To Kill a Painted Troll: The Art of the Fatal Auto-Save (Judges 13-16)

I was trapped, and I had no one to blame but myself.  I peeked out from the crevice I had darted into for safety to see if he was still there.  As I gently nudged closer and closer to the open space I so eagerly wanted to occupy my screen filled with the visage of my captor and tormentor who had been patiently waiting for me to stick my neck out.  I darted back to safety just inches out of the reach of his attacks as my most recent attempt to make a run for it was stymied once again.  Standing there in this prison of my own making, I reached my frustration point.  My weapons had all been broken on the nearly impenetrable flesh of this stupid painted troll who stood between me and my continuing journey in Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.  All of the agility and conversational skills I had sunk my precious upgrade points into were completely useless in this captive situation I had entered into.  I had broken my swords, used all my arrows, and even destroyed my gauntlets in a futile attempt to punch my way out of this situation.  It was to no avail, and I could now add my newly attempted strategy of a stealthy escape to my pile of failed extraction attempts.  He was faster than my top speed, stronger than any weapon at my disposal, and he clearly had nothing else to do but wait for me to come out of hiding so he could finish the job.

How did I get into this mess? Well, that’s the easy part. Ever since Psycho Mantis taunted me for saving too often in the original Metal Gear Solid, I have a tendency to save my game very infrequently. I allow auto saves to do the job for me, and typically this has served me well.  But not on this day.  I was fairly early on in my Oblivion adventure and was more interested in exploring the world around me than the main storyline, which caused me to stumble into several quests that were a good bit beyond my skill level.  So when I happened upon a request to enter a magical painting to recover some bauble that I can’t even recall, I dove right in.  The top of my screen registered a seemingly insignificant auto save that was completely lost on me in the moment, but would soon haunt me  with its far-reaching implications.

All of the agility and conversational skills I had sunk my precious upgrade points into were completely useless in my current predicament.

I needed to recover an item, a paint brush if I recall, that had been lost within the painting itself.  Seemed easy enough.  As I began my search I saw movement down the trail, and while I didn’t recognize it from a distance the manner in which this creature was closing in on me made its hostile intent quite evident.  As I had made short work of most of the enemies I had engaged to this point I stood my ground, prepared for battle, and was promptly pummeled into lifelessness by an heretofore undiscovered painted troll.  No worries I thought, I just need to prepare better and try again.  My auto save reloaded within the painting’s world and this time I was ready.  I gingerly leapt from one rock outcropping to another, a deadly dance as I used all of my skills to attack, dodge, block, and avoid as much contact as possible while whittling away at his very slowly decreasing health bar.  This too ended in failure, and as many gamers know and have experienced, this simply fortified my now rage-induced suicidal attempts to defeat him.

Many unsuccessful tries later, I finally managed to best my adversary in combat, and I stood over him having exhausted nearly all of my weapons to the point of becoming broken and useless, my armor in tatters, but the satisfaction of finally being able to progress making it all worth it.  I just needed to find someone to repair my items and this would just be a small diversion in my adventure, a bump on the road that I had finally climbed over.  Time to find this brush and get out of this place once and for all.  I saved my game, writing over my only save file, ready to put this unhappy detour in my rear view mirror.  And then I saw the second troll.

I know it’s my fault, and I know where I went wrong.  So what do I do now?

So here I sit, stuck in a situation in which I am in over my head, nobody to blame but myself, a person destined to save the world but unable to even escape my makeshift cave.  I attempted every method of escape I could think of, but every thing I tried simply brought me back to this exact same starting point as my untimely auto save which was meant to provide a safe point of return was now as much of an adversary as the troll I could not defeat.  My confidence in my abilities had betrayed me as my auto save would only bring me back to this same area with TWO painted trolls instead of one living and one dead.  So with no saves to reload other than the one that started with me defenseless in my hiding spot, I was facing the possibility of having to restart the entire game, wiping out all the work I had done to this point.  Restarting was undesirable, but the path in front of me was impassable.  I know it’s my fault, and I know where I went wrong.  So what do I do now?

Samson is a case study in poor judgement and misapplied potential, but for now I relate most to the final days of the man with superhuman strength but very human flaws.  Judges 13-16 capture the story of his life, but it his final chapter that many of us are most familiar with as we see the chain of events leading to his imprisonment.  Like a poor auto save, Samson plays Russian Roulette with the temptress Delilah, as he circles back over and over again to his flawed belief that he can lay his head in her lap and play games with the source of his strength and emerge victorious every time.  She outlasts the mighty man in a battle of wits and patience as he finally provides her with the secret he has protected all of his life, and armed with this knowledge the Philistine enemies he had successfully defeated up to this point are able to shave his head, gouge out his eyes, and place him into an inescapable prison grinding grain for the rest of his days.  Such a tragic and heartbreaking end, ill-fitting for the strength he had demonstrated throughout his life.  But his enemy made the same fatal mistake that the enemy of our souls continues to make to this day, and it is within this the God provided the opportunity for salvation and victory.

In his sacrificial death Samson accomplished more than he had in the entirety of the rest of his life combined.

As Samson endures his punishment, his hair, his symbol of his commitment to God,  begins to grow back.  And within Samson’s soul his ego and cavalier attitude are replaced with the desire to fulfill his purpose and destiny, regardless of the cost.  So when he is brought out for the amusement of thousands of Philistines including the high-ranking officials and royalty at a festival of celebration, he is finally in a position to climb out of his auto save pit and submit to the Lord of the universe.  Finally understanding that his strength was given to him to serve God rather than his own interests, he utters a sincere prayer of submission and a request to give his life for something of purpose.  His enemy was so confident in victory that they brought him into a position intended for taunting and mockery, but it ended with a dramatic final showing of strength not of Samson, but of God through the submitted vessel of Samson’s body as one final surge of power coursed through his veins and into the support pillars for the entire structure.  As the building crumbled around him Samson was able to have the last laugh as those who wanted to gloat in his face were now falling to their demise, and the final footnote states that in his sacrificial death Samson accomplished more than he had in the entirety of the rest of his life combined.

This reminds me of satan and how he needed to have a front row seat at the betrayal of Jesus.  The Bible records that he ENTERED into Judas the betrayer, allowing him to be front and center at the beginning of the end.  He had even requested to sift Simon Peter as one would sift flour so he could orchestrate Peter’s denial of his friend and Lord during His trial.  But the devil’s pride was once again his downfall, as his need to slay Jesus was actually the source of our victory over his agents of sin and death, and it was through his misguided desire to execute the Christ that he sealed our new birth certificates and gave us the ability to return to the relationship with God that sin had destroyed.

And here it is, in this place of hopelessness, that I am thankful for the grace provided to me that if I confess my sins (admit my predicament) He is faithful and just to  forgive me from all my unrighteousness.

So back to my painted troll predicament.  Like Samson, I was trapped in a self-destructive pattern and was now a prisoner with no hope of escape.  Who would have thought that my salvation would actually be provided by the snarling troll seeking to claim my life?  Indeed, it was his hyper-aggression to end me that would be his undoing.  I realized that the arrows that I was now out of were still protruding from his body.  They had damaged him, but not significantly.  However, he kept swiping for me and from my position I could remain just out of reach from his attacks but close enough to pull the arrows I had hopelessly shot into him earlier and reuse them.  Thus began the long and arduous but ultimately successful process of extricating the arrows, equipping them, firing them into him at point-blank range, and then repeating the process.  It took a very long time, but he fell before my bow gave out and I finally emerged victorious.  I wanted little time retrieving the item that would free me from this place, and emerged with a new-found respect for the importance of saving my game frequently and on different save files so this would never happen again.

I have fallen into this cycle in my real life more times than I care to admit, as I repeat the same sins with growing frustration with myself for doing so.  I have felt almost helpless as I can’t even see an alternative path, having backed myself into a position that I can’t recover from.  And it is here, in this place of hopelessness, that I am thankful for the grace provided to me, that if I will confess my sins He is faithful and just to forgive me from all my unrighteousness (1 John 1:9), and with every temptation he has committed to ALWAYS providing a way out (1 Cor. 10:13).  Our enemy the devil will taunt you with your failure (Rev. 12:10), with the false prophecy that you are doomed to repeat this path forever, that you cannot escape this horrible destiny of defeat, shame, and isolation.  But in the armor of God we were given more than just the defensive weapon of a shield… We were given the Word of God, the sharpest sword in existence (Hebrews 4:12), and when the devil pokes his head in on us to remind us who is in charge it is up to us to wield this weapon with the authority we have been given as children of God and bury it deep within his black heart.

Painted trolls are gonna troll…

We do not have to sit idly by as our accuser encourages us to replay our past and allow it to poison our present, and our victory over him has already occurred.  So keep heart, and don’t be surprised when a devil does what a devil is going to do.  Painted trolls are gonna troll… but even when all seems hopeless we don’t have to stay in that rut.  Nobody said it would be easy, but when you know that your adversary has already been defeated all that is left to do is remind him of that and hold on to the promises that are as true today as they were when they were written millenia ago.  So don’t load up that old save point again… own where you are at right now, accept the forgiveness that is waiting for you, refuse to allow the devil to keep you living there, and when he sticks his nose in your business to reset your game just remember that greater is HE that is in you than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4)!

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