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The Last Of US And The Suffering Of Sacrifice

Updated: Mar 18, 2023

As a lifelong Nintendo and Xbox player I didn't have any real experience with the Last of Us other than sadly walking past boxes at GameStop. I had the gist of the story. I knew who Joel was, and I knew who Ellie was. I also knew that I was down to watch the HBO series because this is the decade of Pedro Pascal apparently, and also because I really enjoy the actress playing Ellie from Game of Thrones and various other things. It's nice to know that a video game would get that kind of serious attention to detail in its production, so I was excited. Like a lot of viewers, I tuned in week to week and was genuinely taken back many times at how fierce and passionate the story was. The struggle, the lostness that is in Joel. As a father this story hit me particularly hard. The idea of getting this little girl across the country in order that she can save the world with her unique composition was obviously something that made for good storytelling. As Marlene told Ellie, “You have a greater purpose than any of us could've ever imagined.” As we get to the finale of season one (I am going solely off the HBO series. I know that there is more to come. I know that part two of the video game takes some very different turns, but be patient with me, I'll get there eventually) Joel finally achieves the objective of getting Ellie to the Firefly camp, and to Marlene. As they are at the precipice of curing the world of the Cordyceps, Joel realizes that saving the world means sacrificing Ellie. He's not ok with it.

“So, time heals all wounds I guess.” - Ellie

“It wasn’t the time that did it.” - Joel

She was what healed his wounds, not time. The journey with Ellie and the relationship they established helped him heal from the loss of his daughter Sarah and helped Joel find life and purpose again. As Joel talked to Marlene, he found himself in the same position of Abraham and Isaac following through with the sacrifice of your child for a higher calling.

“Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” - Genesis 22:2

Abraham was just being tested. God would stop Abraham from the sacrifice. I seriously doubt Marlene was gonna pop out and say “Just Kidding Joel! Just wanted to make sure you could follow orders.” It hits even on a deeper level. It reflects what God faced at the concept of sacrificing Jesus. Is the sacrifice of the child you love worth the life of the world? As a student of theology, as a full-time minister for more than two decades, as a person that's open to discussion in the big picture, yes, I see that that the sacrifice of a child to save the world makes completely logical sense. As a father of three daughters, I have some hesitancy. In my human fatherly heart, I don't know of much that I would be willing to sacrifice my children for. Most people on a daily basis don't really have anything that they would sacrifice their children for either. So, when Joel went off on his one-man army assault to fight through the Firefly camp and rescue Ellie, I empathized. I understood. I don't condone running through a hospital taking out everyone in your way, but I understood.

Marlene: “Our doctor, he thinks that the Cordyceps in Ellie has grown with her since birth. It produces a kind of chemical messenger. It makes normal Cordyceps think that she’s Cordyceps. It’s why she’s immune. He’s gonna remove it from her, multiply the cells in the lab, produce those chemical messengers and then we can give it to everyone. He thinks it could be a cure, Joel.”

Joel: “Cordyceps grows inside the brain.” Marlene: “It does.”

Joel proceeds to lose it, but Marlene is set in her reasoning. As Joel made his way into the surgical suite, the doctor thought keeping Ellie was worth his life as he told an armed Joel, “I won’t let you take her,” before being shot down by Joel.

As Joel made his way to the parking garage Marlene tried one last time to convince this man that sacrificing Ellie was the right move.

Marlene: “You can’t keep her safe forever. No matter how hard you try. No matter how many people you kill. She’s gonna grow up, Joel And then you’ll die. She’ll leave. Then what? How long till she’s torn apart by infected or murdered by raiders? Because she lives in a broken world that you could have saved.”

Joel: “Maybe, but it isn’t for you to decide.” Marlene: “Or you. So, what would she decide huh? Cause I think she’d do what’s right. And you know it. It’s not too late, even now... even after what you’ve done. We can still find a way.”

As the doctors and Marlene pleaded with Joel, they had all the right reasons and all the right answers but for Joel none of that mattered. Ellie was most important. As the time has gone on since I watched the finale (at this point it's about a week), I've been chewing it over just gathering my thoughts. One of the things that pops up is this is literally the opposite of the gospel. And I don't say that on any condemnation or negativity towards the Last of Us, because I understand. This is the opposite because this is a father saying to the world “no, you are not worth my child.” I gather that Ellie would have gladly sacrificed herself for the chance to save others, but that didn't matter to Joel. As he struggled to lie to her, as he struggled to tell her that she wasn't special, that she had nothing to offer through her immunity, as his heart broke, it was all struggle.

Through watching what Joel went through it gave me a slightly better appreciation of the gospel itself. Because I didn't realize how much I struggled with, or understood, the concept of sacrificing a child until I watched Joel rescue Ellie. Watching what he did made perfect sense to my fatherly heart, but it also showed the drastic distinction between the heart of a father and the heart of The Father. That God the Father truly would love us and think we are worthy enough that His son's life was worth forfeit.

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” - Romans 5:6-8

Not only did God think that we were worth sacrificing His child for, He thought we were worth turning from his child in the process. The fact that before Jesus was arrested, He begged God for another way.

“Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me. Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” Matthew 26:38-39, 42.

God had to listen to Jesus beg for a way out but loved us enough to keep going. Imagine how hard Joel would have fought if he heard Ellie begging for help.

We also see the fact that on the cross Jesus screamed out and cried.

“About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”.” - Matthew 27:46

For every image and circumstance, I think would have broken Joel’s heart, I know God endured because He loved us enough to suffer through the sacrifice.

Sometimes such a vivid picture of our natural response to sacrifice shows how much more beautiful God's supernatural response to sacrifice is. Joel did what many fathers would do, which is why it shows how powerful what God the Father did is. It’s easy to think of God being passive in these instances. To think of John 3:16 like it’s some easy accomplishment. There is anguish and sacrifice buried deep in the very essence of that verse.

“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

What we can also be easy to forget is that those words are spoken by Jesus. He knew how passionately the Father loved us. He knew that the Father’s love wasn’t so selfish that it would deny sacrifice. The Father saw that we were worth Christ’s sacrifice, from the first, to the last of us.



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