The Man in the Iron Mask: Cyborg Ninjas Need Forgiveness Too (1 Tim. 1:12-16)

When you are introduced as Cyborg Ninja, you are sort of destined to be remembered more for your suit than who is inside it.  Nameless and faceless for much of his violent journey through the story of the one and only Metal Gear Solid, he literally carves his way through the campaign offering very little to explain his agenda or motives, seeming content to simply leave a trail of carnage in his wake as he progresses towards an impossible to determine end goal.  Neither friend not foe, this enigmatic warrior seemed to be the only character who was not interested in a lengthy dialogue with your player controlled avatar Solid Snake.  But this being a video game, we know the reveal of who he is and what he is really after is going to be revealed in due time.

Neither truly alive or truly dead, this conflicted individual seems to be scarcely in control of his actions despite the incredible lethality he demonstrates.

Clues are peppered through his brief appearances, and within these glimpses the pieces begin to fall into place.  Neither truly alive nor truly dead, as much machine as man, this conflicted individual seems to be scarcely in control of his actions despite the incredible lethality he demonstrates.  The conscious choice of seeking out pain is but one crack revealed in his armor, and the phrase he whispers while slamming his head into the ground still haunts me with sadness as he confides to his former comrade turned enemy Snake, ” I am losing myself”.  Sadder words may have never been spoken, as this nearly invincible juggernaut reveals that his greatest battle lies within.

It is not until you are knee deep in the final boss battle with Metal Gear Rex that he chooses to show his physical face, and within this reveal he chooses to shine a light on his full motivations and the struggle inside.  In a heartbreaking revelation we learn that the poor soul trapped inside this machine is none other than an old friend, Gray Fox.  His indestructible exterior merely hides his pain as he recounts his unwilling rebirth as a machine human hybrid, scarcely in control of his mind and actions.  But this is not what haunts him… As a former soldier turned villainous vigilante this is not the source of his internal conflict.  Something much deeper and more relatable to all of us lies at the heart of his pain.

“I am losing myself…”

Gray Fox has lived his life on the battlefield, and the collateral damage of his exploits was merely part of doing business for a professional soldier.  Until his hardened gaze fell on a child who was now orphaned because of him.  Responsible for the death of her parents, for perhaps the first time the realization of the consequences of his actions causes the sharp pain of regret to override his training.  He chooses to adopt her, whisk her away from the battlefield, and raise her as his own.  But these actions do not dull the pain, as he lives with the constant daily reminder that the life she now lives without her parents was because of HIM, and his shame at the role he played in their deaths caused him to never reveal this truth to her for fear that she would see him as the monster he truly is, instead of the kind benefactor he is striving to become.

This is where the rubber meets the road for me.  I can’t relate to being a genetically enhanced super human robot ninja, but the inability to move forward from past mistakes is all too real.  Others may see the ruthless efficiency of the machine I have created to house and protect my shattered soul, but within lies a shell of who I once was, a force that leans towards self-inflicted pain and destructive behaviors, a person very much in danger of losing myself.  So now to the real question:  How is it that a child of God, born again and in a committed daily relationship with Jesus, can forgive others and offer grace to everyone but their own self?

How is it that a child of God, born again and in a committed daily relationship with Jesus, can forgive others and offer grace to everyone but their own self?

Have you ever felt that way?  A facade built to showcase strength and confidence merely masking the uncertainty and self-loathing contained within?  I’m preaching to the choir on this one, because I will confess that I have spent much of my life trying to foolishly earn the forgiveness and grace that has been provided to me for free.  It is interesting that in our current day and age every bookstore, Christian or not, has a massive self-help section and many of these books are written to provide assistance with the challenge of forgiving your self.  I say it is interesting because the Bible seems to be largely mute on this topic, almost as if the authors never appeared to consider this to be an area we would struggle with.  With all the wisdom provided to us from writers such as Paul and Peter, men who were clearly familiar with the concept of past failure on a magnitude far greater than most of us will ever taste, why do we see so little on this subject?  Surely the Bible, the source of all answers, has within it a response for the challenge of forgiving yourself, right?

First, let’s review some groundwork.  1 John 1:8-10 makes it painfully simple for us, establishing that everyone of us have sinned, but if we are willing to confess these to God he is faithful and just to not only forgive us, but to purify us as well.  So does that mean I will forget what I’ve done?  Let’s see what Paul has to say in 1 Cor. 15:9-10, where in the middle of his magnificent epistle he stops to remind us and himself that he once was the enemy of the church, and active persecutor of this he now calls family.  But just as quickly he allows the grace of God to not only cover his sin, but to free him from his guilt as he points past his failure to what God’s grace is doing in him now.  It is through, not in spite of his previous failure that he is able to offer grace freely to every one he meets.  And finally, the erstwhile patron saint of those who have made mistakes but earnestly desire to move forward, King David himself writes the famous words found in Psalm 103 stating that God removes our transgressions as far as the east is from the west, meaning that our failures are moving in a continual direction of separation from us and where we are going with our lives.

Paul shines a light on his shortcomings, using them to illustrate the depths of the mercy of God.

So if all this is true, why don’t we feel any better?  Why do we still struggle to move on, to forgive ourselves, to accept the grace of God we freely offer others?  Perhaps because we missed a crucial point found in the correspondence between Paul and his protege Timothy, found in 1 Timothy 1:12-16.  Paul, clearly remembering all that he was, not only accepts the forgiveness of God but sees that in this Paul is made into an example for others, a case study that Christ came to save ALL, without exclusion.  And in that context Paul chooses to denies his failures the ability to define him, but instead allows them to showcase to others the incredible grace he was shown. He shines a light on his shortcomings, using them to illustrate the depths of the mercy of God.  This is the secret that David found, the mystery that pulled Paul and Peter out of self-loathing and into full service.

Our enemy would like nothing more than to silence is through our guilt and shame, reminding us of all the reasons we should be disqualified from service.  He knows our true value, and the last thing he wants is a bunch of Pauls and Peters running around changing the world with their testimony.  Like our cyborg ninja friend from earlier, we can choose to allow our guilt to occupy our thoughts until they consume us, or we can choose to celebrate the freedom we have received and shine the light for others to follow. It took a long time for me to realize that all of my failures were actually taken into account by God when he forged my destiny, and that His plan for my life was built with those in mind.  When you see your mistakes, transgressions, and sins as a vital part of how you can share the full depths of the love of Christ to others, you are set free from all the chains the devil uses to keep them holding you down.  Don’t hide the pain, embrace the grace that has freed you from that life and shine the light in every dark secret you have tried to keep!

God knew your past when He chose you, because when he prepared your path all your mistakes were still in the FUTURE. 

God knew your past when he chose you, because when he prepared your path all your mistakes were still in the future.  And just as He did with Paul, He still chose you as the perfect vessel to do what only you, complete with all of your perceived baggage, would ever be able to do.  I have been a rebellious son, an ungrateful boyfriend, a selfish husband, a misguided father, an absentee friend, and so much more.  But I will not be confined to those descriptions or allow my future to be defined by these failures.   Rather I will accept the myriad of moral failures in my past just as the woman who washed Jesus’s feet with her tears did in Luke 7:36-50…  I have been forgiven much and I will choose to serve Him and love Him much!  If you look hard enough, there’s someone who will cross your path in life with a matching set of luggage to what you used to carry.  Go ahead and show them how to be set free…

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