I’m not sure if you have had a chance to notice this or not, but we as gamers can be a fairly critical collection of people. Games that have been crafted through years of 80 hour work weeks as a labor of love by an under-staffed development studio are delicately sniffed by one of our own on a store shelf and then immediately tossed into a bargain bin because the frame rate is too low, the voice acting is sub-par, or the story isn’t long enough. And such is the unfortunate fate of the industry darling turned critical scapegoat No Man’s Sky. Once hailed as the new standard in open world games thanks to it’s procedurally generated galaxy full of planets and life forms, it quickly ran aground against a wall of inflated gamer expectations in a sea of disenchantment.
While I don’t intend to act as a gaming defense attorney, I would like to point out that the game absolutely delivers on it’s promise of a nearly infinite, unique galaxy to explore with lush visuals and solid if unremarkable gameplay. But this column is not a review site, and I am less interested in responding to the critiques of the game and more interested in probing the gamer response to this title. This game had massive anticipation from gamers all over the world, and with each delay in release date it seemed the enthusiasm was only increasing. When it finally launched this title nearly sold out across all gaming platforms and was difficult to find in stock at almost every gaming retailer. So how does this incredible amount of love turn cold so quickly?
To explore this phenomena further I am going to turn, as usual, to the Bible and specifically the book of Revelation chapter 2. Revelation is most popular for visions of the apocalypse and end-time activities, but before the book gets into all of that there are some very critical messages given to the churches of that day… Messages that are just as relevant and pertinent to the body of believers in Jesus today. While reading this please keep in mind that these are all the actual words of Jesus Himself (red letters give it away) as He is giving this information directly to John for dissemination to each of the churches, and I have confidence we will find that the letter from John to the church in Ephesus is just as timely now as it was back then.
The message begins with effusive praise, as Jesus compliments them on their patience, perseverance through trials, and discernment of false teachings. He congratulates them for all of their labor on His behalf, and for three blissful verses this is just as favorable as the pre-release articles on No Man’s Sky. But then the hammer drops, and with authority. Jesus starts with a group of words that nobody ever wants to hear Him say… “I have this against you”. And what follows is a challenge that reverberates throughout time to where you and I are both sitting right now, as He speaks the heartbreaking words, “You have left your first love”. Ouch. And to fully understand what this fall encompasses, we must return to that blissful place where first love began.
For many of us our point of reference for understanding “first love” has its roots in romantic love and those butterfly feelings that occur at the blossoming moment of infatuation. For others it may be the first time you held your child in your arms and silently pledged to protect them with your dying breath if need be. But if you are believer then we are all familiar with the euphoria of standing tall for the first time with the knowledge that your sins, every last one of those haunting burdens, have been forgiven as we place our hand into the nail-scarred hand of our hero and Savior who paid for our freedom. That moment of pure, unfiltered love and appreciation for what Jesus did for us, not two thousand years ago but right then I’m that moment as He held us and forgave us… That’s a powerful first love without equal. So what happens to us as we move from that place of unspeakable joy and love to the place where the church of Ephesus found itself occupying… A church doing all the right things but lacking the passion they once possessed?
To really solve this predicament, I can only use myself as the example. When I first felt the touch of His forgiveness and love, my heart melted and I fell in love with the One who saved me. The next day I couldn’t wait to wake up in the morning and talk to Him, and for days and weeks I was hopelessly devoted to Jesus. But as the weeks grew into months and extended into years, all of that excitement slowly faded into a commitment that I was compelled to fulfill out of obligation more than desire. I am ashamed to say that my relationship slowly deteriorated until it was little more than prayers in the morning, night and at meals, or perhaps in times of extreme need. My discipleship became monotonous and my daily time with God more closely resembled a life-support machine that I was merely keeping plugged in for survival than the living, breathing relationship it once was. I hope this experience is unique to me, but if the church at Ephesus is any indication, I believe this afflicts more of us than we care to admit.
I didn’t intend to lose my first love… in fact I wasn’t even really aware I was losing it for quite some time. I certainly never believed that my devotion could somehow devolve into drudgery, but it happened and I had to resolve it. And while my departure from devotion was unintentional, my return to “first love” had to be incredibly intentional. I would be lying if I said that I am anywhere near where I want to be here, but God makes the path to reconciliation remarkably simple in verse 5: remember, repent, and return. First, we have to make a conscious decision to “Remember” where we have fallen from. Mentally moving back to recalling all He did and continues to do for me is a critical step to complete. That is why He encourages us to ‘remember Him” through the act of Communion regularly… so we never allow His act of sacrifice to become a mere historical moment in our lives.
Next, we are to “Repent”, which is a somewhat controversial word that requires us to actually acknowledge our failings and take an active step to turn away from them. For those who believe that repentance is a one-time event in the life of a believer, I would encourage you to look at these verses and see that this is a group of believers being commanded to repent at the penalty of having their candlestick removed. And finally, we are to “Return” to their first works… the things that they were doing when they took their first steps into the relationship. This isn’t about following commandments or rules, as He already made it clear they were still doing all of those things and more. No, this about those things that came from our HEART that we did out of love for Him. To devour His word with the hunger of someone who has never tasted it before… to call out to Him like a child desperate to feel His unconditional love… to seek Him with the desperation of a soul with no hope but to reach out for His saving grace.
To circle back around to No Man’s Sky as I wrap this up, as gamers we can be quick to discard and dismiss any title once our initial curiosity has been satisfied. As consumers we always have the right to move on from a title, but the question remains the same… Did the game actually change or did it simply lose it’s luster once we have experienced it and the newness has worn off? Our relationship with God, like any other relationship, requires constant communication and upkeep. Keeping it fresh is a challenge that each of us must undertake, and I am right here with you in this struggle. Remember, repent, and return… I am going to repeat that to myself anytime I feel my love growing stagnant and I hope these three simple words will benefit your walk as well.