“...if there is a god, then I’m prepared to stand before him and tell him what a careless, negligent, unloving father he is to let us behave as we do. He should have been more forthcoming with the thunderbolts and the smiting.” - Mortal Dictata, page 489
This paragraph in the final installment of the Kilo-Five Trilogy made me stop and think. "If God is good, why does he allow suffering in the world?" is a question I have heard time and time again. I've heard pastors seeking to answer it, and I've felt it tearing from my own throat. Since this Question has come up so explicitly in my favorite franchise, I decided that I want to address it and my beliefs about it here and through a lens I've come to know rather well: Christianity.
I certainly am not expecting to drill God about the injustices of the Halo Universe. Those were literally of our own making. However, there are other injustices in the real world that line up quite nicely. The Human-Covenant War can looked at as genocide or a Crusade. The Spartan Program matches up with human trafficking and unethical scientific practices. The plot of the Kig-Yar to make Unggoy sterile sounds an awful lot like eugenics.
These are not counting injustices that can be committed by a single individual either - rape, murder, theft, kidnapping. The list goes on. So, where is he? This God that is supposed to be there, enforcing his just rule? Where is he when children are sold to anyone who can pay for their pleasure? Where is he when a thief destroys another’s livelihood? Where was he when people were lead to concentration camps, to gas chambers? Where was he when my friend died from cancer?
If he is all powerful and good, why hasn’t he stopped any of this?
That’s the Question.
I could point to instances, both in the Bible and in real life, “Look here! Look here! This here is sixty-six tons of straight up, H-E-spewing dee-vine intervention!” but that only raises more questions. Why here and not there? The Lord working in “mysterious ways” has certainly lost its satisfaction as an answer. I would call it insulting and offensive, as if this God wanted you, the world, or your loved one to suffer. Where is the “For God so loved the world - John 3:16” signs when you need them? Let’s picket that God’s house, not a football game.
The answer to the Question is something that I do not know in full. If I did, I would not have found myself screaming at God in the middle of the night, demanding him to explain himself. However, I do know part of it - it has to do with authority.
We Christians like to talk about God as powerful, but we often forget about authority. Power is the ability to make things happen. Authority is the ability to command things to happen. Let me provide a few examples.
In “The Return,” the Shipmaster had the power (by way of battlecrusier) to glass the planet, but he did not do so without the Prophet’s decree. The Prophet has authority.
In Halo 2, Master Chief had the power to launch himself and a bomb onto a Covenant cruiser, but waited until Admiral Lord Hood, who had the authority, to give the go ahead.
So let’s run with the idea that God has both power and authority. At first glance, that seems only to compound the issue as to why hasn’t he been changing things about. However, at one point, he deferred that authority. To us.
“The God said ‘Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness; let them have domain over the the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’” - Genesis 1:26
“‘Pardon me, sir,’ the Chief said. ‘I must point out that while you are the ranking officer, I am on a classified mission of the highest priority. My orders come directly from High Command.’
“‘Meaning,’ John continued, ‘I have tactical command of this crew, these ships...and you. Sir.’” - First Stike (2003 print), page 50
From “Highest Command,” humanity was given tactical command of this earth. Like Haverson, the ranking officer from First Strike, God did not breach that (though we never had tactical command of him). That is not to say that our actions are not without consequence; Polaski, Haverson, and Locklear were all lost under Chief’s command. Every injustice was an act of our dominion on this earth, and we have a responsibility to take for it. Master Chief had to take responsibility of failing the mission or compromising important intelligence throughout the mission. He was responsible for his men and his actions. If you read the reprinted edition of First Strike, there is a transcript debriefing Frederic-104 in which this responsibility is seen.
But like the Flood popping up in the middle of the Human-Covenant War, there is a third party in play; the guy called Satan. He wants the authority that was given to us, but he cannot take it by force. He tried, once; staging a coup against God and was subsequently kicked out of heaven for it.
Consider for a moment Contact Harvest. The Minister of Fortitude, the Vice Minister of Tranquility, and the Philologist could not simply take control from the current Hierarchs - their authority would not be recognized or respected. They had to go through the proper paths before they became Truth, Regret, and Mercy. Well, the proper paths along with some blackmailing, manipulation, and lies. That’s how Satan works - manipulation and lies to have us hand the authority to him.
“And the devil said to him, “All this authority I will give you, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish.’” - Luke 4:6
Recap: God has all the power and authority, gave us the authority, and we passed it to Satan.
So where does that leave us? Responsible.
There’s been an argument going on through the Halo Wiki forums: Lasky is sorta responsible for anything bad happening now (referring to his response to the order for Halsey’s execution). A lot of good points have been made agreeing and disagreeing with this statement and as well as a long lateral discussion about whether or not Palmer is a good character. Through all those posts, one in particular stood out to me:
“The Chain of Command still has to be adhered to. Captain Lasky is Commander Palmer's immediate superior. If Admiral Osman had ordered Palmer specifically, that would be a different story, but she didn't. The fault lies with both of them. Palmer for disregarding an order, and Lasky for not asserting his authority.” (used with permission from user SgtSmoothy)
Dr. Halsey was in the custody of Sangheili zealot Jul ‘Mdama. Admiral Osman had ordered Captain Lasky to kill Halsey, but he did not follow through, so Commander Palmer decided to do it for him. She ignored Lasky’s orders to stand down, so he sent Majestic to rescue Halsey before Palmer could kill her. The end result was that ‘Mdama ended up with Halsey and half of an important Forerunner artifact, and Halsey became vengeful against the UNSC. Both Lasky and Palmer share the responsibility for that, as pointed out by SgtSmoothy.
Like Lasky, we hold the responsibility for the world being messed up and handing authority to Satan and thus are punishable for it. Unlike Palmer, Satan’s not going to stretch the truth for us in front of Osman/God to cover our backs. If anything, he’ll stretch it to cover his own.
Here at this point, I would like to bring this down from high-brow (or at least as high-brow as is possible for me) into the personal. No one likes being told that they are responsible for something wrong, especially if they didn’t do it. If you come up to me, someone who has avoided pornography like the plague and is holding off on sex until marriage, and say “You are responsible for the sex-trafficking of children!” you may end up with a mouthful of knuckles. If I tell a rape survivor that they are responsible for being assaulted, someone had better come along and punch me. So let me clarify what I mean when I say that we are responsible for the world’s mess.
I have never murdered anyone. I have never raped anyone. I have stolen maybe three things of chocolate from a roommate. I have lied about reading/writing fanfiction and about how much I have gotten done on homework.
I have been a bully. In elementary school, I used to play with younger kids merely to revel in the fact that I was better than them. One of the parents was a single mom who needed a breather every once in a while and wanted her child to grow up loved. My actions merely compounded upon her and her son’s difficulties.
I was a coward. In middle school, I ignored bullying that was happening around me to others, even when my heart, mind, and God were all telling me to make a stand. I watched a friend from elementary school walk down the hallway, followed by another boy who mocked his every step. I did nothing. I said nothing.
I have objectified others. In college, I met weekly with a wonderful woman from Korea to answer her questions about God. However, because I was uneasy about the cultural differences and not willing to make an effort, I stopped treating her like a person and instead like another slot in my schedule.
I have abandoned friends in their times of need. I have let anger compound against people and turned others against them.
I don’t care that these actions were not against nation-spread of people. I still detracted from Levi’s worth. From Ahyoung’s. From Laura’s. From Emma’s. From Brandon’s, Jason’s, and Troy’s. From Maria’s and from a young boy and his mother whose names I have long forgotten. I looked them in the eyes and all but told them that they were worth nothing.
I may not be murderer, but I still have damaged others. And it is small damages like these that build the foundation for a world of sex-trafficking and genocide.
Recap no. 2: While we may have handed authority over to Satan, we are still responsible for the injustices in this world, no matter how small those injustices may be.
Well, that’s awfully nice of God, you may be thinking, to just let us wreck each other. Definitely aiming for negligent on this guy!
Not quite, I would reply to my hypothetical reader. Have you heard of the Jews?
So way back in time, after God had given us authority and we had really messed things up and tossed it over to Satan, God decided to create a nation unto himself. He selected a fellow named Abram, changed his name to Abraham (because names are important; ask any Sangheili), and said, “Hey, follow my lead and I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; And you shall be a blessing.” - Genesis 12:2
The idea behind Abraham and his descendants (the Jews, Hebrews, Israelites) was to create a nation that would follow God’s lead and thus reclaim authority from Satan and help to restore justice to the world. God promised that if they would follow him and him alone, not the gods of the nations and tribes around them, he would bless them and their nation would grow. As a result, the surrounding nations would recognize their strength and turn to this God who carried a message of love and justice.
Kinda like how the Brony community sky-rocketed. Sorry, wrong franchise. Let’s move to the correct one for an illustration.
The Human-Forerunner war was caused by Humanity fighting and fleeing the Flood. At a certain point, the tide turned in favor of the Forerunners and the Didact de-evolved humanity back to the stone age. However, just before then, humanity had discovered a way to eradicate the Flood, once and for all. That information was lost as they reverted. So the Librarian manipulated their genes, ensuring that one day humanity would evolve to discover again how to destroy the Flood.
Recap no. 3: Like the Librarian setting up the long-term goal to end the Flood through humanity, God was setting up a goal through Israel to reclaim authority and restore justice to the world through humanity.
It says “Christianity” in the title of this blog. You all knew I had to go here at some point.
When things took a massive turn downhill, it’s clear that God didn’t just give Satan the boot and take authority back by force. Why? Same reason why Satan, far more powerful than any human, had to weasel and manipulate his way around to get the authority. The authority belonged to humans.
Let’s pop over to The Cole Protocol for an example from the Sangheili. When we first meet the most incredibly awesome character in Halo, in any game, in any franchise, in all of science fiction, and in all of fiction.... whoa. Sorry. My fangirl is showing. Let me restart.
In The Cole Protocol, we first meet Thel ‘Vadamee the morning after his rise to kaidon. He is now the ultimate authority in his keep. As is tradition, a team of assassins are sent to kill him by an Elder who does not think he is the best choice for a leader. Of course Thel dispatches the assassins like the boss he is and calls up a meeting of the Elders to root out the dissident.
What is key to note about this is that Koida, the Elder in question, would not have become kaidon, nor would any of the assassins even if their mission been successful. At least not merely because they had killed Thel. Whoever would be kaidon next would still have to go through the election process and likely an assassination attempt for their authority to be recognized.
If God wanted to take back authority, he would have to do so through the rules that he set up. That’s where a virgin and her carpenter fiance come into play; God was going to become human.
After Mary, a Hebrew virgin, had agreed to carry the son of God, she became pregnant with Jesus, also called Immanuel which means “God with us.” She and her fiance, later husband Jacob raised Jesus and protected him as a babe and a child. Jesus grew and lived his life as a human without contributing to the mess around him. The small, everyday injustices he did not take part in.
He was never a bully. He did not revel in being better than others, but encouraged and challenged those who were falling short. He stood up for the social outcast. He did not stand by as others were persecuted. He forgave Roman soldiers who had trod upon his people, the Jews, and healed them too. He loved the Samaritans who his people looked down upon, and healed them. He fed the hungry, he healed the sick, and he honored the poor.
But Satan still had the authority. Not over Jesus, but over the world.
“Then the devil, taking him (Jesus) up on a high mountain, showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to him, “All this authority I will give you, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if you will worship before me, all will be yours.’” - Luke 4:5-7
At the beginning of Jesus’ years teaching the strayed Israel about God’s will, Satan pulled him off to one side and said, “Hey, I know what you are after. Look, you submit yourself to my authority, and you can have the world back, ‘kay?”
In Halo 3’s level Cortana, the Gravemind does something similar with John-117. The Flood knows that John is here for Cortana and lets him know that she’s suffering hardcore. He then growls “Submit! End her suffering and my own!” essentially telling John that he can’t really rescue her, so why not just let her die? Of course that will also benefit the Flood too. Same thing with Satan’s little gambit.
Fortunately for Cortana and us, neither John nor Jesus decided to accept the offer. Jesus yelled scripture at Satan, and John yelled shotgun shells at the Flood.
Unfortunately there was something else in the way regarding the restoration of all authority (and thus justice). Humanity was still responsible for the way the world was, for handing it to Satan and for destroying each other. For laying that foundation of hatred and discrimination. And like a court martial for a soldier abandoning his or her post, there was to be punishment for this.
In fact, Jesus was the only one who did not add to that foundation. He was the only one who followed orders to the letter from High Command. He was the only one safe from a court martial.
Here the court martial metaphor starts to fall apart, so I’ll be taking from again from Halo. Halo 2 was built around three lines - “The cable. I’m going to cut it.”; “I am a monument to all your sins.”; and “Only blood will pay for this.” The last was left on the cutting floor along with two other levels. It was to refer to the betrayal of Miranda Keyes, who would sell the Master Chief out to the Covenant to take revenge for her father’s death. Whether the “this” in the quote referred to Jacob’s death or Miranda’s betrayal, I do not know.
Nevertheless, there is still something to be gained from the “Only blood will pay for this.” A Sangheili says something similar when you are playing as the Arbiter after the Jiralhanae and Prophet’s betrayal; “The Brutes have spilled our brother’s blood. For that they must pay.”
Be it referring to Miranda, Jacob, or the Brutes and the Prophets, the line has to deal with broken trust and a misuse of authority. Only blood can pay.
In the case of humanity and the suffering of our world, this is very true. Only blood, only death can pay for what we’ve done. In order to fulfill that payment, Jesus chose to die the death of a criminal. Unlike the statues we see in churches and on necklaces, the cross was not an elegant way to die.
Nails were driven through your wrists/hands and ankles/feet. You were propped up on a hilltop, completely at the mercy of the elements. To breath, you would have to lift yourself up by your shattered wrists and push with your shattered ankles because hanging you would suffocate under your own weight. If weather did not permit watchers to stay out until all were dead, soldiers would break the criminal’s legs so that they could not lift themselves to breathe anymore.
Jesus chose this. He chose to die as the lowest of humanity, who had already dug themselves pretty low, without deserving it. And by claiming that punishment as a human, he took back authority from Satan.
God then raising Jesus from the dead was a proclamation of reclamation. He wasn’t here to just take back authority - he was here to renew the world and humanity. He was here to restore justice.
Recap no. 4: God came as a human to reclaim authority from Satan. He did so by acting with justice and love throughout all his days and then took the punishment for all injustice and hatred by dying as a criminal. His resurrection from the dead indicated that justice would be restored to the world.
And that still doesn’t answer why injustice exists today.
Remember that time when Thel ‘Vadam killed the Prophet of Truth and the Covenant collapsed, never to reform? Yeah. Those were good days. Too bad Jul ‘Mdama decided to jump-start the whole thing again with the backing of an actual Forerunner.
Just as ‘Mdama insisted that the war with humanity was not over, Satan is in denial of his defeat. He’s still latching onto places of authority wherever humans give him leave. Humanity themselves are still abusing their own authority. I can even point to the church for examples.
But Jesus still made a difference. He brought hope. He reclaimed authority; he is the ultimate authority over the earth and things can get better. We are no longer stuck in an infinite loop of suffering - there is a way out. Things will get better.
Injustice exists, but we can be stronger than it.
Like I said before, this is not the full answer. I don’t know the full answer. I’m still learning. But these were my thoughts. Care to share yours?