Of Slimes, Goombas, and Dungeon Rats – Why we must level grind (Genesis 37-41, Daniel 1-2)

 

Every video game from the dawn of time has had them – those annoying, simple, basic enemies that seem to exist only to slow down our progress and make the game longer.  Barely strong enough to present any difficulty, and typically dispatched with a simple bop to the head, I find their existence intriguing.  What is their real purpose?  And what were they going to do if I never showed up?  At first glance, they are non-descript and unremarkable, threatening only to the most careless player.  Sufficient numbers of them can cause even experienced gamers some small amount of difficulty, but their predictable patterns of attack and weak defenses always spell their eventual demise.  So why are they there?  Are they the equivalent of video game pocket lint, having no value but for some reason always there, or do they serve a larger and even necessary purpose?

They are the game designer’s way of walking you through the fundamentals of combat…

Across every gaming genre a pattern emerges – from the original Super Mario Bros. to Fallout 4, we begin our adventure with battles that are designed to develop the skills and abilities that we will need later in the game against more difficult foes.  Timing your jump onto the unsuspecting head of a marching goomba in Mario is the first step towards winning your battles with the faster, fiercer opponents you will find in the game’s later levels.  The simple dungeon rats you get your first experience points from in any RPG are the game designer’s way of walking you through the fundamentals of combat, while rewarding you with the necessary skill points you will use to become stronger, faster, and more adept with your weapons.  What at first glance appears to be a waste of your time suddenly finds its meaning – you will not be able to survive the challenges that await you if you can’t successfully conquer your level one opponents’ first.

In our everyday lives, we face a variety of tests, trials, and temptations.  I know I have often treated these annoyances with disdain, informing God that if he would simply get these out of my way I could get SOOOOO much accomplished.  I mean, I would have been so much more productive at work today if my tire hadn’t gone flat.  Or, I would be able to spend quality time with my family tonight if I didn’t have a huge project that is at its deadline.  Even more to the point, I wouldn’t have lost my temper today if that person didn’t cut me off in traffic.  And on and on it goes – these meaningless side quests in our lives, the temporary obstacles that pop-up ever so briefly, and within a month, day, or sometimes even in an hour lose all significance.  But maybe they are not as insignificant as you think…

Maybe they are not as insignificant as you think…

There are two people we can look to that can serve as witnesses to the importance of passing those early tests and defeating the basic enemies that are placed on your path.  Interestingly enough they both walked very similar paths.  Let’s take a look at the parallel lives of Joseph (found in Biblical book of Genesis chapters 37-41) and of Daniel (in the Biblical book of Daniel chapters 1-2).  Both stories start out quite tragically – as young men, both were ripped from their families, removed from all that was familiar, and taken into captivity in a foreign land.  Joseph is sold as a slave by his own family and taken to the country of Egypt, while Daniel is captured by an enemy army and taken as a slave to the enemy empire of Babylon.  Pretty rough start, don’t you think?

Their lives continue to run a similar course, as Joseph is taken to a royal officer’s home as a servant, while Daniel is taken to the royal court of Babylon to begin his service training.  And as a signal to each of them that they are still under the watchful and protective eye of God, they are both granted favor in their situations by the overseers they have been placed in the care of.  It is remarkable that even in our darkest situations; God will shine a light to remind us He is still there, and that there really is a method to the madness we currently inhabit.  Unfortunately, the next test awaits them both, and it is a test of character that will ultimately determine if they are ready to advance to the next level, or if they still need to kick around a few more chickens.  Joseph is faced with the ultimate no-win scenario – what do you do when your boss’s wife is hitting on you?  Joseph takes the high road and rejects her repeated advances, and his act of integrity earns him a trip to prison courtesy of the spurned wife of his boss, who falsely accused him of attempted rape.  Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned…

When in Rome (or in this case Babylon), do as the Romans do, right?

We will leave Joseph in his undeserved prison for a moment and check back in on Daniel.  Daniel, being an Israelite, lived his life according to the rules that God had established for the Israeli people, and many of these rules involved the food and beverages that they were permitted to partake in and what they were to avoid.  The purpose of these dietary rules was to set the people apart from the heathen nations around them, and establish them as unique and special.  It would have been the easiest thing in the world for Daniel to go native in his new surroundings and choose to partake in all of the things that were forbidden to him and his countrymen.  After all, who would have known (or cared)?  When in Rome (or in this case Babylon), do as the Romans do, right?  But Daniel would have known.  And he knew God had never stopped watching him, and was waiting to see if he would be faithful even when it seemed like nobody was looking.

So Daniel declines the food, requesting water and vegetables for himself and his fellow Israeli captives, understanding that this could be considered a grave offense in his new surroundings.  As a slave, he should consider himself lucky to be kept alive and fed at all, much less fed from the king’s very own table!  But he would not allow the fleeting pleasures of the world to define who he was, and chose to stick to what he knew was right.  So here we are, Joseph refusing to give in to the temptation to enjoy a private affair with another man’s wife, and Daniel declining the fine foods of the Babylonians so he could remain faithful to his beliefs.  These trials and temptations seem pretty scary right now, with very dire consequences – but both of these men will be reaping the benefits of their faithful choices soon.  See, everything these men have faced so far are character building,” leveling up” opportunities.  There are greater destinies for each of them to fulfill, but before they can ever get to that place they must prove they will do what is right when it would have been easy to choose what was wrong.

They faced the counterfeit offerings of the devil…

And here their destinies converge once more – two years after Joseph has been placed in prison for a crime he did not commit, the ruler over Egypt had a dream that only Joseph could interpret.  And two years into the reign of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel was called upon to not only define his king’s dream, but to recite the dream to him without ever having heard it.  Both of these individuals had faced down their fears by staying true to their faith in God even when they had been removed from all that was familiar and placed into the chains of slavery.  And then they faced the counterfeit offerings of the devil to give them acceptance and worldly satisfaction by compromising their values, which they shut down.  And now, finally, it is time to level up!  Joseph interprets the dream of the king of Egypt through divine revelation of God, and his reward was to be named second in charge of the entire kingdom.  What a reversal of fortune, to go from a slave to the second most powerful man on the planet!  And let’s not forget about Daniel – his recounting of the king’s dream and interpretation resulted in his placement as the ruler over the entire province of Babylon, and was promoted to chief over all of the other princes.  From slaves to rulers, achieving the destinies they were created for – and we can have that same experience to if we learn from their examples.

I followed the stories of both of these men’s lives simultaneously so we could see that this is not just an isolated incident in the Bible, but rather a formula that will help us understand why we go through the things we face in life, and point to a resolution beyond our wildest dreams if we can pass the test!  So let’s break this down:

Neither of them could reach their full potential in the safe confines of their living rooms

First, both Joseph and Daniel faced a situation that removed them from their comfort zone and all that they were familiar with. It was uncomfortable, difficult, and separated them from their family and friends.  But this trial served a purpose – If you want to be more than what you are, you must become something you have never been.  Neither of them could reach their full potential in the safe confines of their living rooms.  These were men destined to be global rulers, and the first step in their journey was to be placed in a position where they had to depend on God and God ALONE.  By taking them to a new location and removing the support networks they would typically rely on, they were able to lean completely on God’s direction and trust in his care.  For us, many times this takes the form of a loss in our lives, perhaps of a job, or home, maybe even of a loved one.  Other times it is a forced and unwelcome change that alters your destiny in ways that you cannot understand right now.  No matter what direction the winds of change blow your life in, you can know this for a certainty – God is in control and is actually going to use whatever you are going through to bring you to a better place, as long as you are prepared to follow Him obediently and trust in His plan.

We have no record of Joseph or Daniel complaining, telling God this is unfair, or fighting the changes they were experiencing.  They simply followed the path their Creator had laid out for them, knowing that He designed the level they are currently playing on, and He knows how it ends.  And so it is with us – before we can accomplish the plan God has for us in our lives, we must learn to trust in God fully, not in others or in our own abilities to get us there.

The second consistency we see in the pattern from Joseph and Daniel is that they were both tempted by the devil with an offer that would make them more comfortable in their current surroundings, a counterfeit blessing.  Both of these supposed “captivity with benefits” arrangements would have required our brave heroes to compromise their integrity to enjoy a temporary pleasure.  For Joseph, he was presented with the temptation to have a physical relationship with his boss’s wife, free of any obligations other than sin and the guilt associated with it.  Being the head of the house while the husband was away, it would have been a simple thing for Joseph to indulge in the sin presented to him, and who would have ever known?  And here is where he had to grind through to his next level – every day she would attempt to seduce him, and each day he would refuse and prevent even the possibility from occurring.  And with the hind-sight of seeing the end of the story, it becomes clear why he went through this – his future was to rule over the entire kingdom.  The entire wealth of Egypt would be under his command.  For him to be trusted with all of this, he must first prove himself faithful when nobody else is watching other than God.

The opportunity to level-up by taking a short cut had to be a difficult temptation…

Daniel faced the pressure to go with the flow, and he could have chose to allow his standards of right and wrong to be dictated by the circumstances he found himself in.  The opportunity to level-up by taking a short cut had to be a difficult temptation.  Again, who would have known if Daniel had simply acquiesced to the peer pressure and decided and success in his new country was worth the small price of compromising his moral standards on something as insignificant as food and beverages?  He could even have reasoned to himself that he would be in a better position to help his people if he simply bent his beliefs momentarily.  But you cannot cheat your way to promotion, and Daniel followed his conscience and took the path that would define him throughout his life – serving God regardless of the consequences that he faced.  Once again we see why passing this test mattered, as Daniel would eventually become the most powerful man in the Babylon besides the king himself, receiving direct communication regarding people’s dreams from God himself, and he would have never been able to handle such tremendous responsibility without having the character such a position required.

The temptations presented in our lives are permitted to occur for the very same purpose – you have a destiny that you are meant to fulfill.  There are incredible things God has planned for your life that He wants to promote you into.  But just like in the world of video games, you must learn to defeat sand crabs and dungeon rats before you can face flying dragons and evil kings.  Until Mario can time a jump on the head of a mindlessly pacing mushroom, he will never be a match for Bowser and all of the weapons he has at his disposal.  Until you have learned all that God needs you to know at your current level, you cannot level up into the greater plans He has for you!

You must learn to defeat sand crabs and dungeon rats before you can face flying dragons and evil kings

In the end, both Joseph and Daniel patiently persisted through their challenges, and instead of wallowing in depression about the hand that they had been dealt they chose to prove themselves faithful in their circumstances and allow these trials to serve their ultimate purpose of shaping them into the leaders they were born to be.  Their example provides us with a pattern we can follow… if we are willing to choose to.  No matter how bleak everything looks for you right now, this is merely a proving ground for you to gain the necessary skills to conquer the larger boss fights that await you in your future.  You will choose how long you remain at the level you are at – once you have gained the experience points your current situation requires for level up, you will move up to the incredible things God has planned for you!  So don’t lose hope, stay strong against the urge to complain or give up, and most importantly NEVER settle for the fake solution that the devil will present to you.  God’s way is never easy or fast, and will always be true to the direction of the Bible and your conscience.  But if you faithfully follow Him regardless of the difficulty, you will pass the level and gain the experience you need to move on to the bigger and better things God has in store for you!

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