With the release of the full Bioshock collection on the Switch this month, it just felt appropriate to take one last look back on the very first release from this classic franchise. Something about the atmosphere in the original Bioshock sets it apart immediately from just about any other game. The underwater city of Rapture is a fully realized character in its’ own right… a murky vision of a futuristic world seemingly drawn from a Jules Verne novel or a discarded concept from a Disneyland ride that’s about to go haywire. Gazing out the windows into the ocean landscape, marveling at the exquisite architecture… you just can’t help but wish for a happier ending for this broken dream world.
As you progress through this enigmatic structure you are guided by an invisible benefactor named Atlas, a gentlemanly fellow who provides verbal insight throughout your sojourn in Rapture in the politest of ways. At the time you didn’t really question his existence or his motivations… in this refined society gone wrong his soothing voice of reason would seem to be the only ally you have to survive through the chaos as he provided the clues you needed to solve the puzzle and escape. Spoilers follow, proceed at your own peril…
Well… it turns out that the calm voice of the character Atlas in your ear… the only dependable acquaintance you have made throughout your journey in Rapture, is the final rug about to be pulled out from under you. After performing all of his bidding the realization hits you that Atlas has been the instigator of the anarchy you have been wading through, and you have been nothing more than a tool to accomplish his grim tasks. His seemingly genuine and mannerly approach to ask, “Would you kindly?” prior to each request were actually trigger words to compel your character to obey. You were never in control… from the moment he uttered those words you were a pawn at his disposal. Both as the player as well as the character, this betrayal of trust punches you in the gut as you recall all of the ways that you have been actually acting against your own best interests as well moving away from your desired path, all because of the uttering of the innocent phrase, “Would you kindly?”
I remember that moment sticking me like a knife between the shoulder blades as I was sent mentally reeling… trying to sort what I actually knew to be truth from what I am now doubting was ever true in the first place. Now that my trusted source of knowledge had been revealed as a fraud, I had to challenge all that I had believed up to that point. And unfortunately, many of my decisions were now filled with regret as I realized I had chosen the wrong side in this war. Now in fairness, this is a mechanism within the game, and there are no alternate paths to this point. But the point still remains… Trigger responses to certain words or situations exist every day in the real world just like they do in the world of Rapture, and while the phrasing may not be “Would you kindly?” there are certainly patterns to these potentially destructive pathways presented to each of us every day.
Looking in the mirror, I realize that through a combination of my familial upbringing, the generation and culture I was born into, and of course my own unique personality, I have developed some very unappreciated built in “conditioned responses” or “triggers” inside me much like our Bioshock protagonist. This has not been a passive process, as I have been an active part of my own emotional maturity and behavior patterns throughout the years. But regardless of whether it is through intention or adoption these areas of my life have formed into a little more “stimulus/response” than I care to admit. I was concerned that I was alone in this struggle with triggered responses, whether these occur through verbal interactions, physical cues, or simply an unplanned emotional reaction to external influences. So I embarked on a journey in the Bible to find a name most of us should recognize who dealt with their fair share of “Would you kindly?” trigger responses as well.
Let’s begin with the man that the Bible identified as “a friend of God” in James 2. This man was challenged by God to uproot his life and take on a nomadic existence en route to a land that would belong to him and his descendants for the rest of all recorded time. He boldly accepted the journey and in Genesis 12 we find Abram, the patriarch of the Jewish nation, starting out on his voyage of faith. But Abram has a “trigger response” that reveals itself in verses 10-13, as we see this mighty man of faith resort to misguided deception to protect himself.
Abram was near the beginning of his initial pilgrimage from his homeland and was taking a pit stop in Egypt when he asked his wife to do him a very curious favor. At this time he had not yet been given his new name “Abraham” from the Lord, and was simply known as Abram. Now when we think of Abram/Abraham and his wife Sarai/Sarah, we tend to conjure up a mental picture of some old gray-beard guy and his wrinkly old wife (Google them… I will wait. MMMhmmm. See what I mean?). But apparently Sarai/Sarah was QUITE the looker… so much so that Abram had legitimate concerns over his personal safety because of her exceptional beauty. And as they were travelling Abram was SO concerned that his wife’s good looks would make him a target for assassination (and probably replacement) by the other men of the area, he urged her to pretend that they were merely siblings and not actually married to avoid any of that specific unpleasantness. I am sure that idea went over REALLY well in their household.
Abram’s plan was about as fool-proof as you might expect, as this only resulted in a huge mess… no less than the king of Egypt himself saw Sarai and it was OVER. The king made plans to bring Abram’s “sister” Sarai into his home with plans to make her his new bride, putting the unwitting Pharaoh, Sarai, and Abram in a very compromising situation. Fortunately for all, God intervened and a furious Pharaoh sent both Abram and Sarai away with a fitting rebuke for their misdirection and the potential consequences. You would THINK Abram learned from this bizarre situation that put him at odds with one of the most powerful rulers of the world at that time. You would THINK that, but you would be wrong.
As heinous as it is to pretend your wife is actually your sister and allow her to be taken by another man just to save your own skin, I am going to TRY to give Abram the benefit of the doubt on this one. He’s early in his walk with the Lord, he’s ONLY 75 years old at this point, he’s in a scary foreign land… I’m gonna spot him this one and chalk it up as a learning opportunity. (I hope you are catching my sarcasm here. This was one of the dumbest ideas since Adam and Eve trying to play hide-and-seek with God wearing fig leaves). Jump with me to Genesis 20, as we find that our newly renamed protagonist Abraham is in a very similar predicament. Between chapter 12 and 20 a great deal has transpired in his life… One on one conversations with God full of promises and guarantees, a victorious war with local kings in the area, the Hagar/Ishmael debacle, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah… All while Abraham has been the beneficiary of remarkable blessing from the Lord, becoming incredibly wealthy and experiencing success in multiple arenas of his life. So with all of these promises from God and so much tangible proof of His charmed life… why do we see Abraham responding to this exact same circumstance in chapter 20 the very same way “Abram” did in chapter 12? As you will see, the conditions were ripe for a triggered response… Identical stimuli, identical reaction.
This time we catch up with Abraham and find him dealing with yet ANOTHER king, this one named Abimelech. Abraham has an excellent chance to take a different path this time around… only he doesn’t. The story unfolds much the same way, with Abraham and Sarah playing the role of siblings rather than spouses, resulting in King Abimelech bringing her into his harem to become his wife. This is almost 25 years after the first time this happened, and it ends once again as you might expect. God once again steps in to stop the madness, Abimelech angrily questions both Abraham and Sarah on the ruse, and we receive the justification from Abraham once more that this was more of a convenient dissemination of details as opposed to a full fledged falsehood. As Abraham explains, they share the same father but not the same mother, making their story a “somewhat” truthful statement that was simply lacking in a few critical details, such as, you know, their MATRIMONY. Kind of an important one to leave out.
How can this horrible pattern exist within one of the patriarchs of our faith? Most importantly, how can this cycle be broken? I’m looking for hope that this can somehow be stopped at its source, and as always Scripture does not disappoint. Abraham was not a coward, as revealed by his bold trek across the desert with nothing but a promise of protection to guide his way. Nor was he afraid of combat, as we observed his campaign to rescue his nephew Lot in Genesis 14 as he led 318 men into battle victoriously against the combined armies of FOUR enemy kings. So the root cause here lies outside of simple fear… as was previously revealed in Abraham’s decision to work outside of God’s will and create Ishmael, Abraham showed a pressing need in each of these examples to solve God’s problems for Him. Rather than reaching out to God in prayer and trusting Him for the protection He had guaranteed, Abraham had a conditioned response to make a proactive (and regretful) decision on his own… including resorting to trickery and deception rather than allow God to handle the problems that existed.
So now to the solution…we catch up with Abraham in Genesis 22 as he is once more given a seemingly impossible mission. God commands him to literally sacrifice his son Issac without a word of explanation as to why. What will Abraham choose to do? Once again presented with a perceived no-win scenario (See Kobayashi Maru for all my Star Trek nerds out there), this time we don’t see Abraham try to pull the ol’ switcheroo or trick his way out of the predicament. Facing an impossible choice, Abraham finally places the responsibility of solving this problem on His Heavenly Father, telling his son in verse 8, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering”. In spite of the fact God had promised no such thing, Abraham finally demonstrated the faith he is now known for as he finally accepted the reality that it was not his problem to solve. He simply had to obey and allow God to supply the answer… in HIS time and in HIS way.
There is the same hope for each of us that our programmed responses can be deleted and a new subroutine built in its place. Our enemy, the devil, specializes in crafting these “Would you kindly” moments to reduce us to angry neurons simply reacting in our flesh. But once we accept that the battle is the Lord’s and it has already been won, we can choose to stop that trigger response before it occurs and give God the space to step in and provide a way of escape.
Before ending, a word of caution… the last thing I want to convey is a trite and simplistic solution to what can be a very complex and at times lengthy struggle. Abraham was 100 years old by the time he finished this journey and was prepared to offer Isaac to the Lord. Each of us have different battles, some of which may be deeply ingrained in the subconscious, others can cling to us through chemical dependencies, and still others crop up simply through the day to day battle of spirit vs. flesh. I am encouraged to continue to face my trigger responses, and just like our fictional character in Bioshock or the real life example of Abraham, I see that eventual and permanent victory exists IF I choose to uncover and confront the root cause issue and submit it to the Lord in prayer BEFORE responding, as many times as is necessary. Now… would you kindly join me?
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