In my previous blog post, “Super Hero Theodicies” I talked about how some of the most popular contemporary super hero movies provide some powerful illustrations to arguments against The Problem Of Evil. In this blog post, I will be looking at illustrations we can draw on from anime. In case you don’t know, anime are Japanese animated television shows. They come in a wide variety of genres and different shows are targeted at different age groups. Some are 4Kids (see what I did there?) and others have too much violence to be suitable for anyone under 15.
It’s always fun to make pop culture references when doing apologetics. I have a chance to get nerdy and talk about my favorite fictional characters from movies, TV shows, comic books, etc. while also making a very serious point. Places I’ve done this in the past were in blog posts like “Daleks, Davros, and The Moral Argument” and “Shiny Pokemon and A Finely Tuned Universe”.
Unlike in “Super Hero Thodicies”, where Doctor Strange’s inability to actualize a future in which The Avengers beat Thanos but doesn’t also involve 5 years of suffering is similar to God’s inability to actualize a feasible world where everyone always does good was taken from Tim Stratton, for example, all of these examples are ones that I came up with. Let’s dive right into it.
Death Note and Total Depravity
This is an anime so popular, Netflix decided to make a terrible whitewashed version of it. Death Note is a series about an extremely intelligent 17 year old boy named Light Yagami who one day discovers a notebook on the ground at his high school. It was called a “Death Note” a death god (or shinigami) had recently dropped it. Opening it up, Light Yagami reads instructions on how to use the Death Note. He reads that anyone whose name is written in the Death Note will die. You can right down what their cause of death will be and that event will happen. So, for example, if you write “car accident”, the person will die in a car accident. If you don’t write a cause of death at all, the person will die of a heart attack by default.
Somewhat skeptical and curious, Light decides to test this out. Light does so by writing down the name of a criminal involved in a hostage situation on live TV. Forty seconds later, the criminal dropped dead to Light’s astonishment. “Still not completely convinced it was not a coincidence, Light decides to test the notebook a second time. He decides against killing Sudou, a bully at his school, to avoid killing anyone he actually knows. On his way home from cram school, he sees a motorcycle gang abusing a young woman. Hearing that the leader’s name is Takuo Shibuimaru, Light walks into a shop and writes Takuo’s name in a number of variations, to make sure he spells his name correctly. To further test the notebook, Light writes in the cause of death to be a traffic accident. 40 seconds later, Takuo is struck by a passing truck. Realizing that he has killed two people, Light is violently sick.”1
Later, the shinigami (god of death) Ryuk appears to Light and gives him more information about The Death Note, including the fact that no human who uses the death note can go to Heaven nor Hell for eternity.
Shortly, Light gets an idea. He surveys the immense evil in the world and realizes that just by knowing their names, he can kill them remotely, and thus no one will know he’s behind their deaths, he can rid the world of evil people. Light said “This world is rotting and those who are making it rot deserve to die.” Ryuk tells him that if he goes through with his plan, by the end there will only be one evil person left, to which Light responds “What are you, talking about Ryuk?”
There are some interesting theological truths revealed in this dialogue between Light and Ryuk.
1: The World Is Indeed Rotting and It’s Humanity’s Fault
The problem of evil is actually our fault. If only we humans chose to do good all the time and never chose evil, there wouldn’t be any suffering.2 This world would be a great place to live! The problem of evil is an indictment of the depravity of man. Psalm 14:2-4 says “The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” and Romans 3:23 says “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” After God destroyed evil humanity and The Nephilim abomination with the flood, Noah offered a sacrifice to God. Genesis 8:21 then says “When the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, He said in His heart, “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from his youth. And never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done.” (emphasis mine). Jeremiah 17:9 even says that the human heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Humans are what theologians call “Totally Depraved”. Now, this doesn’t mean we’re all as evil as we can possibly be. Mr. Rogers was obviously a better person that Joseph Stalin, for example. Rather, the doctrine of Total Depravity teaches that every facet of the human person is infected with and affected by sin; our emotions, our wills, our desires, our reason, etc.
This sinful state is so radical that we cannot even turn to God unless God sends us grace (see John 6:44, John 6:65, cf. John 12:32, Acts 16:14). Don’t blame God for the evil in the world; the problem of evil is my fault! Blame me! Also, blame yourself, and everyone you meet. We all contribute to the problem to some degree or other. Some of us contribute more than others (e.g Hitler, Stalin), but we all do our fare share in making this world a terrible place to be.
2: Those Who Are Making The World Rot Deserve To Die.
Light Yagami said “This world is rotting and those who are making it rot deserve to die”. The Apostle Paul would give a hardy amen, for he said exactly the same 2,000 years prior, just using different words. In Romans 6:23a, Paul wrote “For the wages of sin is death”. Sin is an abomination to God, so much so that Habbakuk 1:13 says He cannot bear to even look at it! He is that holy (Matthew 5:48, 1 Peter 1:16). And as a just and righteous judge (, God will execute the death penalty on wicked sinners (Matthew 10:28, Revelation 20:14-15, 2 Thessalonians 1:9).
Fortunately for us, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, so that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” – John 3:16-17
Jesus took the punishment for our sins upon Himself (Isaiah 53, 1 Peter 3:18, 1 Corinthians 15:3). He took our punishment so that we wouldn’t have to. If we place our faith in Him, His blood that He shed at the cross will cleanse us of our sins. For although “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a), “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23b). Because “God shows His love for us in this; while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:28)
3: Life Is Not Ours To Take
When Ryuk told Light that if he wiped out every evil person in the world, (including anyone who might possibly try to stop him) there would be one evil person left; he could have either been referring to the fact that all humanity is evil and he would literally have to wipe humanity off the face of the Earth including himself, or that he would become a murderer. Only God has the right to decide when a person’s time on Earth is over. The Bible says “A man’s days are numbered. [God] knows the number of his months. He cannot live longer than the time [God has] set.” (Job 14:5), and “The Lord giveth and The Lord taketh away” (Job 1:21, JKV). God said “It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them.” (Deuteronomy 32:35 cf. Romans 12:19).
God is the Author of Life, and therefore He has the right to take it as He sees fit. He reserves that prerogative for Himself. He reserves the prerogative to execute vengeance for Himself or a court of law.3 What we are not to do is take matters into our own hands. Vigilante justice is just as much frowned upon in God’s law as it is man’s law.
Death Note beautifully paints the human predicament and reminds us of why God came into our world (John 1:14, Philippians 2:5-8).
Fullmetal Alchemist and Skeptical Theism
Fullmetal Alchemist is a show that takes place in a universe where alchemy is actually a successful science and not the failure it was in our world. As The first movie “Conquerer Of Shambala” explains, it’s because that world has slightly different laws of chemistry. Wikipedia explains that “In this world, alchemy is one of the most-practiced sciences; Alchemists who work for the government are known as State Alchemists (国家錬金術師, Kokka Renkinjutsushi) and are automatically given the rank of Major in the military. Alchemists have the ability, with the help of patterns called Transmutation Circles, to create almost anything they desire. However, when they do so, they must provide something of equal value in accordance with the Law of Equivalent Exchange. The only things Alchemists are forbidden from transmuting are humans and gold. There has never been a successful human transmutation; those who attempt it lose a part of their body and the result is a horrific inhuman mass. Attemptees are confronted by Truth (真理, Shinri), a pantheistic and semi-cerebral God-like being who tauntingly regulates all alchemy use and whose nigh-featureless appearance is relative to the person to whom Truth is conversing with; it is frequently claimed and believed that Truth is a personal God who punishes the arrogant. ……. It is possible to bypass the Law of Equivalent Exchange (to an extent) using a Philosopher’s Stone, a red, enigmatic substance. Philosopher’s Stones can be used to create Homunculi, artificial humans of proud nature. Homunculi have numerous superhuman abilities unique among each other and look down upon all humanity. With the exception of one, they do not age and can only be killed via the destruction of their Philosopher’s Stones.” 4 5
With all this information in mind, this is where our heroes Edward and Alphonse Elric come in. Their father was a skilled alchemist and they themselves intensely studied the books he had. Their father left them one day, leaving their mother, Trisha Elric, to raise them by herself. Trisha fell ill and died. Determined to bring her back, they set up a large transmutation circle and attempt to use alchemy to bring her back to life. The plan backfires and Alphonse is pulled into the gate of truth by freaky-looking black arms. Edward’s right arm and left leg are torn off. In a desperate attempt to save his brother, Ed takes blood from his bleeding right shoulder and uses his left finger to draw a transmutation circle on a nearby suit of armor in order to bind Alphonse’s soul to it. Alphonse, now literally a ghost in a suit of armor, carries Edward to their neighbor’s house. Winry Rockbell, someone who makes advanced prosthetics called automail, uses her skills to make an automail arm and leg for Edward.
After Ed recovers, he and Alphonse set off on a journey to find out how to create a philosopher’s stone so they can use alchemy to get their bodies back (Edward’s arm and leg, and Alphonse’s entire body). To solidify their resolve, they burn down their house before leaving so they would have nothing to return to.
The course of the series would take too long to unpack here (Go watch it yourself! It’s awesome!), so I’ll just cut to the chase. Everything that happened to Ed and Al leads up to them saving a lot of people because the main antagonist (who created a bunch of homunculi minions each named after the 7 deadly sins) was going to absorb a large number of human souls to gain mortality using a city-wide transmutation circle. Had Edward and Alphonse’s mother not died, they never would have been motivated to try to use alchemy to bring her back, and if they hadn’t done that, they wouldn’t have lost their bodies to the realm of “the Truth”, and had they not done that, they wouldn’t have gone off on a journey to figure out how to make a philosopher’s stone to get their bodies back. And if they hadn’t done this, then the two main baddies of the series would have succeeded in committing mass homicide.
Let’s pretend this was real and not scripted by Hiromu Arakawa. In this case, we would say that God had a morally sufficient reason for permitting Trisha Elric to die. He knew that if he allowed this evil; a greater good would come about. And He knew that this greater good would not come about unless He permitted Trisha Elric to get sick and die. He knew all of the events that would come to pass based on the single event of Trisha Elric’s passing. The homunculi and the main antagonist (whose identity I’ll conceal because it’s a huge twist) wouldn’t have been stopped if God intervened to miraculously heal Trisha.
God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting bad things to happen. Every event that occurs sends ripples into the future. This is problematic for advocates of The Evidential Version of The Problem of Evil.
Every event that occurs affects other events. Even the greater goods that come about from evil cause other future events that still cause other future events. God providentially ordering a world of free creatures towards all of His intended goals is an extremely, overwhelmingly complex endeavor. Moreover, events are not temporal islands unto themselves. In the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-38, for example, which I talk about in my paper “Why The Problem Of Evil Is A Failed Argument For Atheism”, God wasn’t just concerned with saving many lives from starvation, but also of preserving the messianic bloodline, getting Israel into Egypt to prove His power to them by defeating their gods through the plagues and leading them into the promised land, and the entire history of The Bible which lead up to Jesus’ death and resurrection, which then lead to the commissioning of the disciples to spread the gospel, and so on.
We cannot fathom the entangled web of cause and effect and the impact that each of our lives and events has on others’ lives and on future events. Providentially ordering a world of free creatures is messy, and if it really was infeasible for God to actualize a world of free creatures where no one ever freely chooses wrong, then ordering said world will involve some suffering, but all of God’s goals will end up being accomplished in the end. From the Garden Of Eden to The New Heavens and Earth.
So, we are not in a position to say “A good God would not allow….[fill in the blank]” for we cannot judge how or whether X would or would not fit into God’s goals for this stage of the human existence; this pre-Revelation 21 stage.
As Christian Philosopher Dr. William Lane Craig explains “Evils which appear pointless to us within our limited framework may be seen to have been justly permitted within God’s wider framework. To borrow an illustration from a developing field of science, Chaos Theory, scientists have discovered that certain macroscopic systems, for example, weather systems or insect populations, are extraordinarily sensitive to the tiniest perturbations. A butterfly fluttering on a branch in West Africa may set in motion forces which would eventually issue in a hurricane over the Atlantic Ocean. Yet it is impossible in principle for anyone observing that butterfly palpitating on a branch to predict such an outcome. The brutal murder of an innocent man or a child’s dying of leukemia could produce a sort of ripple effect through history such that God’s morally sufficient reason for permitting it might not emerge until centuries later and perhaps in another land. When you think of God’s providence over the whole of history, I think you can see how hopeless it is for limited observers to speculate on the probability that God could have a morally sufficient reason for permitting a certain evil. We’re just not in a good position to assess such probabilities.”6
The One Punch Man will be familiar with anyone who’s friends with David Wood. He’s had the protagonist as his Facebook profile for a long time, and in his YouTube videos, he’s got a Saitama figurine behind him. This show is about a man who lost his job, was depressed over it, but found a new calling after saving a young child from a weird giant lobster monster thing. He decided he wanted to be a super hero, so he did a humanly impossible training regimen:
10 Km run.
EVERY SINGLE DAY! For one and half years, he did this insane workout every day, and he didn’t use heat in the winter or air conditioning in the summer. As a result, he became the strongest man in the world. So strong, that he can kill any monster with one punch; hence the name “One Punch Man”. There have been threats that the other city’s super heros were not able to defeat, even when they joined forces, but when Saitama arrived, he was able to kill it in a single punch! Usually Saitama wasn’t first on the scene because he was held up or got lost on the way (I forgot to mention that this is a comedy as well as an action show).
There was one enemy at the end of the first season who was so strong that even Saitama had difficulty beating him! Lord Boros was so strong that even Saitama had to put in some effort to defeat him!
Imagine if Saitama hadn’t lost his job. If Saitama hadn’t lost his job, he never would have decided to become The One Punch Man. And if Saitama hadn’t decided to become The One Punch Man, Earth would have been doomed! From Saitama’s perspective, it may have seemed like God could have no morally sufficient reason for permitting him to lose his job (pretending this is real, like we did with FMA), but there was.
If you’ve lost your job, perhaps due to the COVID-19 pandemic at the time of writing this, know that had a morally sufficient reason for permitting it. We can’t tell what that is because we’re not omniscient, but God is. Now, God probably doesn’t want you to do an insane and humanly impossible workout regimen in the hopes of becoming a super hero, but He could have other plans. Trust Him. “Trust in The Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)
1: Qutation taken from the article “Rebirth” from Death Note Wiki — https://deathnote.fandom.com/wiki/Rebirth
2: Except for natural evil like tornadoes and Earthquakes. But depending on your view of The Fall, even these might be our fault. Many YECs assert that God introduced natural evil into the world as part of the punishment for sin. As an OEC or EC, you don’t necessarily have to disagree with this. William Dembski, for example, speculated that having foreknowledge of what Adam and Eve would eventually do, He cursed the creation in advance. In a sense, on this view, Adam’s sin had a retroactive effect on creation. But as I explain in my paper “Why The Problem Of Evil Is A Failed Argument For Atheism”, God might have had a different reason for permitting natural evil to occur; namely that it’s possible that we human beings had to learn what it was like to live in a fallen world so that we wouldn’t take suffering-free states of affairs for granted, and ergo wouldn’t sin in eternity, in Heaven. It may not have been feasible for God to actualize a world where everyone truly appreciates living in a suffering free state of affairs just as it could have been infeasible for Him to actualize a world where everyone always freely chooses to do the right thing.
3: Or in the world of Death Note, He allowed that job to the shinigami. If you hold to The Divine Council worldview, you can easily interpret the Death Note shinigami as council members assigned with the task of ending someone’s life when God says that their time is up. Although you can interpret The Death Note’s depiction of the supernatural biblically, the mangaka probably intended for it to be polytheistic.
5: Speaking of things that are forbidden, I know it’s a no-no to consult Wikipedia, but as a huge fan of Fullmetal Alchemist, I can personally verify all of the information in this quoted section is accurate. I have weeb authority.
6: “The Problem Of Evil” by Dr. William Lane Craig –> https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/popular-writings/existence-nature-of-god/the-problem-of-evil/