Christians are weird. I don’t just mean in the way that Christians act or speak, but in our beliefs. We claim to serve one God, but we’re often divided as to how we serve Him. We have one Bible, but our interpretations of it vary wildly from denomination to denomination. In fact, why do we have denominations anyway when we’re supposed to be united in Christ? A huge smorgasbord of people and ideas, the Christian faith can look really confusing from the outside, often leading to questions that we may or may not be so willing to answer. Is God real? What is faith? How do I know I’m saved? All these are essential to the life of the believer, and each of these forms the core of our faith. Unanswered questions lead to a shaky foundation, a sentiment shared by Farnesse, leader of the Holy Chain Knights in the world of Berserk. Let’s answer some questions, shall we?
One of the most anticipated series of the summer 2016 season, Berserk has earned itself both fans and haters due to the use of CGI animation, and time will tell the legacy it will leave when all is said and done. As far as epic fantasy stories go, the Berserk franchise is a legend among otaku, and as a longtime lover of well-written fantasy, I was very interested in joining and understanding the hype. So far, the show seems to hold up: an established world, characters with their own motivation, action-packed fight scenes, and overall a veneer of the story hiding more than it reveals. Guts, the main character, is a man on the run. Pursued by demons, haunted by past mistakes, and wielding a sword much too large for a normal man, Guts is basically a medieval Batman who has no qualms about killing his enemies.
Guts in and of himself could serve as a parallel to a Christian haunted by past guilt and alienating himself, but a better example is seen in the character Farnesse. Appearing in the second episode, she and her Holy Chain Knights capture Guts under the orders of the Holy See, an order of monks(?). Wanting to understand him better before delivering him over to the Order, Farnesse begins to interrogate Guts, accuse him of being a heretic, and ordering him to “confess his sins”. In response, Guts questions her own faith in God, and makes tough points about the reality of those who claim to seek Him in their world.
This first question that Guts asks directly goes for the root of Farness’ claims: does she truly believe in what she claims to? Does she actually try to live her life in a way that accepts that forces of ultimate Good and ultimate Evil exist, and align herself with Good? That kind of question probes the root of our worldview, which determnes the way we will live our lives: either in service to a higher power, or to ourselves. The Bible reveals that even those who don’t believe in God still follow their conscience and follow God’s natural Law, as “they show the work of the Law written in their hearts” (Rom 2:15). Sinful humans still understand on some base level that God is real and that He does work, but our sin causes us to push ourselves away from Him, to try to hide behind our science or our morals.
Guts’ next question hits even harder than the first, as he directly questions Farnesse’s core beliefs. Note that he doesn’t ask if she’s seen God, but if she’s met Him. Guts asks her if she’s ever seen God truly work in her life, if she’s been the firsthand reciepient of His power or glory. Christians know that God reveals Himself through His Word, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the influence of events and other believers in our lives, but Farnesse answers Guts in a way that begins to show the chinks in her armor. She rightly states that God doesn’t manifest on Earth very easily and that He is always with us through our faith. Good stuff, and surprisingly true for a fictional church in an anime, but Farnesse’s emotions throughout this segment indicate that she’s having trouble believing in it herself:
Guts then goes full force, knocking aside her “Sunday school” answer as he relates the story of how a nobleman once said the same as he burned a village down with its women and children. Guts’ story asks one of the hardest questions: why don’t those who claim to know God act as benevolent as they claim He is, or that He wants them to be? As Christians, we are charged to be ambassadors for Christ, but when our practice doesn’t line up with what we preach, those who observe our claims and actions won’t be very convinced. Guts’ reaction is one shared by many who don’t believe: he believes that the God the so-called Church serves is a useless one, an “empty decoration” used to justify the owner’s actions.
This hits Farnesse hard, to the point where she whips at Guts in a rage, screaming that she will make him spill his secrets. Guts’ last barb goes straight to the heart of Farnesse as a person. As the Commander of the Holy Iron Chain Knights, Farnesse feels the weight of responsibility as tries hard to live up to It, using her position and the backing of the Church to gain respect amongst her peers. Recognizing this, Guts hits her where it hurts the most as he reveals to her why she does what she does: inside, she feels empty. This pushes Farnesse over the edge as she whips Guts in a blind rage, only stopping as her soldiers arrive to investigate the noise. Later we see Farnesse reflecting on Guts’ words, resorting to self-flagellation as a form of penance for her unbelief.
As the sun rises and sets, questions must be asked and answered. Farnesse didn’t seem to have any substantial answers, but what of the Christian? How do we know that God is real? He reveals Himself through His Creation (Rom 1:20), He works through His people (Gal 2:20), and He gives believers the Holy Spirit in order to live a godly life (2 Cor 1:22). Our God is not an empty decoration, but rather we are His empty vessels (2 Tim 2:20-21) that He uses to accomplish His purposes. Through His working in us, we find purpose (2 Tim 1:9), giving us true satisfaction. We have assurance of our salvation (Rom 8:16), and unlike Farnesse, we don’t have to worry about keeping our salvation through works because our salvation is assured (Tit 3:4) through the mercy of God and our faith in Christ.
The Christian walk is not unlike wearing fireproof clothing. The protective gear doesn’t prevent the fire from coming, but enables you to endure it. In the same way, our faith in God doesn’t stop doubt or temptation from appearing, but rather it gives us the ability to withstand it. By Christ’s power, the war is already won. Our trouble lies in the little battles. Yet through it all, He provides us with His power and strength, so we don’t have to fear.