Sony’s “State of Play 2019” and the Lazarus Effect (John 11:1-44)

The first salvo in the war for gamer’s hearts and minds this E3 season has been fired by Sony with their “State of Play” announcements this week.  And in this brief but impactful 10 minute presentation we got a glimpse of what PlayStation has in store for us in the future… some fresh new content for the critically acclaimed Monster Hunter World, a very interesting take on the asymmetrical genre courtesy of everyone’s favorite Predator, a full remake of the PS1 classic MediEvil, and most interestingly to me, some fresh footage of the long-awaited Final Fantasy VII remake.  While there weren’t very many announcements that broke new ground or demonstrated a fresh IP or concept, these Final Fantasy snippets were definitely enough to keep my eyes glued to Square Enix’s E3 press conference for more details on what has to be the most anticipated remake of all time.

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FFVII occupies a special place in this as well as many gamer’s hearts, and it’s easy to see why.  Cloud and Sephiroth are veritable gaming ICONS who engage in a deeply personal quest to save/destroy the world while excellent supporting characters rise and fall to support Cloud’s quest to not only preserve his planet, but to find and save himself.  And if you are looking for moments, this one is PACKED with them.

******* REALLY DATED SPOILERS AHEAD!!! *******

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***Like seriously, if this is truly a spoiler for you what have you even been DOING with your life ***

Ask any gamer who played through this title without the benefit of spoilers and they will tell you that the moment that Aerith is cruelly and unexpectedly dispatched by Sephiroth will NEVER be forgotten.  Personally, I always thought Cloud belonged with Tifa, but no matter what side of the Tifa/Aerith fence you are on it is ALWAYS hard to watch that fateful moment without gasping and maybe, just maybe, needing to grab a kleenex.

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Getting back to Sony for a moment, I will confess to a small amount of disappointment with their brief presentation this week.  Don’t get me wrong, I plan to be there for each and every episodic release of Final Fantasy VII whenever that finally happens.  And while nobody was really asking for a MediEvil remake, it’s nice to see that Sir Dan will get a chance to blunder his way through his tale one more time with modern graphics this time around.  Even the Monster Hunter content, while fairly predictable, is welcome and looks pretty exciting.  No, my disappointment doesn’t come from what was announced, but what WASN’T announced.  No fresh IP.  No truly new ideas.  Just going back to the well and either remaking an old idea (MediEvil), remastering a great idea (FFVII), expanding an excellent idea (Monster Hunter World), or performing a palette swap on an existing idea (asymmetrical gaming with Predator)…. there simply wasn’t much FRESH to be found.  (And no… I am not feeling “Away”.  Not at all.  Sorry, not sorry.  If I am going to run around as some raccoon thing, it better be Rocket Raccoon.)   

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The problem lies in the gaming industry itself… it’s just not a very safe place to trot out new and expensive ideas.  Just ask Vampyr…. We Happy Few…Anthem… or even the newly released Days Gone, all of which struggled to find their footing in a gaming landscape that practically screams for new, fresh ideas but only tends to financially reward a tried and true roster of sequels, remakes, and remasters that involve less creativity but also substantially less risk.  We claim to want gaming developers to try their hand at something we haven’t seen before, but honestly very few of those ideas are met with that “rarified” air of success beyond our appreciation.  And unfortunately applause does NOT pay the bills (although it CAN turn the lights off for you… cue Clap On product placement here).

The truth is we are typically just more comfortable with the familiar because it delivers something predictable… something safe.  Lower risk, but also lower reward.  And in our relationship with God, this tendency can also rear it’s ugly head.  We want the dreams that He has placed in our hearts to come to pass, but we want them housed in our comfortable, pre-determined concepts of how He is “supposed” to do things.  We want His answers to prayer but without any meaningful disruption to our lives.  We seek neat, tidy, clean solutions to life’s messy, dirty, complicated problems.

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In the book of John we find one such circumstance… when Jesus raised His friend Lazarus back to life.  Many of us may be familiar with this story, or at least the name Lazarus (because it is fairly uncommon), but I find the prologue of this resurrection more interesting than the actual display of supernatural power itself.  We start with Jesus receiving a message from Mary and Martha, the two sisters of Lazarus, informing Jesus that Lazarus is sick.  In the days before cell phones there was no option for a “read receipt” on their text message, so they had to offer this prayer request up in faith that by simply hearing this news Jesus would pack up and head their way.  I mean, it makes sense right?  Every time Jesus hears that someone is sick to this point He has immediately stopped what He was doing to help them.  Surely He would do the same here for his FRIEND.  SURELY.

John 11:5-6 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that he (Lazarus) was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.

Whoa whoa whoa.  Time out.  Let’s look at this.  Jesus loves Mary, Martha and Lazarus… CHECK.  Jesus hears Lazarus is sick… CHECK.  Jesus immediately rushed to his friend’s side to save Him like He has done for so many others… NOPE.  Swing and a miss.  He stays right where He was for TWO MORE DAYS.  It doesn’t even bother saying what He is doing for those two days.  He just WAITS.  By the time Jesus arrives in Bethany, Lazarus is quite predictably dead.  VERY dead.  The kind of dead that people don’t come back from.  Mary and Martha both know this, as Mary cries out to the seemingly “late” Jesus…

John 11:32 Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”

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HAD been here.  Past tense.  Let’s take a moment to be honest with ourselves here.  How many times do we have that “if only” attitude?  I know I have.  If only I hadn’t made that mistake.  If only I had said or done the right thing.  If only God had answered my prayer before it was too late.  But while Jesus was truly saddened and emotionally impacted by this entire circumstance, His determination was unmoved.  God wasn’t here to do the same old thing.  He was here to do an entirely NEW thing (Isaiah 43:19).  Their prayers had been heard and were about to be answered… just not the way they had imagined or wanted.  They wanted the healing… they received death and burial.  They wanted urgency… they got a seemingly unnecessary delay.  They wanted Jesus there when they WANTED Him… but they didn’t understand the difference between what they “wanted” and what they “needed”.

If you are not sure what happens next, this is your FINAL spoiler alert.  Jesus commands the stone in front of the tomb to be rolled away and calls Lazarus back from the grave, FOUR days after Lazarus had been laid to rest.  This was no mere healing or resuscitation… this was possibly the most dramatic display of power ever demonstrated in the entirety of Christ’s earthly ministry to this point.  Sure, Jesus had healed blindness, miraculously made thousands of Filet-O-Fish sandwiches, and even performed other resurrections… but never after decomposition had started.  This was a completely dead and decaying dream being brought back to life in an incredibly disruptive way to the shock of all who witnessed it.

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I know I am often guilty of “giving God a hand” by letting Him know the best way to solve my problem.  Having seen His previous work in my life, it would be most comfortable for me if He would just deliver the answer in a nice, predictable manner at least ten minutes prior to the deadline.  But God is not interested in a remastered, remade, or safe and predicable sequel to our prayers.  He is all about shocking the system, and while God Himself never changes we find that His methods of communication are always unique and personalized.  Whether its a burning bush (Exodus 3), a mighty thunder (Job 37), or a whisper in the wind (1 Kings 19)… He enjoys working in mysterious ways both then AND now.

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We cannot put God or His plans into our neat little box, no matter how hard we try.  His answers to prayers are meant to challenge us and our faith so we can move past our preconceived notions of what He has done and realize there is so much more He wants to do.  Not a rehash or a repeat of your previous successes and failures, but something new and fresh.  It may seem to appear too late… at least by our measurements of time.  It may even seem to be uncaring or unsympathetic on the surface.  But it is because His ways are not our ways that His answer will, in due time, show that they are both beyond our wildest dreams and better than we could have ever imagined.

  Isaiah 43:19 Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

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