The Value of a Villain: Why we Need Darth Vader (John 11:45-53, Matthew 5:43-44)

Thank goodness for video game villains.  I know that may seem to be an odd sentiment, but after years of both playing games as a participant as well as working in the gaming industry, I can tell you with certainty that a well-crafted enemy is essential to enjoying the gaming experience.  As a matter of fact, there is typically a 1:1 correlation between how compelling the antagonist of the story is and how satisfying you find the plot of your adventure.  The caliber of our enemy is not only what brings out the best from our hero, but the defeat of said villain is what makes the whole journey worth it.

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Consider the way that the maniacal Joker forces Bruce Wayne to go beyond what he believed he was capable of to stop his anarchic plans, pulling him out of his pathos long enough to save his city time and time again.  Mario would still be plumbing toilets if the antics of Bowser had not compelled him to act and become a Mushroom Kingdom hero, an Olympian, a kart racer, a tennis pro, a party host… well, come to think of it Mario is a bit of an over-achiever.  And now, with the upcoming release of Vader Immortal, Darth Vader finally gets his due in the gaming world as a villain worthy of his pedigree.  Vader has clearly defined all things villainous through his iconic and menacing look, arrogant swagger, and instantly fatal combat capabilities.  It is through the dark swath of violence that follows behind him like his cape that heroic characters such as Luke, Leia, and of course Han Solo become more than a moisture farmer, a princess, and a smuggler.  The through line of almost every great story based gaming experience is driven by an opposite number pulling us through ever escalating scenarios that are designed to prepare us for a final battle worthy of our epic tale.

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What I find most interesting about this is that the villain in each case seems to believe that the story is about THEM.  They seem oblivious to the reality that they are actually contributing to the hero’s journey, causing their adversary to grow in strength, resolve, and capability. When the curtain falls, the player is typically at their highest level with a fully maxed out skill tree and carrying enough equipment to win a small war.  As the final boss pontificates about their plans and schemes, we grip our controllers with resolve ready to show them all that the last 20 hours of constant battle has taught us.  And when they finally fall to their inevitable doom, I wonder if in their final moments they realize that they created this ending through the very obstacle course they threw at us.  They are in fact the architects of their own demise.  They TRAINED us to defeat them.

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This irony played out in multiple levels in the final weeks of Jesus life on earth.  In John chapter 11 we see a major player in this drama, the high priest named Caiaphas, who was very much at odds with Jesus and His ministry.  He went so far as to make a prediction in the name of God that Jesus would die for the nation of Israel, and by so doing the children of God who were scattered abroad would be gathered together as one.  What a curious prophecy, considering he was blissfully unaware that he was foretelling EXACTLY what Jesus planned to do all along.

So we see here a classic villain move, as the high priest lays out what he believes will be the key to victory through the death of his adversary, only to fast forward to the end game where Jesus shows that His death was merely a means to an end.  The elaborate plot of Caiaphas and his group of Pharisees had nothing on the plan of God established from the dawn of time to REDEEM all of His children through the death of Jesus.  Caiaphas had it right, he was just mistaken on who was pulling the strings.  God used the high priest’s very own scheme against him to achieve His end goal, and the ultimate victory of Jesus was the result of the machinations of his enemies being used against them.

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And so it goes with us… It can be hard sometimes to follow Jesus’s command to love our enemies unless we understand that our enemies add an exceptional value to our lives.  Without their constant attacks and frequent challenges, we would actually miss out on the growth this daily buffeting provides us.  It is through their attempts at sabotage that we become stronger and take another step closer to our ultimate destination. So before we complain about the difficulty of our struggle, consider that much like the multiple mini-bosses we battle prior to the finale of our game it is simply preparation and development for your largest and most critical battle.  And now for the final twist…

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You may expect me to say that the final boss fight is with the devil.  Admit it, it seems like the logical progression, right?  Defeat lower level enemies until we face the ultimate adversary?  Except… He’s already defeated.  He has already lost.  He is a shadow villain at best, as Christ crushed that serpent’s head long ago.  No, he is not the end game boss you have been preparing for.  A review of Luke 23:39-44 reveals that Jesus final battle did not take place on a cross.  No, that was simply the outward manifestation of a battle that had already been fought.  His final battle occurred much like humanity’s first battle began… In a garden.  Jesus’s own words reveal his final battle…”If you are willing, let this cup pass from me.  Yet not my will, but yours be done.”   It was not the murderous Caiaphas that Jesus had to engage in battle, because it was HIS plot that brought Jesus where He needed to go.  It was not even the devil, who entered into Judas to perform the betrayal of Jesus personally.  No, our true enemy is that which would deny us our personal cross and ultimate victory, our WILL.  The enemy is within.  The end boss is us.

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External enemies such as Caiaphas only force us into a confrontation with our own self-destructive souls.  And that’s why we should be thankful, to the point of blessing our enemies.  Luke would have never became the Jedi he was meant to be without the presence of Vader to push him into his destiny.  But his true battle took place by himself, in a swamp deep in the Dagobah system, as he confronted his own demons. In the end, it is Vader’s pursuit of Luke that brings him to the place of victory, leading him where he could not and would not have gone alone.  So love your enemies.  They will push you farther than your friends will ever carry you.

Matthew 5:43-44 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”

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