Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Silent Hill 2 and thoughts on Hell

"In my restless dreams, I see that town. Silent Hill. You promised you'd take me there again someday. But you never did. Well, I'm alone there now... In our 'special place'... Waiting for you..."

I’ve already written a short review of Silent Hill 2, but after consideration, I believe that the game deserves more analysis. Many people seem to think that video games cannot fundamentally be art, that they’re just children’s playthings. Put simply, this is not true and is slander to the hardworking developers of this 40 year industry. Direct proof of this is Silent Hill 2 alone. As I’ve said, this is the only game to ever make me cry.

SH2 begins with James Sunderland getting a letter from his wife. There’s just one problem: his wife died of a sickness years ago. It must be a trick, right? But it was in her handwriting… It said to meet her in their special place, Silent Hill.

When James arrives, everything is filled with fog, but more sinister than that are the monsters that hide in it. Pyramid Head, a creature wrought out of hellfire itself stalks James with a giant cleaver. What’s going on in this town? It’s not a nightmare, though it should be.

After narrowly escaping death on numerous occasions, James finds himself in a hotel… the same hotel that he and Mary stayed in. It’s here that he finds a videotape with his name on it… so he plays it. James watches the screen in horror as he sees himself strangling his own wife in a hospital bed. Finally, he realizes what he’s repressed subconsciously: That he murdered Mary.

Soon after, he accepts what he’s done, and he also realizes what Pyramid Head’s true symbolism is: James’ punishment of himself. James then speaks to Pyramid Head, saying “I was weak… that's why I needed you… I needed someone to punish me for my sins… but that's all over now. I know the truth. Now it's time to end this.” Silent Hill was James’ personal Hell.

After conquering his demons, James is then briefly reunited with his beloved Mary. James, in tears, tells Mary that he killed her because he wanted his life back. Mary lovingly says to him, “James, if that were true, then why do you look so sad?” She forgives him, and tells James to go on with his life. This scene profoundly touched me.

Honestly, SH2 is not merely a fantastic story, it also touches on many spiritual questions. The central ones being salvation and Hell. Let me preface what I’m about to talk about with this: I am not a theologian, pastor, or an expert of any kind. That being said, I do wonder about Heaven and Hell quite a bit as a Christian.

What I’ve neglected to mention so far is that there were actually two other people that Silent Hill beckoned. One was a man who was badly bullied named Eddie. The other was a young woman named Angela, who was raped by both her father and brother as a child. The two of them later committed sins against their abusers. Eddie shot a football player who made fun of him, while Angela stabbed her father and brother to death. James encounters both of them, and they sadly choose damnation over salvation. James rescues Angela in one part of the game, but it proves to be in vain as she chooses to walk up a burning staircase. Her last words to James show her acceptance of being in Silent Hill, “Or maybe, you think you can save me. Will you love me? Take care of me? Heal all my pain? ...[Hmph]...That's what I thought."

I bring all this up to highlight our understanding of Hell. I just sincerely doubt that most people truly understand what it’s like to be in absolute agony. I can attest, as someone who struggles daily with severe, suicidal depression, that it is Hell. I do believe that a literal, physical Hell does exist. I also believe that some will not be saved. However, I just don’t accept that Christendom’s traditional understanding of the Inferno is accurate.

I believe the Bible reveals that God’s central attribute, above all else, is love. Above sovereignty, holiness, wrath, and whatever else you can think of. A predominantly wrathful God would not save a sinful humanity from what we deserve… only an overwhelming love would do that. As John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

So, I view with skepticism this centrally Calvinist soteriology that permeates the church. At bottom, I do think that we as Christians can make progress. Clearly, this is true from social justice standards by abolishing slavery. It is also true scientifically, by shedding light on how the Earth orbits the Sun and not vice-versa. It’s even shown to be true theologically, by Martin Luther splitting from the historic Catholic Church.

When I play Silent Hill 2, and weep at the sight of such grace offered by Mary, a video game character, I can only imagine how much more God delights in loving His children. Does God’s love really stop at the grave? Is it possible that some of those who die in sin can be redeemed even in Hell? I don’t know… but it’s worth thinking about.

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