The following contains spoilers about the BioShock series, including the most recent Bioshock Infinite Burial at Sea episodes.
BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea Episode 2 is one of the most lucid hypotheticals that proves man’s need for a good God, and it gets there by way of the superhero dilemma. You know the debate. Given supernatural powers, what will a person do? Can man be trusted with superhuman powers? Cue Uncle Ben’s (or FDR’s, or Voltaire’s) sagely counsel to Tobey Maguire: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Then cue my spidey sense about Luke 12:48.
BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea Episode 2 puts in stark relief the sin that so binds us to our depravity: the Original Sin.BioShock is marked as a series by its Hobbesian take on humanity. That is, for humans, “without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war, as is of every man, against every man.” (Hobbes, The Leviathan) Given power, man will eventually become violent with that power. Motives may differ, and methods may change, but outside of an awesome, common power, man will always want more. There is no such common power in BioShock‘s universe, so far as I can tell, so every character in BioShock, down to the player, is wickedly destructive.
BioShock Infinite continues to pick at this notion by asking, “What would happen if a human could step outside natural limitation and attain God-like levels of power. What would this superhuman do?” The story goes like this: Elizabeth, a girl imbued with limitless power to manipulate quantum mechanics and jump between infinite dimensions, finds herself imprisoned in a city in the sky by those who had first given her power. After breaking her chains, she becomes infinitely able to see all dimensions, and therefore the potential consequence of every causal act, a superhero power which the game calls “omniscience.” Her first and only inclination after attaining this God-like power is to kill every version of her father in every dimension. She joins in “that condition called war.”
What happens when man has God-like power? She kills. Given any power, man’s independent volition will always be to destroy. How much more, then, will man desire to destroy given an apparently infinite power, even to patricide, or suicide? Infinitely, apparently.
The developers at Irrational Games (creators of BioShock) aren’t even close to being the first to reach that understanding. Think about some of our common metaphors for the God-man relationship where we typify deity: the kid burning ants with a magnifying glass, the mad scientist “playing God,” any SimCity game’s earthquake button, my hundreds of dead sea monkeys, the ending of a time travel story, or even, dare we imply, the development of video games. Common to all of these man-as-God scenarios is some finite quality; a non-infinite, non-God trait that can help us to see more clearly our need for God Himself.
BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea Episode 2 puts in stark relief the sin that so binds us to our depravity: the Original Sin. Elizabeth, complete with knowledge of all things, is not satisfied. She desires more, and to gain it with her power. It’s the same lie that Satan tells Eve in the garden. “For God knows that when you eat of [the fruit of the tree] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5, emphasis added) Elizabeth, God-like in her omniscience, wants to be even more like God. She wants to execute justice, and to save the innocent; a noble, God-like motivation, to be sure.
But the premise of BioShock, and the premise of humanity, is what Hobbes correctly affirmed and Paul reminded the Romans. “None is righteous, no, not one (Romans 3:10).” So in order for Elizabeth to execute justice justly, she must then condemn herself and everyone else. Paul explains, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20).”
It makes perfect sense then, that Elizabeth, an omniscient being, should die in Episode 2, which collapses her via “quantum superposition” into one final, less-than-omniscient version of Elizabeth. The primary conflict for any entity (including Elizabeth) that is not God is not being God. That is, to not possess the infinite qualities of God is to desire those infinite qualities, which sinfully keeps us from possessing those infinite qualities. Or, simply, Elizabeth is not God, and fails to be God by wanting to be Him. This is the Original Sin that continues to condemn us now outside of God’s satisfying grace.
How fitting, I think, that the end of Elizabeth’s life is the beginning of the original BioShock, unfolding the nuances of that narrative retroactively. Can a man choose anything but the sin to which he has been enslaved? Or, as Jesus put it, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin (John 8:34).” Given superhuman power–even an absolute power like omniscience–man cannot break the great chain that is his sin.
The good news is that God has resolved the superhero dilemma for us in the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ on the cross. And what a strength we then find in Him in our weakness! God will create, and given man, He will save, because He is unflinchingly good. Man is not good; hence our finite limitations, our murder, and our need for a Savior who was never bound by the sin of discontentedness.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:5-7).”
Man cannot be trusted as God. Thank God man isn’t.