Death Note and The Book of Life
Death Note is one of those pieces of pop culture that I slept on for a long time. It wasn't until Netflix put out the live action movie in 2017 that I even considered diving into the story. I do remember early on in Faith and Fandom, Vincent and I were at Libraricon in Fayetteville, NC. A girl who I now know was cosplaying as Misa Amane asked if Vincent and I would sign our names in her Death Note notebook, then ran away giggling. I think that interaction alone made me not want to delve into the story for a long time.
For those totally unaware, Death Note is a story centered around a black notebook that belongs to a creature called a Shinigami (which is Japanese for reaper), and whenever someone's name is written in the book, they subsequently die. You can put very specific details to the death, control them for a while, or any number of possibilities. Writing their name alone will result in a heart attack in 40 seconds. There are also a ton of "Fight Club"-esque rules that accompany each Death Note, but it's a simple enough concept. The story plays off like a cross between Supernatural and CSI.
After dipping my toes in the Death Note Netflix Film, I dove all the way in watching the entire anime and even reading some of the manga. I really did enjoy the experience. It left me thinking about the sheer concept of being able to simply write someone's name and they die. It’s interesting, but really scary. Like who are we to decide who lives and dies? Do you trust yourself or anyone else with that kind of power? I'm sure we all have people we could think the world would be better off without, but that doesn't mean we would want to end their life.
Light, the protagonist of the story (he’s actually more of the villain, maybe) gets his hands on a Death Note and almost instantly begins punishing the wicked by writing the names of criminals left and right, sentencing them to death. The power and weight of his actions quickly goes to his head and he begins to call himself a god. He becomes “Kira," his public persona as the god of death. Anytime you think you are a god, you know it's not going to end well. The story wasn't my favorite anime, and honestly it kind of fizzled out toward the end, but it did make me really examine some things and ask good questions.
Like seriously, what would you do if you had the power of life and death over someone else? What type of person would you be? Would you ignore the power exists? Would you try to wield it humbly? Would you let it take you over? The people who used the Death Note throughout the story did so for various reasons. Light used it to dole out punishment and fashion himself as a god. Misa used it because she was obsessed with Light. People used it for corporate gain for their own benefit, and others used in self-righteous judgement and condemnation. Like I said, it's a scary power for any human to possess. Thankfully, we aren't likely to actually possess that control and ability over people living and dying, but we do bring life and death into people's lives by our actions, our attitudes, our words, our speech. In our simple actions we are choosing to bring life or death into people's lives. It may not be as dramatic as a death note, but it is important.
Ryuk, the Shinigami, tells Light right out the gate that things will not go well for anyone possessing the book and that one day, he will be writing Light's name in the Death Note. He will be there bringing death after all of Light's choices. When I got to the end of the series, that's exactly what happened. Through all of Light's actions, battles, wit, and victories, the story ends with Ryuk writing Light's name in the book and his subsequent death. Throughout the long drawn out story, Ryuk was just there to bring death and eat apples, but mainly the death stuff. This god of death brought chaos and suffering to thousands for basically his own amusement.
As I sat back after finishing the anime, I was just grateful that this isn't who our God is. He isn't a God of death. In the fictional world of Death Note, there are all these Shinigami gods of death literally just lurking waiting to bring more death, but in reality, our God is a God of life. He speaks of a Book Of Life, and His end goal is to bring life to those who are in death. We see so much in the gospels that God, through Jesus, is about the mission of life.
"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." - John 10:10 "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." - John 3:16 "Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent." - John 17:3
God's focus is life. The Shinigami of Death Note literally feed on the lives lost. Writing a name in their book of death gives them time and energy to feed. They thrive on death. Our God's focus is to pour life into us, even to the point of sacrificing Jesus' life so that we can have life. It's such a stark contrast. Our God has a Book of Life, and here's why that's important:
Having your name in the Book of Life is something worth rejoicing over. Luke 10:20 says, “However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” If your name was written in Death Note, you're in trouble. If your name is written in the Book of Life, it's a matter of encouragement and celebration. I feel a bit slighted that that girl at Libraricon had me write my name in a Death Note, but I'm honored and grateful that God would write my name in His book. It's something that changes who we are and impacts our present and eternity in ways we are only beginning to grasp.
Having our name in the Book of Life means we will be rescued.
Way before Jesus mentions the Book of Life, we see Daniel prophetically giving a statement about it.
"At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered." - Daniel 12:1
This describes that great conflict and pain will come, but that those with their name in the book will be delivered. It's a reminder that when God has our name, He has our back. He will rescue us, even if doesn't look like it at the time. It's an assurance that He hasn't forgotten us. One of the trippy things about using a Death Note is that we are told that anyone who uses a Death Note cannot go to Heaven or To Hell; they just go to nothingness. To be associated with the Death Note is guaranteed destruction, but to be associated with the Book of Life is guaranteed rescue. With Light's use of the Death Note, almost everyone who had their name written deserved punishment, and they received it. With the Book of Life, every single person in it deserves punishment, but will receive life. Having our name in the Book of Life unites us now.
The apostle Paul makes this statement, "Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life" (Philippians 4: 3). The apostle Paul tells the Philippian church to help these women because these people have their names in the Book Of Life. It's not just about a status in Heaven; it's about belonging and being unified as a people now.
My wife recently did one of those DNA testing things where you find out where you come from and see if you can trace down your family. All of a sudden, our family got a lot bigger. People that used to be strangers are now immediate blood relatives, and I never would have known them. When we are believers and when our names are written in the Book of Life together, we are family, and that should bring us together. Not that we shouldn't love everyone or do what we can for others anyway, but it's encouraging to know where you belong and that other people are your people, too.
Once your name is in a Death Note, it's not an easy process to get it out. In early versions of the story, there was a special eraser. In the manga and anime, once your name goes in, the circumstances of the death may change, but the death will happen. In the Netflix movie (that I know many people hold as canon), you can tear out a page and burn it under the right circumstances, but it's all pretty sketchy. Fast forward to the end of the Bible and Jesus makes this statement in Revelation 3:5, "The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels."
We see that those who are victorious and have placed their faith in Him and belong to Him are given a promise and guarantee that their names will never be blotted out or erased. He will literally stand up and declare our names before God. Ryuk told Light at the beginning of his story that his name would be written and it would be his demise, where Jesus says that our name will be written and it will give us life. It's a promise, and He is faithful. Just like Ryuk wants to have the Death Note filled with names of lives that will be taken, Jesus wants the Book of Life to be filled with lives that will be saved.
Paul writes in one of his letters Timothy, "This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2: 3-4).
I'm so grateful for God being a God of life. We need to do our part as well. We can't write anyone's name in the Book of Life ourselves, but we can live our lives in a way that encourages them to meet the God that actually gives us life. When Light started his actions as Kira, he began to attract attention. People around the world started seeing his actions and wanted to find out more about him. They started seeking after him, imitating him, and changing the way they lived because of what he was doing. If we live a life that is encouraging, full of hope, grace, peace, forgiveness, joy and all the other things that are fruit of knowing Jesus, we can be the catalyst for the Book of Life that Light was for the Death Note. We can change the world around us to the point that people will seek to know who our God actually is. They will seek after Him, imitate Him, and allow their lives to be changed. Perhaps their names could be written in a book that could be the beginning of their story, not the end.