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?

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