When the Ending Really Matters: Mass Effect and the Difficulty with Pre-Destination (Romans 8)

Obi Wan Kenobi said it best when he sadly intoned “It was as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced”.  But I am not speaking of a galaxy far, far away… no, this was much closer and much more personal in our gaming worlds.  This was the ending of the Mass Effect trilogy, and as the short cut-scene played out as a whimpering finale to the epic struggle to save the entire known universe gamers around the world let loose a collective cry of outrage, anger, and frustration.  Why you ask?  Well, let’s keep it real for a moment.  How many names of the characters in Call of Duty or Battlefield do you actually remember?  If you are like me, not too many.  But in Mass Effect, this wasn’t just the story of Commander Shepard saving the universe… this was MY Commander Shepard saving MY very unique universe.  I crafted his face, chose the backstory of his life, made the dialogue choices that shaped his character, wrestled over the tough decisions that saved some and doomed others… this was a very personal character who reflected countless hours of investment and to see an ending that was little more than color variations between endings to separate one user’s end experience from another was impossible to fathom.  All of the minutiae that made the series so compelling was lost as the credits rolled and the player was left to wonder what became of my crew, my friends, the very universe I sacrificed everything to save?  How could all of this come down to a simple decision to choose right, middle, or left… control, synthesis, or destruction?

This was MY Commander Shepard saving MY very unique universe.

From the Garden of Eden to the tower of Babel and all the way up to our present day and age, our species has shown a consistent pattern of needing to define ourselves on our own terms, rejecting any attempt by our Creator to guide us to our future destination.  We look for the individualized version of God’s plan for our lives, rejecting His definition of right or wrong in favor of a path that allows us to retain our goal of remaining unique and in charge of our destiny.  In most cases, we have even chosen what we know is an inferior option simply so we can say that it was OUR choice (See worshiping a golden cow in Exodus 32, choosing Saul as king in 1 Samuel 10, releasing Barabbas over Jesus in Matthew 27, or that time you watched X-Men 3 Last Stand over doing literally anything else on the planet).   Why are we so determined to live life on our terms, even if it is to our detriment?  Is it our collective ego, perhaps the knowledge that lessons hard earned are well learned, or is there more at play here?It is difficult for many of us to accept the concept of such limiting or binary choices.  In our current world of gaming open world environments and endless online experiences are not only par for the course but expected, and this pattern carries over into the way we approach our lives. The idea that we are presented with only the illusion of choice challenges us at the core of our humanity.  Few words in the English language conjure up as much conflict and debate as the concept of “pre-destination”, and I believe this is largely due to something within us that refuses to accept a pre-defined course for our lives, a need to feel we are in control, and a desire to believe that our choices truly are our own choices to make.

In many cases we have even chosen an inferior option simply so we can sat that it was OUR choice.

So now we get to pre-destination.  It is not hard for most of us to believe that we are individually designed and uniquely different, but when you start discussing the idea that your path was set and your future determined before you made your first steps is an entirely different beast.  I mean, what about my free will?  Isn’t that why God made man and woman in the first place, because we could choose to love and serve Him in a way that the angel’s service simply didn’t satisfy?  And for the really big questions… if my path is already established then what does that make me?  Am I am mere puppet on strings, singing that I am a real boy in defiance of my reality or is there something more to this?  And how does my deeply held belief that I am unique, special, and carefully designed by God turn into such a simple yet eternal outcome as a future in heaven or hell?
To start at a common place of reference, we must see what the Bible has to say about individuality.  Psalm 139:13 tells us that God knitted or weaved us together in our mother’s womb, and Jeremiah 1:5 gives us the example that he was not only formed in the womb, but that he was known to God BEFORE this even occurred.  It goes on to say that he had his mission in life defined before he was even born.  Let’s ponder that for a minute… you were KNOWN by God before you even existed, and he intimately built you throughout your formative stages.  Have you ever weaved or knitted something or watched someone do so?  It is a very personal act of creation, melding artistry with technique, and it leaves the literal imprint of the maker upon the article being crafted – this is no mere mass production on an assembly line, and God didn’t delegate you to random angel #43 to put your pieces together like a Lego factory… you were DESIGNED by His very hand.  And not just designed as a show piece, but for a PURPOSE that was also determined before he made you.  This isn’t the actions of an over-bearing Creator… this is a loving Father who crafted you specifically for what your optimal path through life would be.  Much like my pain-staking creative process with my Mass Effect doppelganger, you have God’s fingerprints all over each part of you, because He knows where you are going and what you will need when you get there.

Let’s start with Ephesians 1, where the Apostle Paul tells us that we were chosen before the foundation of the world, pre-destined for adoption according to His will, and going on to say we are pre-destined according to His purpose.  He elaborates much deeper in Romans 8, starting with one of the most popular verses in the Bible which states “that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose”.  So we see that before the world began we already were marked for adoption by God, as He already knew what was going to happen in the Garden.  He also had a particular purpose designated for us that would keep us in His will, and by following that destiny every even in our life would work in such a way that it would benefit us in accomplishing His perfect plan for our lives.  Soooo…. what is His plan?  He continues in Romans 8:29-30 with the crux of the message… we were pre-destined to be conformed into the spiritual likeness of Jesus, calling us to a specific mission, and justifying us (a fancy way of saying he qualified us for the purpose).  The key to a purpose-filled life then is to understand that we have a mission to save the world, literally, and God’s pre-ordained path for our life prepares us perfectly for the completion of this mission that we were made for.

God’s fingerprints are all over each part of you, because He knows where you are going and what you will need when you get there.

Accepting the reality that my commander Shepard was destined to come down to a very simple choice regardless of the path I took him down seemed restrictive at first, offensive even.  But the more I reflected on the game I realized that the story was never about my character… it was about the fate of the galaxy.  And I as I looked for meaning and a sense of permanence in the small choices I had made for my character it revealed to me that I have lived my life in much the same way.  We are offended when a barista dares to put the wrong flavor shot in our cappuccino, but we stride past the woman who is at the point of break down and simply needs a friend to pray in line beside us.  We spend an hour trying to find just the right outfit before we leave the house, but completely miss the value of the souls we are driving past on the way to a restaurant.  We pore over the little details of our lives and miss the reality that a world around us is crying out for help, truth, and for someone to shine a light in the darkness.  I was more concerned about the fate of my gaming character and his fictional world than the real souls in my contact list right now that are heading towards an eternity without Jesus.

We all have a destiny and a purpose for our lives, and we have been gifted the exact skills and designed to achieve those.  But this is not our story, and we can never lose sight of that.  This is the story of God… a God who loved this world and all of the people in it so much that he sent his very Son, Jesus Christ, into the world he created so that if anyone of the people He made would believe in Him they would not only escape punishment, but receive eternal life.  It is a simple choice, a binary choice, and one that requires us to accept there is more going on here than just you and me.  You have a place in this story, just as I do.  How we get there is as varied and unique as each of us are, but just as my Commander Shepard faced his destiny with the grim realization that he was chosen simply because he was the only one who could perform what the destiny he was charged with required, you too are here to save YOUR world in a way that only YOU can. Have a “Mass Effect” on your world… I am working on doing the same in mine!



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