Sacred Endurance by Trillia Newbell, Free for CAPC Members
Newbell has the practical life experience and theological foundation to unpack what it means to run a race with endurance, and why the Bible so frequently utilizes this metaphor.
Note: This article contains spoilers for Season 2 of Attack on Titan.
Why people disguised as Titans would abandon their humanity and destroy their own kind is beyond me. I know we’re not supposed to “rank” sin, but it’s hard to imagine much worse than murdering people by crunching down on their bones with giant teeth. How are we supposed to respond to evil of this magnitude?
Season 2 of Attack on Titan gives viewers an opportunity to think through this question, as it’s filled with such actions that are incredibly hard to empathize with or understand. With the reveal of the Colossal and Armored Titans’ identities — Titans who were pivotal in kicking down the gate and initiating panic in Season 1 — we see different character responses to sin and betrayal: some are confused, some are angry, some are judgemental, and others forgiving. We also can consider which are worth emulating.
Without Christ, the guilt of sin is a heavy weight that never lets up.In the episode “Charge,” for example, we see these different responses as members of the 104th Training Corps attempt to reason with Bertholdt, the Colossal Titan, who is in his human form with a captured Eren strapped to his back. Bertholdt is being protected by the giant hands of Reiner, the Armored Titan, while they run from the Scouts who are trying to rescue Eren.
Connie wonders: “Was everything just a lie? Remember we talked about surviving this together? And that we’d grow old and someday we’d all go out for drinks together? . . . What were you guys thinking this whole time?”
Like Connie, most of the cadets who trained with Bertholdt and Reiner are confused. They can’t wrap their minds around the fact that not just one, but four of their companions have turned out to be Titans in disguise (five, if you count Eren). They are more surprised than angry, as you might be when you find out someone you trust and care about has done something you can’t abide by. Strange Titans are one thing — easy to judge and to consider with righteous anger — but Bertholdt and Reiner were their friends.
Most of the cadets respond with the benefit of the doubt, landing on Reiner’s arms to talk to Bertholdt through the Armored Titan’s clutched fists instead of attacking straightaway. They want to know why. They want to understand. They want to convince Bertholdt and Reiner to stop acting like the monsters they appear to be.
Mikasa, however, treats the two Titans as complete enemies, ordering her companions to focus on cutting open Reiner’s neck instead of talking to him. It wasn’t the reveal of Reiner and Bertholdt as Titans that ignited her hatred toward them, though; it was the fact that they took Eren. Once they did that, she considered the situation a black-and-white issue:
You’re mistaken to seek any compassion from me. Because right now, I’m all out of time and room in my heart to care. . . . They are enemies of humanity. That’s all there is to know.
Mikasa chooses to paint the Titans as enemies and forget all else. To her credit, she is judging them by their actions and not their appearances, but she still puts herself in a place of superiority, unwilling to see them as anything other than evil beings, despite Bertholdt’s confession:
Who the hell would want to kill people by their own choice? . . . Do you think I wanted to do this?! People hate and despise us. We’ve done such terrible things, we deserve to die . . . . But… we just… couldn’t come to terms with our sins. The only time we had some respite was when we pretended to be soldiers. . . . We really considered you comrades!
More is going on than Mikasa understands, but she refuses to accept this complexity because doing so might jeopardize her attempt to rescue Eren. I honestly don’t know if I could do any differently in her position.
However, as Christians who are supposed to be following Christ’s example of love and mercy, when we condemn someone else for their actions, we forget about our own sin. Though Mikasa seems perfect, efficient in every way, her coldness and drive to protect Eren can work against her.
I can’t claim to understand what it’s like to try to forgive a murderer, especially in a situation like Mikasa’s — when it is your loved one’s life being jeopardized. It would be far easier to consider that person as a beast, as a Titan, as an enemy of humanity. And yet Christ makes it clear that His mercy is for everyone, whatever their sins (Ephesians 1:7). Our desire for justice must be tempered by the command to be merciful, and enacting mercy requires discernment.
Historia’s reaction to Ymir (another cadet who turns out to be a Titan and attempts to flee with Bertholdt and Reiner) contrasts sharply with Mikasa’s response. Historia not only forgives Ymir and stands by her; she also trusts the other woman completely.
“I don’t care if there’s something you can’t tell me,” Historia proclaims. “No matter what happens I will always be your ally!”
Her attitude seems beautiful and loving, but it’s also woefully ignorant. Historia is aware that Ymir is doing something wrong, but she does nothing to stop it. She’s buying into a moral relativity where everyone does what they think is right. If that’s the case, and objective truth does not exist, then what is Historia fighting for in the first place?
It’s not our place to judge, but we should still question what is right and wrong and whether we are supporting — or even partaking in — something evil in an attempt to love someone. That’s not what true love is, nor how we should respond to sin.
Instead of writing off the Titans’ humanity, like Mikasa, Armin relies on it, appealing to their hearts by bringing up Annie (a fellow Titan that the humans have captured).
“Are you two okay with this?” he asks. “Leaving behind your comrade and returning home? You’re abandoning Annie? You know where she’s at… being tortured.”
Bertholdt responds in anger, and the moment’s distraction allows Mikasa to swoop in and rescue Eren from his clutches. Armin didn’t accept that what the Titans did was right, but he was still able to consider their humanity. In order to come up with a tactical (albeit manipulative) solution, he had to accept that maybe they weren’t soulless monsters, even though they had done horrible things.
Like Mikasa, we can judge others and consider them hopeless causes, focusing instead on something else that is more important to us. Like Historia, we can approve of the sin in an attempt to love the person, but doing so may corrupt our own morals. Or, like the cadets and Armin, we can consider that even the Titans in our lives might have a shred of humanity in them.
Bertholdt suggests that the companionship of his friends is what helped him survive the hellish years as a traitor in their midst. I wonder what would have happened if one of the cadets had sat down with him one-on-one to discuss the complications of his situation before the intense confrontation exploded and lives were lost — if he would have responded positively and jumped at the chance for forgiveness if it was offered. Perhaps a couple Titan-sized allies would have been recruited to the side of humanity.
Our response to sin should come from a place of humility, of understanding that Christ came to save sinners, of whom we are the worst (1 Timothy 1:15-16). Bertholdt’s comment about committing terrible sins and deserving to die indicates a longing for redemption. Without Christ, the guilt of sin is a heavy weight that never lets up. But our grace and mercy towards those who sin against us (a reflection of God’s grace and mercy in response to our sin) can perhaps give them a glimpse of Christ’s ultimate forgiveness.
Though the people in our lives may deserve harsh judgement, that’s not for us to decide. All we need to decide is how we will love and forgive, and how we will reflect Christ’s grace in a world full of Titans.
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