death.  The death that we die through sin is more extensive than that:  sin leads to our spiritual death.  It may be the misery that we find under the veneer of sinful pleasure or it may be the emptiness that we are left with when the moment of sinful delight is gone.  Regardless of the form, sin always leaves us less of who we are.  God creates us all to be beautiful mirrors who each reflect His likeness in a unique way.  (How else can finite creatures begin to show the likeness of the infinite Creator in the world?)  The result of sin is to warp and tarnish us so that we are no longer what we’re created to be.  We become bent upon ourselves so that we reflect nothing and take part in nothing other than our continuing destruction until sin is cast into hell to be infinitely destroyed and us as well because we cling to it.

What is perhaps most horrifying about the Ringwraiths is what they are, or rather, what they are not.  They are vacuums of existence, having been gutted and hollowed out by the power of the rings and filled with Sauron’s evil.  They really are personifications of darkness, being mere extensions of Sauron’s will.  When we allow sin to reign in us, it hollows us out and we are consumed rather than conformed.  Life becomes death to us and death, our existence.  “…when desire has conceived, it give birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”

The Ringwraiths provide a representation of what we become when we allow ourselves to be consumed by sin.  We lose ourselves and become a mere shadow within a greater shadow.  This is the end that awaits us and we ourselves can do nothing about it.  It appears that we are destined to be wraiths.  We cry with Paul “O wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?”  However, a door is open to us that we may leave our death-defined existence and enter into life.  Through His sacrifice on the cross, Christ has made a way for us.  Thus He says, “I am the door.  If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.  The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.  I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:9-10)

Food for Thought:

  1. What is the sin in my life holding me back from?  How can I better pursue those things by making Christ my top priority?
  2. What does it mean to have life in Christ and have it abundantly?
  3. Consider what an excellent thing it is to receive life in and from Christ.

Heroes and Villains – Introduction

Good guys and bad guys, protagonists and antagonists, heroes and villains; whatever you call them, most of the characters we encounter in stories can be placed into one of these two categories.  The age-old struggle between the two camps has fueled storytelling across numerous mediums.  What I think so fascinates us about them are the images of ourselves that they reflect:  Heroes often show us the best of ourselves and the person we strive to be.  Villains, on the other hand, show us the less savory parts of ourselves and provide sobering reminders of what we can become.  Over the course of the next six weeks, we are going to be looking at some heroes and villains and what they can show us about ourselves and our relationship with God.

We’ll be starting this series with some villains (nine to be exact) who have become more widely known in recent years when the world they terrorized leapt from the printed page to the silver screen.


Intermission

My apologies for missing last week.  Things have gotten busy around here and there will not be a new post until August 24th…

image by Fiona the Awesome

image by Fiona the Awesome

… However, to whet your interest, there will be a new series forthcoming about heroes and villains who you may or may not be familiar with.  It will take a look what we can glean from their heroics or villainy that can help us in our walk.