Politics is a weird sandwich. Ideally, it should have a specific mixture of condiments, meats, vegetables, and bread to make it worth investing into. Practically…it depends. A lot of the time you end up with horseradish instead of mayo, cabbage in place of lettuce, and sourdough when you really wanted pumpernickel. Okay, while politics might not actually be a sandwich, it’s kind of similar: sometimes what you get out isn’t want you expected to be put in. But sometimes what seems like a bad combo ends up turning out better than you expected: like putting ketchup on eggs. Good things can come from seemingly bad circumstances, but can good things come from doing bad?
I’ve been working through my Steam library this summer, trying to actually invest time in these different game experiences, and recently I’ve been playing Dishonored. For the uninitiated, Dishonored is a first-person RPG that drops you into the stealthy soles of Corvo, a master assassin trying to take back a kingdom in chains. With a vast array of weapons and skills, you sneak, slice, and shoot your way past enemies, getting closer and closer to your end goal.
As cool a one-man killing machine like Corvo is, he wasn’t always that way. Originally, he was the bodyguard of the former Empress Jessamine and her daughter Emily. Framed for Jessamine’s murder and with Emily imprisoned, Corvo’s motivation is primarily one of protection and restoration, yet even he is uncomfortable with the path he must take. As one of his allies informs him “sometimes good men have to do bad things to make the world right”.
Which got me thinking of a certain long-haired, chip-eating Japanese teen.
Death Note, and Light in particular, seems to spend a lot of time wrestling with this idea. Can good people do bad things in service to a greater good? Or rather: is it okay to do bad things as long as the end result is good?
The answer to this question hinges on how we define our terms. If “good” is defined as “the best possible outcome for all involved”, then an argument can be made for Light’s point of view. After all, killing criminals with the Death Note made the world a safer place, right? These were bad people: people unworthy of love or the chance to repent. They deserved to die. Right?
The thing about limited human beings playing God is that we tend to overlook the tapestry for the cool threads in the corner. Sure, using the Death Note wholesale as Light intended might usher in a new era of peace, but only because the people lived in fear. After all, Light seemed to have few restrictions on people he deemed “criminal”, who’s to say he might start striking down the odd penny-thief or jaywalker?
One can argue that Light made sure only to strike down criminals caught by law enforcement, and that is a fair point, but the principle of the matter is still faulty. By reaching so far, he holds himself to a standard so high that he falls to the level of the very criminals he seeks to destroy. Light recognizes his folly, but writes it off as a noble sacrifice to be made for the good of humanity. Losing himself to save the world…isn’t that what a hero would do? Why is Light wrong?
The crux of Light’s folly dwells in the fact that his outlook is limited. He has no idea how the use of the Note could affect those in more areas than specifically around him, a weakness that L takes advantage of time and time again. As much as he wants to be God, Light simply isn’t. False idols may charm and entice, but in the end they too are hollow, much like Light’s ideologies. Even Light could not escape an unholy death wrought by the book he once claimed as his own. The power he sought to rule the world turned against him, and he too was undone.
So what’s the takeaway here? What’s the big idea? Is it that doing bad things is bad no matter what? Trying to play God always leads to ruin? While each of those is true in their own right, the matter really boils down to one of perspective. Light had noble intentions to begin with, yet due to his limited perspective, he couldn’t fully understand what the effects of his actions would be. Misunderstanding led to misguided actions, climaxing in a broken family, a broken system, and a broken man, killed by his own ego.
Punishment can’t change the heart. No amount of fear or pain can undo a man’s inner convictions. Impossible standards may bring followers close to their imagined god, but their agony only worsens the harder they try. Where Light lost the battle due to his humanity, as a believer in Christ, I know that the battle against evil has already been won, through Christ. The perfect union between God and man allowed Him to experience both perspectives fully: both of the injustice and pain of humanity and the holiness and justice of Godhood. He truly can “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Heb 4:15), and He provides the strength we need to keep going, despite this cruel world.
Where Light allowed his feelings of injustice to fuel his campaign against evil, our love for God and His love for us is what motivates us to push back against the darkness in our own world. Rather than fighting fire with fire, we fight hatred with love, defeat misunderstanding with patience, and destroy deceit with the truth. Our new, true perspective allows us to experience the world the way God intended, and in doing so we share this heart-changing love to the rest of the world. The battle is won, justice will be done, and in the end love truly does win.