Mass Effect and Shepard’s Return? A “Predestination” Predicament (Judges 16)

Mass Effect is back in the news thanks to an increasingly bizarre story that either accidentally revealed the future of the franchise… or it at least indicated that they should be asking a FEW more questions during the job interview process. A new official poster from the Bioware store was revealed for sale with a description that MAY have accidentally revealed a critical plot point for the next Mass Effect game… the return of Commander Shepard. And while we have a very long wait to find out if this is an actual leak of the story or simply a misunderstanding by the person who wrote the product description, the mere possibility that Shepard will be featured in the next Mass Effect title has some pretty massive implications. Why? Well… spoiler alert for a game that is ten years old… of all of the various endings available in the original trilogy of Mass Effect games, Shepard CLEARLY dies saving the galaxy in all but one of them. Granted, this is a video game series in which Shepard has already been brought back to life once before, but this is still a highly problematic development for those who achieved one of the other outcomes during their playthrough. What does this mean for those endings?

While the next game in the Mass Effect series may be one of the most highly anticipated titles in EA’s portfolio of games, figuring out how to move the franchise forward after the finale of Mass Effect 3 has always presented a unique challenge. While each of the endings of the game featured certain “commonalities” that were much maligned in their original incarnation, the final decision that the player made DID have some very specific outcomes that would make any “canon” future for the series incredibly challenging. Beyond the obvious endgame for the primary character of Shepard, how does the next chapter in the game move forward while still respecting the unique choices each of us made during our play-through? The more options that were presented to the gaming audience, the more difficult it would be to find a way to tie all of those decisions up into a satisfactory jumping-off point for what comes next. And this freedom of choice brings up a lot of questions in our real world as well, as many times OUR destiny may seem to be at the mercy of choices that others have made that impacted our lives, as well as some of the decisions we have personally made and look back on with regret. Are we all “pre-destined” for a specific path in life? If so, are my choices even really “my” choices? How much freedom do I truly have in life if there is an outcome already decided for me? These are tough questions that deserve honest answers.

Romans 8:28-30 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

The word “pre-destined” used in this verse as well as comparable places such as 1 Corinthians 2:7, Ephesians 1:5, and Ephesians 1:11 is the Greek word proōrisen from the root word proorizó, which is itself a combination of two words…

proorízō (pró, “before” and horízō, “establish boundaries, limits”) – properly, pre-horizon, pre-determine limits (boundaries). Since the root (horízō) already means “establish boundaries,” the added prefix (pro, “before”) makes proorízō “to pre-establish boundaries,” i.e. before creation.]

Thus, the Scriptural definition of “pre-destination” is less about the assignment of specific actions and choices that removes our personal agency from the equation. It is more about the Lord’s establishment of boundaries that are designed to permit us autonomy within a pre-determined scope of our “destiny”. The concept of “pre-destination” may be one of the hardest to grapple with for those who follow Christ as well as those who don’t… with all the multitude of choices available to every single being on the planet, the massive permutations that exist in our day to day lives represent an unfathomable number of possibilities. Our entire lives can be dramatically impacted by seemingly small decisions and inconsequential moments such as what time we hit a traffic light or a specific dialogue option we choose… so how is it possible that all of the billions of possibilities that exist to each one of us still find a way to lead to one very specific outcome? And to figure out this conundrum, we are going to jump through a mass effect relay to find someone who experienced this seeming anomaly… a destiny that was imparted to them from birth but took some very dramatic twists and turns along the way to its’ fulfillment. Someone who faced many challenges in their life that were not of their own design, but they were also very much their own worst enemy in many of the decisions they made. A person with an undeniable destiny, but an incredibly complicated legacy if there ever was one… Samson.

Judges 13:2-5 Now there was a certain man from Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had no children. And the Angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Indeed now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Now therefore, please be careful not to drink wine or similar drink, and not to eat anything unclean. For behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. And no razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.”

Judges 13:24-25 So the woman bore a son and called his name Samson; and the child grew, and the Lord blessed him. And the Spirit of the Lord began to move upon him at Mahaneh Dan between Zorah and Eshtaol.

Samson had a destiny imparted to him before he was even born… specifically, to begin delivering the oppressed people of Israel from the Philistines. And as part of this mission, he was designated as a “Nazirite”, a very specific vow of separation detailed in Numbers 6. Typically, this was a vow that was taken by an adult for a very specific amount of time and for a very specific reason… but in Samson’s case it was chosen for him and would begin at his birth. Along the way to fulfilling his destiny Samson took a very… well, let’s just say colorful path. From Samson’s choice of a wife from the very Philistine nation he was commanded to overthrow (Judges 14), to the murder of his wife and father-in-law by these same Philistines (Judges 15:6), to his incredible feats of strength as he avenged himself and his people from the cruel acts of the Philistine army (Judges 15:11-20)… Samson is a very complicated figure. But the calling of God on Samson’s life would not be denied, even if Samson wasn’t doing a great job following the path that had been designed for him. Enter Delilah and the beginning of Samson’s downward spiral… directly into his undeniable destiny.

Judges 16:4-6 Afterward it happened that he loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. And the lords of the Philistines came up to her and said to her, “Entice him, and find out where his great strength lies, and by what means we may overpower him, that we may bind him to afflict him; and every one of us will give you eleven hundred pieces of silver.” So Delilah said to Samson, “Please tell me where your great strength lies, and with what you may be bound to afflict you.”

Samson’s cavalier attitude towards the calling on his life reached its’ apex in his interactions with Delilah… after twenty years of acting as a judge and defender of his people, Samson played a dangerous game that he would eventually lose. The secret of his strength was in his uncut hair… the most critical and visible aspect of his Nazirite vow. And through a series of terrible choices, Samson would eventually reveal his secret to her and his enemies… and he would pay a horrible price.

Judges 16:15-22 Then she said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me? You have mocked me these three times, and have not told me where your great strength lies.” And it came to pass, when she pestered him daily with her words and pressed him, so that his soul was vexed to death, that he told her all his heart, and said to her, “No razor has ever come upon my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If I am shaven, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.” When Delilah saw that he had told her all his heart, she sent and called for the lords of the Philistines, saying, “Come up once more, for he has told me all his heart.” So the lords of the Philistines came up to her and brought the money in their hand. Then she lulled him to sleep on her knees, and called for a man and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. Then she began to torment him, and his strength left him. And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” So he awoke from his sleep, and said, “I will go out as before, at other times, and shake myself free!” But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him. Then the Philistines took him and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza. They bound him with bronze fetters, and he became a grinder in the prison. However, the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaven.

There are many lessons to pull from the cautionary tale of Samson, but there is something very important to note in all of this. Despite Samson’s multiple moral failures, his story was STILL not over. His destiny that had been imparted to him from the womb was unchanged… even if he was taking a very complicated and unfortunate detour to get there. There were a multitude of paths available to Samson to deliver his people from the Philistines… and he had complete freedom of choice along the way to get to his destination. But just as our Mass Effect game had many different possible ways to lead us into the next game in the series, the reality is they all led to a very similar outcome… the defeat of the Reapers, the destruction of the Citadel, and the seeming death of Commander Shepard. And each of these diverging possibilities will ultimately feed into the true “canon” starting point for the next game in the series… perhaps Shepard will be revived, or maybe this was all just one big misunderstanding. But one way or another, the next Mass Effect game will start all of us in one place… a specific place where it was always destined to bring us, no matter what choices were made along the way.

Judges 16:25-30 So it happened, when their hearts were merry, that they said, “Call for Samson, that he may perform for us.” So they called for Samson from the prison, and he performed for them. And they stationed him between the pillars. Then Samson said to the lad who held him by the hand, “Let me feel the pillars which support the temple, so that I can lean on them.” Now the temple was full of men and women. All the lords of the Philistines were there—about three thousand men and women on the roof watching while Samson performed. Then Samson called to the Lord, saying, “O Lord God, remember me, I pray! Strengthen me, I pray, just this once, O God, that I may with one blow take vengeance on the Philistines for my two eyes!” And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars which supported the temple, and he braced himself against them, one on his right and the other on his left. Then Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” And he pushed with all his might, and the temple fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So the dead that he killed at his death were more than he had killed in his life.

Samson’s destiny could not be denied… despite all of his poor choices, he was still the Lord’s chosen vessel to deliver judgment on the Philistines. And in his final sacrifice, Samson completed the mission he had been given… the one he was pre-destined to fulfill, no matter how far off track he went along the way. All of his choices along the way were his to make, and in most of these decisions he made the wrong one. But even Samson, for all of his flagrant disregard for the calling on his life, was NEVER forsaken or forgotten by the Lord (Hebrews 13:5). Even in this hellish prison of his own design, his hair began to grow back. The Lord permitted Samson’s strength to return. Samson’s ultimate destiny remained intact, and in his final prayer he received the power to fulfill his calling and complete his journey.

In your adventures in Mass Effect, maybe your Commander Shepard made different decisions than mine… we said different things to different people, chose to save different party members, and selected an entirely different way to defeat the Reaper invasion and save the galaxy. But we will ALL start the next Mass Effect game in whatever position the game developers have determined as the next chapter in this franchise. Even if our version of Commander Shepard didn’t “survive” the conclusion of the last game, the reality is that Shepard has been resurrected before, and it could happen again. Bioware, the developer of these games, had a “horizon” built into this series that allowed all of us to play in the sandbox in whatever manner we chose to… but, with an outcome that would allow EVERY player to still be able to move forward with the next game in the franchise. And it is the same way in this “sandbox” of life we are operating within right now. As Christ demonstrated in His conversation with Pontius Pilate before His crucifixion, there was absolutely nothing that would be permitted to transpire that would change the final outcome of what HAD to happen…

John 19:7-11 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.” Therefore, when Pilate heard that saying, he was the more afraid, and went again into the Praetorium, and said to Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. Then Pilate said to Him, “Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?” Jesus answered, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.”

If we are struggling with the idea that we have fallen out of our destiny or off of our path because of choices that we or others have made that have damaged our ability to move forward, I have some good news for you. We CAN’T. We simply aren’t big enough, our power isn’t strong enough, and our decisions aren’t bad enough to disrupt the plans of our sovereign and omnipotent Creator. And nobody else can stop them either. Our destiny was lovingly built and hand-crafted for us from day one (Jeremiah 1:5)… we have a personalized “horizon” that we are heading towards that was designed for each and every one of us (Jeremiah 29:11). The question of HOW we get there and if we hear “Well done, good and faithful servant” at the end of it (Matthew 25:21)… well, that is up to us. Samson was going to serve God’s purpose one way or another… he could do it through a life of obedience or through a life of sin and failure. But the mission that the Father placed Samson on the earth to fulfill WOULD be accomplished. Like Samson, our destiny has been written. The path we choose to take to reach it… if we are dragged kicking and screaming or if we choose to walk there in obedience… those are the decisions we get to make.

The path your Commander Shepard took and the path mine took to get the finish line may have been different… but we are all about to start at the exact same place when the next Mass Effect adventure comes out. And that is GOOD NEWS… because it means the story isn’t over yet. And if you are reading this, then YOUR story isn’t over, either. Perhaps we relate most to Joseph (Genesis 39-41), who was thrown into a prison for crimes he never committed by the unfair actions of others, and we are wondering how we will ever see our dreams fulfilled from this dark and hopeless place. Or maybe we have more in common with Samson, who was trapped in a prison of his own making by the poor and selfish choices he made in life. My guess is that most of us can find a little of ourselves in both of these examples… for me, I have more in common with Samson than I want to admit. But it is not too late… not for any of us. The callings of God are without repentance (Romans 11:29), and the horizon for our lives remains intact. We still have a destiny to fulfill, and it is not too late for us to get there willingly, walking hand in hand with our Savior. Let’s disregard the lies that have told us the game is over… the mission is far from complete. As a matter of fact… I think we are just getting started.

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