Coping With Permadeath in the Real World (Rev. 21-22)

These are the times that try the soul, as unspeakable tragedies rock our news headlines and each of us look for answers, justice, comfort, or simply a measure of hope that these harsh reminders of the delicate nature of life will result in something positive, somehow, some way.  I am very poorly qualified to provide any of these things, but I feel compelled to share a few thoughts that are stuck in my head.  Remaining sensitive to these very real and painful experiences that impact us each differently requires a column that will be much lower key than usual.  Death is one of the most challenging words in any language to read or write because of the serious connotations that exist, and I will not take this subject lightly.

A rising trend in the world of gaming is the existence of “Permadeath”, a state in which the player character is permanently and irrevocably gone and while the game may continue the participant must choose a new protagonist to carry on the campaign.  No cheap continue screen or a mission reload to pretend that this never happened…no, just as in our real world death in these instances is final.  One of the more popular titles to use this device is State of Decay, a zombie apocalypse simulator that embraces the unforgiving dynamic of Permadeath in perhaps one of the most challenging scenarios in which to have to come to grips with it.  As I pondered this, my musings turned towards the entire apocalyptic zombie genre and its sudden emergence in mainstream popularity.  Television, cinema, literature, gaming, comics and more have been swept into a tidal wave of fascination with the undead.  So what drives our society and our culture towards these themes?

No cheap continue screen or mission reload to pretend this never happened…

I believe finding this answer will provide some insight on our opening subject, as it is often through our chosen entertainment that our true selves and secret internal battles are revealed.  In the 80’s we dealt with Cold War fears with escapist, feel-good themes of American heroes triumphing over ridiculous odds as Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Willis, Norris and more filled cinema screens with heroic conquests and the A-Team saved the day each week on TV.  The 90’s emerged with sarcasm and humor to deal with our jaded views on society and government as sitcoms stormed the airwaves.  In this millennium the craze of reality television was simply the reflection of the desire to matter as an individual, and our society has unfortunately continued to gorge ourselves on the desire for instant celebrity ever since.  So why zombies, and why now?  What does this reveal to us about ourselves and our culture, and what do we do with this knowledge?

It would be too easy to dismiss this as a fad or cultural phenomenon without significance.  As we increase our technology and capabilities we grow more and more frustrated as a society with our inability to halt the steady march of our inescapable enemy, death.  Scientifically we can do and create so many wondrous things and our capabilities grow by the day, but we still cannot add one minute to our life span.  And just like the unending, mindless march of a horde of zombies, death continues to bear down on each of us without discrimination.  The good, the bad, the famous, the anonymous… We all have an appointment we are not permitted to be late for, and none of our toys or our tech can do more than delay the inevitable.  And I find that our grim acceptance of this fate powers our fascination with the undead, as it gives us a more tangible adversary to paint our frustrations on.  In a strange way a zombie humanizes death, giving it a face that we can fight against even with our knowledge that resistance will ultimately prove futile.  And in these tales of an undead apocalypse, whether gaming or non-interactive media,  the characters are all equalized by their common enemy regardless of their previous societal standing.  Convicts lock arms with lawmen and fame is as useless as the celluloid a movie is printed on as life is reduced in complexity to the simple desire to survive another day.

Our railing against the slow stalking menace of death is natural and expected.

Scripture is not silent on the topic of death.  As a matter of fact, it is one of the most consistent themes layered thoughout the text.  Starting with Genesis 4 there is scarcely a chapter within the Bible that does not include this in concept or in actuality.  The severing of a life here on earth was never the design for any of us, and as we see in Genesis 3:19 it was a result of the choice Adam made to disobey God in the garden that this process entered our reality.  Romans 6:23 illustrates it quite clearly by stating that the wages of sin is death, and Romans 5:12 narrows it down further by stating that death entered the world through one man’s sin.  Death is unnatural for us to consider because we weren’t designed for it.  Our bodies were engineered for constant regeneration, but this miracle has been sabotaged by the presence of sin that has brought death into the machine that is our bodies.  Our railing against the slow stalking menace of death is natural and expected.

Many kind-hearted believers have attempted to comfort me during times of loss over the years with Scriptures that are meant to encourage, but honestly ring a bit hollow when you are the one doing the mourning.  I am aware that the death of a saint is precious to the Lord, and that He is in control of all things, with a date and time for our departure already determined before we even take the stage for the first time.  I can’t say that those thoughts are always tremendously comforting, and to be honest we should never accept death as anything less than how God views it: an outcome of sin that was never meant to exist, and as such is marked for a final judgement of its own.

God ‘s view of death:  an outcome of sin that was never meant to exist.

The Apostle Paul describes death quite succinctly in 1 Cor. 15:26… Our final enemy.  A boss fight with no cheat codes that can seemingly enter the game at will.  Yet this same Paul in Phillipians 1:21-23 did not view this enemy like the relentless Nemesis from Resident Evil plaguing him throughout his life journey, but rather as a necessary separation from those he would leave behind so he could begin his eternal life with the Lord beyond death’s grasp.  This was not a fatalistic view, even in the light of his statement “to live is Christ and to die is gain”, because he clearly demonstrated that he understood the impact his departure would have on those he would leave behind, and as they still had need of him he was satisfied to remain here on earth until his time was truly up.  As hard as it is to accept the finality of death as it relates to us remaining on this plane of existence, the truth is every day we are here is a gift meant to be used, as Paul demonstrates to us here, to build up others and prepare them for both this life and its continuation on the other side of the looking glass.  Paul could hold death in such a view because he exhausted himself daily in his endeavor to share the life and message of Jesus, holding at its core the beautiful truth in 1 Thess. 4:13-14 that reanimation and final victory over death awaits each of us who have chosen Christ.

It is high time we show the world that the truth about how the dead WILL walk the earth again…

Death is our enemy, and it is right that we should mourn the evil it afflicts upon our world and our loved ones.  And because the hourglass for not only ourselves but all those around us is perpetually decreasing in volume we are compelled to use each day and hour wisely… To care enough to share God and His love liberally with all, allowing our life to reach its fullest potential by following His plan for our lives.  Permadeath can only be avoided by bringing those we meet into contact with the One who described Himself as the way, the truth, and the LIFE.  Our world has reached the point of obsession with the dead coming back to life… It is high time we show them that the dead WILL walk the earth again (Rev 21 and 22).  But this time there will be no more death (21:4), the tree of life will be opened for our access once and for all (22:2 and 14), and all are invited to the party  (22:17).  All that’s left to do is to extend the invitation to everyone you know and in so doing rob death of one more eternal victim at a time.  That is how we can claim victory here and in the life to come as well as wipe that smug grin off of death’s face.  I don’t know when or how the final number will be called for you or me… But thanks to the victory of Jesus over death we WILL be back!

 

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Reflections on Deus Ex and how to be “In The World But Not Of It” (John 17:14-18)

Cyberpunk is one of my favorite genres in both gaming and non-interactive entertainment.  Few games have attempted to nail this setting, and fewer still have gotten it right.  But then there is the Deus Ex franchise, brimming with all the tech noire that befits its futuristic setting.  Long black trench coats?  Check.  Cybernetic implants that reduce the world to an equation? Check that off too.  Sunglasses at night so I can keep track of the visions in my eyes?  Check-a-Mundo (Bonus credit if you get the 80’s song reference).  Corporations bent on owning the future through technology are the status quo, and our protagonist has the difficult decision over the course of the game to slowly give himself over to the very technology he is fighting against in order to compete with those who would control the world. As our hero character, we place his body on the altar of sacrifice over and over again to provide an easier path through the game, removing his humanity and making him more machine than man.  Faster, stronger, smarter, and with new skills after each augmentation upgrade, we spend the majority of the experience becoming the very thing he is at war with:  a world where the line between machines and men have blurred so fully that those who control the machines control all of mankind as well.

These dystopian futures resemble our real world more and more all the time, as our hyper-dependence on technology becomes more pronounced with each passing year.  But while we become more advanced with our toys and our tech the core issues of humanity remain intact, and the struggle at the heart of the questions asked by Deus Ex have stood for thousands of years and are still relevant to Christians today.  As each pound of the lead character’s flesh is replaced with yet another piece of technology, the question becomes what is he really?  A man with the abilities of a machine, or a machine  that wears the face of a man?   And how close is he to becoming what he hates in order to destroy it?

How close is he to becoming what he hates in order to destroy it?

I compare this to a query I have asked myself time and time again regarding the believer and our relation to the world.  Like the example above, in order for us to be effective in our mission we must engage our culture and be active within it to make an impact.  But how close is too close?  And more to the point for us, how do we juggle being both saved from the world, and yet still be a functioning part of it?  Are we simply one foot out the door waiting for eternity, or on the other end of the pendulum are we so completely intertwined with the world that you can’t tell the difference?  How do we balance being in the world, but not of it?

I have battled for much of my Christian life to find the appropriate balance here.  Legalism lies on one side of the equation, anarchy on the other, and the fate of the world rests on each of us to find the narrow path in between.  To start, I have always found Paul’s dissertation on how he viewed evangelism enlightening, as he informs us in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 that he became as a Jew to reach the Jews, as one under the law to reach those under the law, as one without the law to reach those without the law (although he points out he is still under the law of Christ), and to the weak he approached them as one who was also weak.  This text has been taken to a lot of extremes so we must be cautious not to extrapolate beyond his governing point.  This is not a license to become worldly to reach the world, because as 1 Peter 4:1-9 makes it clear that we no longer run with the world as we did in the past before our conversion.  As a matter of fact, he points out our former BFF’s will actually think it is strange that we are no longer dancing to the same beat.

Our former BFF’s will actually think it is strange that we are no longer dancing to the same beat.

The temptation for me, and I believe for many of us, is to try to find or create a universal doctrine that makes all of us comfortable, and this is a large source of the denominational rifts that plague us to this day.  The early church grappled with this exact issue when trying to integrate the new Gentile believers into the Jewish believing community in Acts 15.  So let’s turn to the words of Jesus to find the initial place where this concept was introduced and uncover the answers we seek.  Jesus’s prayer for his disciples  in John 17:14-18 is where we derive much of the “in the world but not of it” concept, where he lines out the following key points:

  1. We are not of the world, just as He is not of the world.
  2. Because of this, the world hates us as it hated Him.
  3. We are sent into the world just as He was sent into the world
  4. He prayed that we are not removed from the world, but kept from Satan.

There’s a lot to unpack there, and as usual Jesus supplies Himself as an example of how to follow Him.  And before someone raises their hand and and suggests this was a prayer for only the twelve disciples, let me point out that in verse 20 Jesus plainly states that He prays not for the disciples alone, but for ALL those that believe in Him.  So we are all in this together.

We do not have to look for a way to be different… Once we choose to follow Christ we already are.

First and foremost, our conflict with the world system is not due to our difference in beliefs, but our difference in citizenship, and it is critical we see this as the root cause issue. Jesus was born into this planet, yet still stated that He was not “of” it.   It is easy to argue right and wrong, split hairs on morality issues, and through these divisions create artificial and typically unproductive conflict.  But the nature of the issue is not merely moral, but at a subatomic level SPIRITUAL.  We do not have to look for a way to be different… Once we choose to follow Christ we already are.  And we cannot expect this world system to understand or follow the laws and tenets of the Kingdom we now belong to, nor should we be surprised when they don’t.

We cannot expect this world system to understand or follow the laws and tenets of the Kingdom we now belong to, nor should we be surprised when they don’t.

Secondly, we can see that Jesus is not advocating for us to bury our heads in the sand or flee to a commune to keep ourselves clean from the world.  We see through the examples of Paul, Peter, and Jesus Himself that we are to be active in the world so we are in a position to share Biblical truth, provide prayer, and set free those who are in bondage.

And finally, our refusal to accept and participate in the world system will not only draw the ire of those still held in its sway, but the same level of illogical and rabid hate that ultimately put Jesus on the cross.  This wasn’t because Christ was picketing the Roman soldiers or because He chose to make provocative statements designed to offend.  He simply refused to conform to or participate in the sin around Him in whatever form it existed, and when He spoke He never compromised the truth for the sake of His audience.  To present Himself as a sacrifice for us Jesus became sin, not a sinner, and that is a very crucial difference.

To present Himself as a sacrifice for us Jesus became SIN, not a SINNER, a very crucial difference.

So what is the resolution?  I suppose if we want to determine what manner of life we should live, we should fully understand what our mission is.   Jesus’s mission was to seek and save the lost, and He became what His mission to earth required… A human, specifically a Jew from the lineage of David, a perfect sacrifice, and an offering.  Our mission in Mark 16:15 is to go into all the world and preach the good news to every creature.  To reach every creature in all the world will require each of us to do our part in the great commission, and we will each have a different role.  This requires a very personal relationship with our Creator to determine everything from what job we take and where we choose to live down to the hobbies we pursue and the daily choices we make.

When viewed from the lens of our actual mission on this planet much of our questions become clear, and through our daily prayer life the Spirit of God will guide us through the choices we make.  We will each be led in different directions because we all have unique callings as well as individually designed moments of destiny each day that require us to be in a specific place and time to pray with, protect, comfort, or share our faith with someone in need.  And to achieve our destinies as individuals, some of us will be in this world as baseball players, others as authors, many more as teachers and doctors and retail workers… These roles do not define us but rather place us in the position we are needed in like a chess piece on the board.

Chess pieces have unique movements to fit the their role in the greater scheme, and by faithfully performing their positions within the confines of the rules for THEIR piece they set up the skilled chess player for success.  It would not be appropriate for a rook to move like a knight, and a bishop should never be jealous or critical of the king simply because of the limitations of movement for one vs. another.  We are all in this world as unique pieces of the playing board, and the game is to save souls.  It is the responsibility we each carry to determine what the expectations the Lord has placed on us to fulfill His grand plan.  Some of those may limit choices we are permitted to make, not because of legalistic rules but because your mission compels you to be where you are needed performing your role in a way that would not distract you or others from your true purpose.

There is not a one size fits all solution, much like our original point of discussion from Deus Ex.  The same Spirit of God who called John the Baptist to a monastic life in the desert placed Jesus in the center of Judea.  Paul was called to a life of celibacy to best facilitate his missionary calling, while Philip the evangelist served while building a family full of daughters.  Key differences abound, but they were all unified in that they were living their lives in a manner consistent with their message, their calling, and their mission.  As we draw to a conclusion, I believe it is appropriate to land on what Jesus defined as the ultimate rule for how to be in the world but not of it…

Matt 22:36-40

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”

Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Bioshock, “Would You Kindly”, and My Struggle with Trigger Words (Genesis 12-22)

Something about the atmosphere in Bioshock sets it apart immediately from just about any other game.  The underwater city of Rapture is a character all to itself, a vision of a future world dreamed about like an old DisneyWorld ride, yet unrealized due to the flawed nature of its inhabitants.  Looking out the windows into the ocean landscape, marveling at the exquisite architecture… You just can’t help but wish for a happier ending for this broken dream.  And as you progress through this enigmatic structure, you are guided by an invisible benefactor who provides insight verbally through the politest of requests.  At the time it made sense, that in this refined society gone wrong the soothing voice of reason you hear would be the only ally you have to survive through this chaos and provide you with the clues needed to solve the puzzle.

Only that’s the final rug to be pulled out from under you.  After performing all of his bidding the realization hits you that he has been the instigator of the anarchy, and you have been nothing more than a tool to accomplish his grim task.  His seemingly genuine and mannerly approach to ask “Would you kindly?” prior to each request were actually trigger words to compel your character to obey.  You were never even in control… From the moment he uttered those words you were a pawn at his disposal, performing his bidding.  Both as the player as well as the character, the betrayal of trust punches you in the gut as you recall all of the ways that you have been actually acting against your own best interests as well as against your desired path, all because of the phrase, “Would you kindly”.

You were never even in control…

I remember that moment sticking me like a knife between the shoulder blades, as I was sent reeling mentally trying to sort what I actually knew to be truth from what I am now doubting was ever true in the first place.  My source of knowledge now revealed as a fraud, I had to challenge all that I had believed up that point and many of my decisions were now filled with regret as I realized I had chosen the wrong side in this war.  Now in fairness, this is a mechanism within the game, and there are no alternate paths to this point.  But the point still remains… Trigger responses to certain words or situations exist every day in the real world just like they do in the world of Rapture, and while the phrasing may not be “Would you kindly?” there are certainly patterns to these potentially destructive pathways presented to each of us every day.

Looking in the mirror, I realize that through a combination of my familial upbringing, the generation  and culture I was born into, and my own personality makeup that I have developed some very unappreciated built in “conditioned responses” or “triggers” inside me much like the Bioshock protagonist.  This has not been a passive process, as I have been an active part of my own emotional maturity and my behavior patterns throughout the years, but through intention or adoption these areas of my life have formed into a little more stimulus/response than I care to admit.  I was concerned that I was alone in this struggle with triggered responses, whether these occur through verbal interactions, physical cues, or simply an unplanned emotional reaction to external influences.  So I embarked on a journey in the Bible to a few names most of us should recognize from the “Hall of Fame of Faith” who have dealt with their fair share of “Would you kindly” in their days.

Abram has a “Trigger Response” that reveals itself as we see this mighty man of faith resort to misguided deception.

Let’s begin with a man that the  Bible identified as “a friend of God” in James 2.  This man was challenged by God to uproot his life and take on a nomadic existence en route to a land that would belong to him and his descendants for the rest of time.  He boldly accepted the journey and in Genesis 12 we find Abram, the patriarch of the Jewish nation, starting out on his voyage of faith.  But Abram has a “trigger response” that reveals itself in verses 10-13, as we see this mighty man of faith resort to misguided deception to protect himself.

Abram is near the beginning of his pilgrimage on a pit stop in Egypt when he asks his wife to do him a very curious favor.  Concerned that her beauty would make him a target for assassination and replacement by the men of the area, he urged her to pretend that they were not married, but merely siblings to avoid any unpleasantness.  The plan was about as fool-proof as you might expect, as this only resulted in a huge mess with the king of Egypt himself choosing to bring Abram’s “available” wife Sarai into his home with plans to make her his new bride, putting both her and Abram in a very compromised situation.  Fortunately for all, God intervened and a furious Pharaoh sent both Abram and Sarai away with a fitting rebuke for their misdirection and the potential consequences.

The plan was about as fool-proof as you might expect.

Well, as heinous as it is to pretend your wife is actually your sister and allow her to be taken by another man just to save your own skin, let’s give Abram the benefit of the doubt on this one.  He’s early in his walk with the Lord, he’s only 75 years old at this point, he’s in a scary foreign land… I’m gonna spot him this one and chalk it up as a learning opportunity.  Or is it?  Jump with me now to Genesis 20, as we find that our now renamed protagonist Abraham is in a very similar predicament.  Between chapter 12 and 20 a great deal has transpired in his life… One on one conversations with God full of promises and guarantees, a victorious war with local kings in the area, the Hagar/Ishmael debacle, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah… All while Abraham has been the beneficiary of remarkable blessing from the Lord becoming incredibly wealthy and experiencing success in multiple arenas of his life.  So with all of these promises from God and so much tangible proof of His charmed life why do we see Abraham responding to the exact same circumstance that occurred in chapter 12 the same way “Abram” did?  As you will see, the conditions were ripe for a triggered response… Identical stimuli, identical reaction.

This time we find the first family in Gerar, dealing with a king named Abimelech.  And the story unfolds much the same way, with Abraham and Sarah playing the role of siblings rather than spouses, resulting in King Abimelech bringing her into his harem to become his wife.  This is almost 25 years after the first time this happened, and it ends once again as you might expect.  God once again steps in to stop the madness, Abimelech angrily questions both Abraham and Sarah on the ruse, and we receive the justification from Abraham once more that this was more of a convenient dissemination of details as opposed to a full fledged falsehood.  As Abraham explains, they share the same father but not the same mother, making their story a truthful statement simply lacking in a few critical details, such as their matrimony.  This conditioned response does not end here either, as we see Abraham’s son Issac, who isn’t even born at this point yet, mimic the EXACT SAME deception in Genesis chapter 26 many decades later, with King Abimelech once again, no less.  That poor guy just keeps picking the wrong women.  It would be fair to ask if this sowed the seeds for the eventual animosity and wars that occurred between the children of Abraham, the Israelites, and the kingdom of Abimelech, those Old Testament villains we know as the Philistines.  But that’s a question for another time.

How can this pattern exist within one of our patriarchs of faith?  More importantly, how can this cycle be broken?

How can this pattern exist within one of our patriarchs of faith?  More importantly, how can this cycle be broken?  I’m looking for hope that this can somehow be stopped at its source, and as always Scripture does not disappoint.  Abraham was not a coward, as revealed by his bold trek across the desert with nothing but a promise of protection to guide his way.  Nor was he afraid of combat, as we observed his campaign to rescue his nephew Lot in Genesis 14 as he led 318 men into battle victoriously against the armies of four enemy kings.  So the root cause here lies outside of simple fear… As revealed in Abraham’s decision to work outside of God’s will and create Ishmael, Abraham showed a pressing need on each of these examples to solve God’s problems for Him.  Rather than trusting God for the protection He had guaranteed, Abraham had a conditioned response to make a proactive decision on his own including resorting to trickery and deception rather than allow God to handle the problems that existed.

So now to the solution…we catch up with Abraham in Genesis 22 as he is once more given a seemingly impossible mission.  God commands him to literally sacrifice his son Issac without a word of explanation as to why.  What will Abraham choose to do?  Once again presented with a perceived no-win scenario, this  time we don’t see Abraham try to pull the ol’ switcheroo or trick his way out of the predicament.  Facing an impossible choice, Abraham finally places the responsibility of solving this problem on His Heavenly Father, telling his son in verse 8, “God will provide for himself the lamb for the burnt offering”.  In spite of the fact God had promised no such thing, Abraham finally demonstrated the faith he is now known for as he finally accepted it was not his problem to solve. He simply had to obey and allow God to supply the answer, in His time.

He simply had to obey and allow God to supply the answer, in His time.

There is the same hope for each of us that our programmed responses can be deleted and a new subroutine built in its place.  Our enemy the devil specializes in crafting “Would you kindly” moments to reduce us to angry neurons simply reacting in our flesh.  But once we accept that the battle is the Lord’s and it has already been won, we can choose to stop that trigger response before it occurs and give God the space to step in and provide a way of escape.  Before ending, a word of caution though… the last thing I want to convey is a trite and simplistic solution to what can be a very complex and at times lengthy struggle.  Abraham was 100 years old by the time he finished this journey and was prepared to offer Isaac to the Lord.  Each of us have different battles, some of which may be deeply ingrained in the subconscious, others cling to us through chemical dependencies, and still others crop up simply through the day to day battle of spirit vs. flesh.   I am encouraged to continue to face my trigger responses and just like our fictional character in Bioshock or the real life example of Abraham I see that eventual victory exists if I choose to uncover and confront the root cause issue and submit it to Jesus, as many times as is necessary.  Now, would you kindly join me?

A Co-op Cross to Bear: When Jesus Needed a Partner (Luke 23)

I have professed my love of co-op gaming before, but there are games that are enabled for cooperative play and then there are titles that are BUILT for them, and while Donkey Kong Country can certainly be played by yourself the satisfaction of tag teaming this adventure is where the real fun lies.  Many of the most recent multiplayer titles split the screen to allow both players to progress independently of each other without frustration or they utilize an invisible tether that keeps the party in proximity while permitting exploration, but not Kong.  Donkey Kong takes the wonderfully bold and decidedly old-fashioned approach of demanding intensive coordination between both players as they share the exact same screen space, extra lives pool, and often times the same vine to swing on to safety.  While this can initially lead to a great deal of consternation, the requisite communication and tandem teamwork required to pull off some of the more challenging levels can feel like a well choreographed ballroom dance routine that leaves each participant both breathless and exhilarated.

Good ol’ Donkey Kong and his simian family can always be counted on for a challenge, and while I credit myself with slightly above average platforming skills I will confess that I have spent a great deal of banana based currency purchasing more balloons (extra lives for those who have not had the pleasure) as my wife and I have sent myriads of monkeys to their collective dooms down endless pits, into random spikes, or by simply failing to coordinate an end of level jump correctly (that one may or may not result in a banishment for DK back to the game shelf for a few months).

The bottom line is this is a very symbiotic relationship in which neither primate protagonist can succeed without the other’s direct support.

Since our fates are so directly intertwined, our ability to complete a level and move on requires a huge degree of teamwork.  There are times that one character must defer to another’s abilities, such as Donkey King smashing through an area with raw brute strength or Dixie Kong using her hair to float to an image vestibule ledge.  Other times it is as simple as one character holding a switch down so the other can advance and reciprocate.  The bottom line is this is a very symbiotic relationship in which neither primate protagonist can succeed without the other’s direct support.

The concept of a tag team partner has its roots in Scripture, but I’m not just referring to the marriage relationship or having Christian friends as a support structure although those are certainly valid and well-established themes.  No, I’m actually looking at something, or more appropriately SOMEONE who appears rapidly on the world scene during a critical moment in the history of the planet and just as quickly disappears after having completed his role, without so much as a last name to identify him. Today I am looking at the enigmatic Simon of Cyrene… The man who carried God’s cross.

Simon of Cyrene… The man who carried GOD’S cross.

I will start with dispensing with the formalities… I am sticking to the Biblical recording of what occurred here without acknowledging any unconfirmed traditions that have ascribed certain histories to our man Simon.  There can be exceptional value in adding context through reference works that were written by historical figures of that day and time, but I have observed in my experience that the annals of history belong not to the truth, but to the victor far too often to quote anything other that the Bible as authoritative.  So please forgive my relentless adherence to only what is recorded in the Word as we probe this incredibly unique moment in time and human history.

To do this justice first we must set the scene.  A beaten, bloodied, condemned man who has been up all night long is dragging His element of execution with the remaining strength He possesses.  Conservative estimates place the weight at approximately 125 lbs, as it was typical for the vertical portion of the cross to remain affixed at the crucifixion site with only the horizontal beam being carried by the prisoner.  If the entire cross was being carried the estimate balloons up to 300 lbs, but either way this would be an exhausting task for someone in optimal shape, and positively torturous for Jesus in His currently incapacitated state.  As we follow the passage, we find that Jesus has finally had enough.  His human strength has ebbed and He falls to the ground in exhaustion, stubbornly refusing to allow Himself the luxury of calling on His deity to sustain Him, even now, when no one would think less of Him or even know if He had.

It is here that the unexpected happens, as God lays deliberately helpless at the feet of His creation.

It is here that the unexpected happens, as God lays deliberately helpless at the feet of His creation. Through movies, books, songs, and church traditions there are many different versions of how Simon came to be in the position of carrying the cross of Christ, with some suggesting he volunteered to do so as a kindness, and others attributing his proximity to the situation to mean he was possibly a follower or disciple.  So let’s get to the facts as Scripture lays out the drama from 3 distinct but complimentary points of view that when placed together form a full portrait of what really happened on that day.

Luke 23:26 records it that the Roman soldiers laid hold of Simon and placed the cross on him.  The words “lay hold” are actually one Greek word in the original text which is translated as “to seize ” and implies a forcefulness, for example when Paul and Silas are seized and arrested or when Sosthenes is seized and beaten the same word is used.  Matt. 27:32 states that the Romans found Simon and “compelled” him to carry the cross.  The word “compelled” is a Greek word used rarely in the Bible and is best translated “to press into public service”, and it is the same word used in Mark 15:21  which captures that Simon was coming out of the country and was simply passing by when he was conscripted into service.  Adding all these together causes a very clear picture to emerge, namely that Simon of Cyrene was put into the position to carry the cross of Christ based on the decisions of others, and his interest or willingness to do so did not have any bearing on the fact that he was going to be forced to complete this task.

The role of the one who was destined to literally bear this burden for the King seems to have fallen to someone who had no interest or intention to become famous for this.

How interesting, that with all of the myriad of followers Jesus had, as well as a number of friends and disciples, that it was someone that Jesus seems to have never even met in His mortal life, someone who did not appear to have a dog in this fight, that would ultimately be the one that would assist Jesus in drinking the cup He had been given.  Neither James nor John, the fiery brothers who were ready to call down fire from heaven to defend Jesus from dishonor, nor Peter who had pledged to give his life just hours before were chosen to be the vessel of delivery here.  In a dramatic scene planned from the beginning of time, the role of the one who was destined to literally bear this burden for the King seems to have fallen to someone who had no interest or intention to become famous for this.  A co-op partner who was vital, necessary, but from all appearances “volun-told” to complete the course.

Most of us are familiar with passages of Scripture that encourage us to take up our own cross… But it is an entirely different thing to realize that we will be called upon unexpectedly to carry someone else’s cross, someone we may not even know, and at a time when it would be very unpopular to do so.  Jesus was at His lowest moment in many ways here, and being seen with Him right now was not an ideal photo op for someone trying to keep a low profile.  And yet this was what history placed in Simon’s lap… His destiny was to help the very Son of God across the finish line.  God doesn’t typically use angels to help us carry our crosses… He uses PEOPLE.  Simon wasn’t perfect, he wasn’t even necessarily willing, but he was chosen.  And if it was good enough for Jesus, it is good enough for me.

I will not always get to choose my co-op partners in life.  Sometimes I will be the one doing the heavy lifting, and other times God will deliver the right person into my life even if it is just for a short time to help me carry my cross to my next stopping point.  They may not be who I would have chosen, and they may not even be someone I want helping me, but God in His infinite wisdom chooses who will help each of us make it to our final destination.  At various times in our lives we will all be called upon to inhabit the role of co-op partner for someone, and at other times a “Simon” will be plucked from the crowd around us to help shoulder the load.

You don’t always get to choose whose cross you will be carrying. 

You don’t always get to choose whose cross you will be carrying, but rest assured that if He called you to carry it then it is imperative that you do so.  Because one time the entire fate of humanity rested on the shoulders of a man named Simon to deliver a cross, on a woman named Mary to deliver a child, on a fisherman named Peter to deliver a sermon… And on and on it goes as He uses each one of us to carry the cross just a little farther each day.  And when the cross isn’t yours to bear but He asks you to do it anyways, remember that the cross you help someone carry might be the one that leads millions to salvation.  Just ask Simon.  The cross He was asked to carry was the one that saved me, you, and hopefully him too.