By Jacob Toman
Death is often used as a mechanic within gaming, signaling the loss of troops, heroes, or progress within a given level or stage. As a mechanic death appears as a consequence of a player's choices. This can be seen from early in gaming history, including in one of the most iconic games of all time: Super Mario Bros.
Players learn the game of Mario by experiencing the mechanic of death as they control the heroic little plumber, crushing Goombas and Koopas on their way to the flagpole at the end of the level (or else dying themselves in the attempt). This mechanic isn’t unique to Mario or 2D platformers, though; death as a mechanic can be found in virtually every genre of game.
As a culture gamers must deal with death as a real part of the human experience. Death is something that players experience in their recreational activity, and also in their face-to-face life.
While gamers have a wide variety of beliefs surrounding death, the language and mechanic of death within gaming reinforces at least one biblical truth: death isn't a good result.
My hope in these next two pieces on death & life after will be beneficial to the two major demographics we serve at Gospel & Gaming: Christians who are learning more about gaming, and Gamers who are learning more about Christianity.
So what exactly do Christians believe about death and dying?
Humanity was originally designed to be in perfect relationship with God; death first became something humans experienced as a result of breaking relationship with God in the garden of Eden. This impact of this was cosmic in proportion, affecting the entirety of creation.
J.R.R. Tolkien in his epic trilogy The Lord of the Rings wrote of a magnificent sword that was the picturesque symbol of kingly rule. This sword was broken during heroic combat between the last great king of Gondor and the nemesis of the forces of good, Sauron. When the sword, Anduril, was broken, it had both an immediate consequence impacting the fight it was being used in, and a future consequence for the kingly lineage of Gondor. When the relationship between God and humanity was first broken, there was both an immediate impact and a future consequence for humanity.
Death is nothing less than the consequence of a person’s actions. This first action that caused the consequence of death is sometimes referred to by Christians as “Original Sin”. Sure, nowadays death occurs to all of humanity; there isn’t any particular portion of the population that is impacted more than any other. Regardless of wealth, circumstance, history, heritage, or any other differentiating factor, if you’re human at some point you will die (with a few exceptions...we will see that later). Death is truly equal opportunity for all of humanity.
Everyone will die someday. Death comes to godly and sinful people alike. It comes to good and bad people alike. It comes to “clean” and “unclean” people alike. Those who offer sacrifices and those who don’t offer them also die. A good person dies, and so does a sinner. Those who make promises die. So do those who are afraid to make them. (Eccl 9:2)
While death seems to be rather common and natural in our time, this was not the intended order of things when (as Joss Whedon might say it) the ‘Verse started spinnin.’ God originally made humanity to live in immortality. As a creature, humans were first designed to begin at a certain point in time, and then live in God’s created order perpetually. In this way, while humans were not eternal (having no beginning or end), we were not originally mortal (Genesis 3).
Humanity’s actions broke the original relationship shared with the creator God and ushered in an era where beings that were never intended to die became subject to death.
So what exactly is death? I’ll here rely on a few sources to, as accurately as possible, give a summary of what Christians believe happens when a person’s body ceases to function as a living, breathing, individual.
Death is defined by Louis Berkhof (An American-Dutch theologian who lived from 1873-1957) as “termination of physical life by the separation of body and soul”. Death is not a natural phenomena in that it was not created by God proactively during the creation of the world. In Genesis 1-2 the Bible speaks of God’s work in making the heavens & the earth, animals, plant life, the stars of the sky, and the creatures of water, land, and sky. Death is noticeably absent from the creation story of Genesis 1-2. Death does not enter into the story of humanity until after humanity decides to rebel against God’s decree. In this way death is in not natural, but rather quite unnatural. Death is a disruption in the regular order of life. Whether a person dies from expected causes, or comes as a surprise, the separation that comes from death is tragic.
Death brings about a change in the story of a person’s existence. I use the term existence here because using the term “life” may cause confusion as to whether or not we are still referring to a person post-mortem or not. Various Christian scholars differ about what exactly happens after a person has died.
While there are disagreements about what happens to a person once dead, there is a common ground that has been agreed upon throughout much of church history since the first century. Two assertions are made by most Christians surrounding death:
- Life as we have experienced and known it ceases.
- Your relationship status with God is unchangeable after death.
Death is arguably the most significant transition in the human experience. Some have referred to death as a doorway, others a journey, others a cessation of life. For Christians, death isn’t a final end to the story of a person. Instead, death is something of a passage way. This isn’t a happy passageway or something to be excited about, but rather is the tragic consequence of the broken relationship with God. This passage way would be nothing but emptiness, loneliness, and restlessness except for the saving work of Jesus Christ on behalf of those who believe in him. What happens after death is also a point of contention among many within the Christian faith. Rather than dwelling on distinctions here are two assertions held by most Christians surrounding continuation of existence post-mortem:
- A person retains their individual selves, albeit separate from their human body.
- A person’s eternal existence changes to reflect their relationship status with God.
So let’s sum up so far:
1. Death is something that humanity wasn’t originally designed for.
2. Death is the result of of choices made by humanity.
3. When a person dies, they are separated from the world they’ve known prior to death.
4. Death doesn’t end a person’s existence.
For many gamers who are not Christians, physical death (not in-game death as experienced by a character that is being played) is a terrifying thought. Many of the gamers whom I’ve tried to engage personally with about the topic of death find it a rather dull conversation. Death seems to be a finality of their experience. It’s something that is dreaded. This is true in some sense for us Christians, but there is a difference. Death is not something to look forward to, but it is not the final chapter of our story. Rather, death is a tragic, unfortunate reality in the Christian’s ongoing story in the Kingdom of God. Those who place their hope in God are not exempt from death, but rather have a hope for existence after the grave. Death is a morbid topic for many gamers precisely because there is no hope after this life. For some, death is the final notification in the game of life that your account has been permabanned.
The more I’ve read and studied on death the more I’ve personally come to the conviction that death is a central component to a Christian worldview. Death is the great enemy that launches the story of God’s plan of redemption for his people, and his creation. Death is the final enemy that ultimately shall be destroyed:
22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:22-26 )
Whether you are a believer in Christ or not, gamer or not, humanity can agree that death is a tragedy, a loss, and an enemy that we all wish we could overcome.
If you’d like to talk more about who Jesus Christ is we’d love to hear from you. Feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next time we will dissect further a bit more about what Christians believe about death and the life after death.