Monday, October 15, 2012

Relationship Wasteland

“Mojave, mo’ problems—am I right?”

Even though I have other unplayed games that I’m looking forward to, I decided to pick up Fallout: New Vegas for a second run-through, to revisit the Mojave Wasteland and immerse myself in the war between the New California Republic, Caesar’s Legion and the mysterious Mr. House. In games that allow different morality choices, I invariably play as a good guy (well, girl, if it’s an option) on my first play. If the game is good enough, I’ll come back later with malevolence to see how things change by being despicable. Truth is that I never quite immerse  myself in the roles to the point where I’m as consistently cruel as I should be. . .but oh well. My evil characters have a benevolent streak.

The Fallout series is one of the major video game franchises that attempts to make moral choices important (also included in this list, to greater or lesser effect, is Mass Effect and Fable). The games give the player a great deal of freedom to take many different approaches, but these decisions are not made in a vacuum. Your choices have an impact on how different people that you encounter view you and treat you. A Google search suggests that there are well over 100 quests (some short, some long and some hidden) in the game but one cannot possibly complete all in one playthrough, as there are many different factions with different goals and one cannot fully satisfy one without negative consequences in the others. In addition, the fact that the game allows so much freedom makes it very possible to burn bridges outside the actual quests; say the wrong thing or kill the wrong shopkeeper and you can shut down multiple quest opportunities just like that. There were people who trusted me when I played as a good guy who would have nothing to do with me when I played as a villain, and thus didn’t offer me quests that I had completed the last time I played the game.

Like in the Fallout universe, our choices and decisions do not exist in a vacuum. The good and bad decisions we make can have long lasting consequences, some positive, some negative and some endlessly complicated. In fact, no video game can hold a candle to the complexity of real life. What is “fair” rarely comes into play because we are complicated creatures with our own hopes and fears and desires—and it can be difficult to live a life that offends no one or makes no waves (1 Tim. 2:2).

There are some who will look at that last line and say, “Who cares if we offend someone? The message of Jesus Christ offends some people” (Matt. 11:6)! True enough. But there is a difference between offending for the sake of godliness, for the sake of Christ, and offending because we are selfish.

Permit me to use alcohol as an example. From a biblical perspective, it is not a sin to drink but it is a sin to get drunk (Eph. 5:18, as just one example). Now, there are teetotalers among us and I have no problem with any individual choosing to abstain completely—I hate the taste of alcohol and imbibe very rarely—so long as they do not go too far and try to legalistically control others, or to twist the Scriptures to support their extreme opinion (which you can definitely find online; how sad that they must twist Christ’s turning water into wine to the point of flat-out contradiction to fit their weak position). However, these teetotalers can be a vocal bunch to the extent that many in the world are under the impression that drinking at all is against the Bible. As a result, for a Christian to drink or purchase alcohol can, depending on their community and who sees it, seriously hurt their testimony. It can push some farther from Christ.

Not even an appletini is enjoyable enough to risk that outcome, is it?

Many in our culture will not appreciate this reality, but I can back it up biblically. This is precisely what Paul is talking about in 1 Cor. 9: giving up that which is his right for the sake of the message of the gospel. There is nothing wrong with doing that which you have the moral and legal right to do—but if it conflicts with the gospel, then we must look at what is the priority, and I think it would be sinful to prioritize our own selfish desires over the power of the gospel! Even American Christianity tends to be very concerned with preserving our rights, but Paul gave up every one if the cause of the gospel could be furthered by his sacrifice.

It takes a fairly major paradigm shift. Our choices are not made in a vacuum and they affect those around us. We will make a different decision—in some situations—depending on where our focus is and where our heart lies: if our ultimate goal and focus is on pointing to Christ, imagine how much that is perfectly acceptable we would be willing to excise because our goal is that much greater; if our focus is on our own comfort, we will only pursue God’s purposes when it is convenient for us, and we will not sacrifice (or not sacrifice much) for His Kingdom.

The thought of living in a way to please other people can make you just bristle with indignation. But if we do not have a good relationship with those that God has put in our lives, how can we ever hope to be used to bring them to Christ? And if we are living in such a way that makes us—and, by extension, the One we represent—detestable or distasteful to our neighbors, then we cannot kid ourselves that we are worth very much in this life, can we?

In Fallout: New Vegas, even horrendous reputations can be repaired by taking on some important missions for that faction. You could kill a squadron of New California Republic troops but then still work your way back to the good graces of the leadership by performing some random favors. It may be ambitious, but it’s still a video game, after all. When we damage relationships with people in real life, regaining their trust and respect is a much greater challenge and will take a long time. That time could be used by the Holy Spirit to draw a soul to Jesus through a godly life of friendship and servanthood, but now it is wasted.

We need to understand that we love God by loving others. Living a godly life may cause some to despise us regardless of how pleasant we are (Matt. 10:22), but how many others will end up bowing down before Jesus as Lord because of the light they see shining in us? Remember: we are to be salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16)—and salt tastes good!

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