NOTE: This article was originally published on GameChurch. It is solely the author’s intention to re-publish it on Theology Gaming for compilation purposes.
“Remember when he told Abraham to sacrifice his son?” the child asked the crucified Jesus. “Abraham was just about to kill the boy with his knife when God stopped him. So, if he saved Abraham’s son, don’t you think he’d want to save his own?”
If you have seen Martin Scorsese’s film, The Last Temptation of Christ, you would remember its iconic moment when Satan, masquerading as the youthful guardian angel, successfully deceived Jesus away from accomplishing his work on the cross. Though wounded, the Savior was literally saved from his death and continued on with his life, leaving mankind deprived of the salvation that God had planned to bestow unto the lost.
It is one thing for a man to be willing to sacrifice himself for a great cause, yet another to be able to do so without being deterred by those around him. In this hypothetical rendition, Jesus was led astray by a crafty enemy. However, it got me thinking about the other people related to the historical event, particularly those who were close to the Saviour and truly loved him. Were they actually supportive of Jesus in his mission of atonement? And for ourselves: If a loved one is convinced of giving up life for the benefit of many, would we be glad for the opportunity to share in the noble journey? Or would we simply stand in the way?
As a video game set in a world long devastated by a zoonotic cordyceps infection, The Last of Us also delivers a similar circumstance between its leading characters. The duo consists of Ellie, the teenager who possessed full immunity against the fungal contagion, and Joel, the experienced survivor tasked with escorting the girl across a dangerous country in order to locate a group of people (Fireflies) with the means to concoct a vaccine based on her unique condition.
Earlier on, Joel was only concerned with getting the job over and done with. But as time passed, he began to care about Ellie, and to hold her as dear as the daughter he lost twenty years ago at the outbreak of the pandemic. “We don’t have to do this,” Joel said at one point. This reminded me of Peter, the disciple of Jesus, who rejected the idea that the Saviour’s life must be surrendered for the sake of the world. Jesus confronted him by saying, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me.”1
Even with good intentions, Peter’s attempt of misdirecting the Saviour’s path was serious enough to be considered the will of the enemy. For Ellie, the suggestion made by Joel was just as astonishing. It was the “last temptation” of her situation. Joel, on the other hand, revealed that he didn’t mind leaving humanity in our doom, as long as they could be together. This prompted Ellie to reflect on their sufferings and transgressions — the lives that were lost because of them, the sacrifices that were made for the cause. “It can’t be for nothing,” she said before pressing on, determined to do whatever it took to return the world to its former glory (the likes of which she had never seen due to her age). Perhaps like Peter, Joel thought that he was doing his beloved companion a favour by offering a way out; but frankly, the favour was for himself.
The real test came when they finally arrived at their destination. After an unfortunate accident and a misunderstanding, Joel regained consciousness inside a hospital room where he was told by Marlene, the leader of the Fireflies, that Ellie was being prepped for brain surgery — one that would leave her dead, but was necessary in the process of creating a cure. Admittedly, it was sad that Joel didn’t get the chance to say goodbye properly, but there was no excuse for what he did next. He slaughtered his way through the building and into the operation room, murdering even the medical personnel. He then snatched Ellie away from the bed on which she was to deliver the salvation that the world desperately needed. If only Ellie had been awake to talk some sense into him.
When Peter started waving his weapon around as soldiers arrived for the arrest of Jesus, he was commanded to stop immediately. “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”2 The Savior was quick to rebuke in this crucial instant, resolute in fulfilling what must be done. A great relief, to say the least. The same cannot be said about how The Last of Us progressed.
Right before departing the facility, Joel got caught off guard by Marlene. She could have killed him there and then, but decided to give the person who protected the young girl along her journey one more chance. “It’s what Ellie would want,” she said in sincerity, while lowering her weapon. “You can still do the right thing here. She won’t feel anything.” Marlene’s plea and misplaced trust got her nothing but bullets in reply. Joel decided to keep at the path that he had chosen.
It isn’t easy to let go of a loved one, for any reason. But at times we would do well to remember that love means support, even if it leads to the forfeit of life. It was definitely not an easy lesson for Joel, given that Ellie essentially renewed his meaning of existence. While searching for an exit out of the building, he carried Ellie in his arms and comforted her like his baby girl, which hearkened back to the prologue scene when he carried his own daughter, looking to save her but eventually couldn’t. He hadn’t really cared about whether anyone lived or died since the tragedy, but now he felt that he had someone to fight for. Still, he neglected to respect Ellie and her altruistic desires. It couldn’t have been easy for her, too. Even Jesus struggled with giving up his life, as he prayed earnestly for the strength to face the cross, to the point where “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”3 Again, we should remember that if we have love, the best expression of it in cases like these is the offer of support. Don’t take it from Peter (and all the other disciples), who let Jesus down by provoking violence or dozing off in the hour that the Savior longed for encouragement. And don’t take it from Joel, who single-handedly sabotaged everything for realizing his own dream.
Clinging on by force blesses no one. The subsequent epilogue scene exposed the inevitable need for Joel to deceive Ellie from the moment she questioned about the events that transpired. Despite the appearance of a relatively peaceful life ahead, the maintenance of their relationship was dependent on lies. Meanwhile, the future of our species looked bleaker than ever.
At least now I fully understand why the game was given the title The Last of Us.
- Matthew 16:23 (NIV).
- John 18:11 (NIV).
- Luke 22:44 (NIV).