Plants, Zombies and Sacrifice: When the Needs of the Many Outweigh the Needs of the Few (Acts 5-7)

I have a special place in my heart for the original Plants vs. Zombies. I know there have been two new releases that took this brand in a multiplayer shooter direction, but the original had all the elements of the gaming experience that I was looking for:  a fun and simple gameplay hook that allowed for experimentation and multiple ways to win which could be enjoyed alone or with a partner.  I remember the exhilaration of the combination of impending doom as the zombies marched tirelessly onward towards our floral defense array as we worked together to balance the need for continuing resources (my sunflowers) with the demands of an effective defense and offense (her pea shooters and melon catapults).  As we each passionately explained to the other the demands of our needs in the heat of the battle the sight of the final combatant being eliminated just on the nick of time was a feeling of relief mixed with the satisfaction of working out yet another solution by the skin of our teeth (or sunlight as it were).

I have a great deal of difficulty investing into items that are one time use or meant to be destroyed. 

There is a good reason that I am entrusted more with the resource development of planting and protecting sunflowers than with building a defensive barricade.  See, I have a great deal of difficulty investing into items that are one time use or meant to be destroyed.  Maybe it is my inner frugality, or perhaps a sense of empathy for the plant who is about to be offered for the cause, but the concept of using resources for something that is simply an obstacle that slows down one of the invaders is just hard for me to embrace.  I understand the potential impact each of these plants will have on the battlefield, but when playing by myself I tend to proceed with a very safe and consistent approach that involves the least amount of plant loss or resource use.  However, my co-op partner plays much more aggressively and uses a strategy that involves greater risk, but higher reward, and while our combined efforts have proven very successful, inside I still have a difficult time committing to intentional sacrifice as a battle strategy, regardless of the success rate.

I will confess that it is very hard for me many times to understand why the terrible things that happen in the world occur, and many times to people who I would hope would be under some form of protection from such tragedy.  When the innocent suffer, when children are hurt, when even the God fearing feel the pain of this world we all share, it is understandable to wonder why God doesn’t stop the pain.  Why does the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God of the universe allow such things to occur when we know He can stop them?  I know I have pondered such thoughts on many occasions, and I doubt I am alone in this.  Volumes have been written by men and women much wiser and more articulate than I on how a good and loving God can permit evil things to happen to His children, but I believe a very simple yet profound principle can be understood in what occurs in the tiles between a group of plants defending their lawn from the undead who would wreak havoc if they are not repelled, at any cost.

Why does the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God of the universe allow such things to occur when we know He can stop them? 

We have to start in the book of Acts chapter 6, where the early church has just started to emerge into a cohesive unit.  As the church grows seven people are chosen to provide a vital support role in the budding church infrastructure, and one of these was a man named Stephen.  His story doesn’t last long, just two scant but impactful chapters in which he goes through a process of being falsely accused, given a sham of a trial, and then summarily executed by the same religious organization that shouted “Crucify Him” only a few months prior.  As the final stone thrown takes this man of God’s life, a footnote in chapter 7 launches a new figure into the spotlight, the man who would one day become the apostle Paul.  But on this day, he was on the side of the angry mob who just sniffed out Stephen’s life, and what he just observed galvanized Paul into an even more aggressive and heinous action.

As if the death of this good and innocent man was not enough for the young church to absorb, this was merely the launching point for a crusade of persecution against the followers of Jesus.  Without so much as a respite to mourn their loss, chapter 7 records the panicked scattering of the believers  all across the region as Paul and those who followed him began a campaign of terror seeking out Christians in their homes and hiding places and arresting them.  But what appears to be a failure on the part of God to protect his sheep from attack is actually all part of His plan to spread the good news of  Christ to the world.  See, it was through this threat that the message of Jesus was now being dispersed to regions that would never have heard otherwise.  And this experience was also the catalyst for bringing the misguided Paul into the fold, as his murderous campaign brought him to a confrontation with Jesus on the road to Damascus that changed the entire world.  It was witnessing the death of Stephen that placed Paul on the course that would change his destiny and lead him to become the most prominent missionary and evangelist for our faith of all time and inspired almost all of the books which comprise our New Testament.  It was the necessary, yet painful sacrifice of one life that launched all of these actions into place, saving millions of souls in the process, mine included.  There are parallels in Stephen’s death to the crucifixion of Christ, and the reality is that the message of the Gospel has in its foundation the blood and sacrifice of all that have gone before us.  It is in the DNA of our belief system, and it is through this that the Kingdom advances.

Stephen’s life was not wasted, it was INVESTED. 

The paradoxical nature of pain and sacrifice giving way to new life and joy is observed in every time a seed is planted and dies to become something more, every time a mother endures the pains of labor to add a new soul to our planet, and every time a believer’s hard-earned testimony inspires another to join the faith.  Stephen’s life was not wasted, it was INVESTED.  And while it did not feel like a victory at the time, over even for quite a while afterwards, now that we have the benefit of viewing this through nearly 2,000 years of hindsight it is clear how his sacrifice, tragic as it was, birthed the expansion of Christianity across the globe.

I know that these words provide little comfort to those enduring pain or loss right now, and I would never dare to insult another’s crisis with a phrase so trite as “God is in control” without balancing it with the reality that we may never understand the impact of the events of our lives within our lifetimes.  When God answered the plaintive cries of Job for understanding in the midst of his incredibly trying circumstances, God’s answer was void of the comforting reassurance that all would be all right.  Instead, He challenged Job to change his view and recognize that as the architect of all time and space, He has more considerations than we can possibly fathom.

He challenged Job to change his view and recognize that as the architect of all time and space He has more considerations than we can possibly fathom.

Fortunately, I don’t have to answer to the plants that are ultimately sacrificed for the greater good of clearing the board.  I am reminded of a phrase in the greatest Star Trek movie of all time, The Wrath of Khan, in which Spock as he sacrificed himself for his comrades rightly asserted, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.”  The needful placement of a plant, even if it involves its demise, may stem the tide of the invasion and ultimately be the turning point in a victory for the entire team, even if the plant that held that critical role never gets to participate in the celebration.  There are no easy answers for why so much suffering exists, because we lack the perspective that will provide clarity to why things happened the way they did.  The message of Jesus, of Stephen, or of modern day martyrs for their cause such as Dr. Martin Luther King are all solidified in the value of the sacrifice that was made to give those messages.

I hope this inspires you to look at the world through the eyes of what has yet to have been revealed, to see that the losses we all endure serve a higher purpose than our finite lives on earth may ever reveal.  Your life is a message to others who are observing you, maybe completely unbeknownst to you, and you may change the course of history by actions that may seem inconsequential at the moment.  Stephen had no idea that he was the plant that would change the lives of so many, and ultimately the world.  There is a purpose, difficult as it may be to understand,  and each of us as the unique plants we are play a vital role in the plan to bring souls to the saving knowledge of Jesus.

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