|Every few years some cultural event comes along that should remind us that we are different and American culture does not understand much of what we say. I remember the 1970s noise about Jesus Christ, Superstar, a Broadway musical that gave us catchy tunes and a tragic, martyred Christ who remained in the tomb. Some Christians really appreciated the attention and others were troubled by the false, at least incomplete, gospel the musical presented.
In the 1980s director Martin Scorsese offered us a brooding, wavering Christ who dreamed while hanging on the cross of having a family with Mary Magdalene in The Last Temptation of Christ. Some Christians considered the dream sequence blasphemous; others really hoped it would be a “discussion starter.”
Maybe a similar event for the 2000s is the release of a video game based loosely on the Left Behind book series. Left Behind is a fictionalized interpretation of events during the Great Tribulation of Revelation 6 and following. The video game obtained rights from Tyndale House Publishers and goes a bit beyond what Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins were willing to suggest in their novels.
In Left Behind: Eternal Forces the kingdom of God seems to go forward by the sword. The game allows a player to do battle in New York City as either a player/strategist for the Antichrist or for the forces of righteousness, the “Tribulation Force.” The promo promises that the players can use main battle tanks and a whole selection of modern weapons in play. We’re told that the violence will be on a level similar to Star Wars?not explicitly gruesome but obviously lethal. Prayer and angelic interventions are secret weapons to restore demoralized soldiers and turn the tide of battle.
One reporter says part of their marketing plan will be to mail games to pastors and church leaders, obviously hoping to get their support in encouraging Christian parents to buy it for their kids. I can hear the familiar dithering again, “Of course it’s unbiblical but it might get people thinking about God and the Bible.”
I don’t hate video games. There have been some that hooked me for a time. My favorite was a Civil War game that allowed army-sized groups to re-fight major battles of that war. The game gave no play to the moral and political realities of the war. It made no representation of the personal righteousness of generals or common soldiers. It was about field position, morale, technology, and numbers. I spent too much time at it but did play occasionally.
This game sounds different. There are three groups left after the Rapture in the game scheme as I understand it: the Tribulation Force (devout converts since the Rapture), the neutral (lost people?), and the forces of Antichrist. The strategy is to send the righteous into battle, convert the neutral, and kill the forces of Antichrist. Those who don’t convert to one side must be killed by the other.
It gives me chills. As serious as something like the Civil War was and as discussable as eschatology might be, this game sounds like far more than a fantasy game and far less than a theological conversation starter. It treats ultimate things in some fairly absurd ways.
I think there are some good reasons we might want to be more discerning this time around.
First, it teaches falsehood. I don’t mean fantasy or speculation but it teaches things about the nature of God and reality that are not true. A game has to have some tension?there must be the possibility that you can lose. If the two main forces are the wholly righteous and the wholly evil, the final outcome is not really in doubt. That is the confidence of a Christian. There is also no example of a battle or war lost by God. In 2 Kings 19, God killed 185,000 Assyrians without a human army. The 300 men of Gideon (Judges 8) defeated Midian, apparently without fighting. Gideon only had 300 guys because God didn’t want anyone to mistakenly think that Gideon’s army won the battle. The truth would make a poor video game — you line your forces up against the computer-generated Philistines, hit “play” and they all surrender.