Full disclosure: I don’t like Valentine’s Day.
Let’s be honest: If you have a holiday where couples are almost obligated to show their feelings for each other, there’s going to be a lot of that going on for the sake of it.
Sadly, the commercialism goes hand-in-hand with society’s misguided view of love. Perhaps this is an outsider’s perspective to the state of modern-day “courting,” but I’ve noticed that society is more in love with the idea of being in love than they are understanding of what love really is.
When anyone says “love” these days, the only thing that comes to mind is romance. If I tell a friend that I love them, we’re instantly mistaken for a couple, and because it’s not socially acceptable to be “in love” with anyone or anything platonically, this has led to some overly long explanations involving even my sister, best friend, and other associations that I genuinely can say that I love… but not in “that way.”
How sad is it that, as a society, we almost always have to explain what kind of love we feel towards someone in order to avoid awkward and rather un-Christianly assumptions? Back in the day, it was quite common to see people hugging, kissing each other on the cheek, crying on one another’s shoulders, or just sharing a quiet moment without the assumption being tacked on that said people were romantically or sexually involved. Perhaps nowhere are these false assumptions more prevalent than in geek culture.
As I laid out in an earlier article in regards to the problems that shipping presents in geek culture, I frequently encounter shippers who will go to the ends of the earth to justify their fetish involving fictional characters.
I am an artist and, unfortunately, artists often involve themselves in sites that don’t always have any consideration for the Christian worldview. If you aren’t drawing every male character kissing on every male character, you’re likely white noise, regardless of your talent. If you want to favorite a bit of fan art, you had better dig around in the artist’s gallery first because the odds are that they will be uploading some shiptastic stuff that will leave you pouring buckets of bleach into your eye sockets and praying for amnesia before the end of the year. The targets of such “fanfare” are often video games, popular anime, or popular TV shows. As I don’t watch much mainstream anime or television, I most often encounter this issue in video games I enjoy.
Two recent games have fallen under heavy attack in this regard because both games have, at their core, brotherly love. These games are Tales of Zestiria and, the more recent release, Final Fantasy XV.
In Final Fantasy XV, the centerpiece of the plot is the relationship between Prince Noctis, his body-guard, his advisor, and his best friend, Prompto. The four travel the world together, cry together, and sleep under the stars or in slummy hotels all within trusting proximity to one another. They live, eat, breathe, and consume vast amounts of Phoenix Downs together.
While it’s very clear that Noct has eyes only for his betrothed, fans have climbed over themselves to find some way to justify Prompto’s secret “crush” on his best friend. In the anime short released prior to the game’s debut, detailing Prompto’s backstory, he is seen loosing weight in an attempt to get closer to Noct. Reasonable folk will also point out that he does this while sniffing a perfume-laced letter from a lady and that he wants to lose weight so he can be a better friend to Noct… But logic burns sometimes.
In short, Prompto has no official reason to suffer beside Noct. He’s not a bodyguard, nor does he have any practical skills beyond snapping a few selfies at the worst possible moments.
The reality of it is that Prompto was the “fat kid” in school. He was socially awkward and had no friends. He tripped over himself and really didn’t know how to communicate with anyone. Noct showed him compassion and, rather than laugh at him after a rough fall, offered a hand to help him up. The prince’s kindness moved Prompto to better himself so he could return the favor one day.
Prompto doubts his place among Noctis’ posse, as he’s just some kid that decided to tag along. Noct, however, relies on Prompto because he is his way of feeling normal. Both the other party members refer to Noct in a more formal manner, and while they do care for the prince beyond his station, there is a clear difference in the way they treat him from the way Prompto treats him. Prompto never refers to Noct as “highness” or “your grace.” He never addresses him as “my prince.” To Prompto, Noct is and will always be, “my friend.” For Noct, just knowing that someone sees beyond his station and calls him friend is worth more than his royal lineage could ever offer.
In Tales of Zestiria, we meet the two characters Sorey and Mikleo. Through the course of the game, it’s revealed that both are orphans and were taken in by the same man who raised them side by side as brothers. They share a bond that’s unique from any of the other characters in the game and the title “Peas in a Pod” is applied to Mikleo in regards to his relationship with Sorey. This, combined with the fact that the producer and script-writer of the game have stated that they didn’t want romance to be a heavy focus and that Sorey was written as an innocent, pure character, has shippers all over the net proclaiming that there exists a romance between the two male leads of the game.
In reality, Sorey does have a fleeting, curious crush on a female character that he meets towards the beginning of the game, but his interest never goes far beyond curiosity and a regard for her as a strong individual. Overall, Sorey is written to be chaste, likely to further reflect how pure and innocent he is in comparison to the dark and festering world that he must save.
Sorey’s openness and affection for Mikleo, however, by far overshadows his interactions with any other characters in the game. They grew up side by side, sharing the wound of having no actual blood parents. Sorey was a human taken in by a society of seraphs and found his place at Mikleo’s side. There was no one else in his village that was around his age so he shared his life, adventures, dreams, and interests with the young man that he knew as a brother. It makes perfect sense that he feels the most comfortable around the one person with whom he has shared his life, even after he’s torn away from his homeland by the call of his fate. Sorey leaves a comfortable, safe life and enters into a world of chaos that is as strange to him as he is to it. The one element in his life that remains constant is his friendship with Mikleo, and its in that friendship that he finds his home and his comfort.
Someone without an understanding of the nature of love could take these developments as romantic situations. Our society has almost made extinct the kinship between two people that exceeds romance. As a whole, relationships have been sexualized at every level and any show of affection to anyone (…or anything) has been likened to romance and sexuality. I have even been told that if you love someone more than you could love a spouse, you’ve married the wrong person. However, as a Bible-believing Christian, I take Christ at His word.
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. -1 John 4:8
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. – John 15:13
Nowhere does Jesus say “The greatest of love is the kind of love that goes on in the bedroom” or “If you love someone, you totally must be in love with them.” Nowhere. While the Bible does discuss the relationships that, by God’s own design, make up the components of a marriage, Jesus Himself had very little to say about romance. It’s understood that marriage reflects Christ’s relationship with the Church and that relationship is reflected in the union of a man and a woman in an intimate fashion. Yes, this is love, and it’s a love that takes two separate people and makes them into one whole.
However, when Christ defined what the greatest of love’s manifestations was, He said specifically that it was one’s willingness to give their very life for their friends. Christ then went on to affirm this through His actions by laying His life down for the sins of the entire world. He took our punishment upon Himself and endured the pain of death in the worst form that humanity has ever conceived. Jesus not once found Himself romantically inclined towards anyone–but does that mean that He did not know love?
God is love. If the world rejects God, rejects His design for love, romance, and sexuality itself, how can we trust what it says love is? To the Christian, taking God at His own word: God is love. To the world that has rejected God: Love is love. (…Like Blue is blue?)
Personally, there are people in my life who mean more to me than a husband ever could. I have friends that I love in a way that goes beyond the love I hold for even members of my own family. There are folks that I would gladly step in front of a bus for. I hug them, cry on their shoulders, I fall asleep easy around them, and trust them with my secrets. If I walk around without them, it’s as if I am missing my own shadow. In essence, we’re peas in a pod. Many times we are mistaken for romantic couples because we express our feelings out loud. We’re so comfortable around each other that almost nothing is taboo. We can burp and no one bats an eye, we can wear our pj’s without feeling weird, and we can discuss anything without hesitation.
What games like Tales of Zestiria and Final Fantasy XV show is that there exists a bond that goes beyond the confines of romance and sexuality. This love between friends is a love that can never be cheapened by something as common as romance. These bonds are biblical, spoken of often in both the Old and New Testament, and held up in reverence by Jesus Himself because it’s something that God Himself experienced from the very beginning. Keep in mind that Jesus died for all. He wasn’t “into us” that way; He loved us and demonstrated a love that was more powerful than romance could ever be.
Yes, romance is a fantastic thing and a part of the human experience that is beautiful. However, unlike friendship and kinship, one does not need to be in a romantic situation to feel whole. You can feel complete as a person without ever having fallen in love. Many of the disciples died single. Millions have lived happy lives and died single, but can the same be said of anyone who died without knowing what friendship is?
To akin every love to romance not only cheapens romance when it does occur, but it also spits on the most powerful of human emotions. It takes something as complicated as love and smashes it into nothing more than a primitive impulse that even animals feel. We are not animals; we were made in the very image of God. Our God lived love, He orchestrated it, He died for it, and in glory He rose to deliver a promise that we will one day live in a world consumed by it.
None of this is to cheapen, put down, or attack romantic love at all. When a man and a woman complete one another in marriage, it is a beautiful thing. Through that relationship comes new life. The very first blessing God ever gave was to be fruitful and multiply. When God created Adam, He acknowledged that it was not good for man to be alone–so he made woman. From day one, God began orchestrating romance and intimacy, but He never intended for every heartfelt emotion to lead to them. Romance is a beautiful thing–but only within the context of God’s design. When romance or intimacy is applied to anything outside of what they were intended for, it becomes harmful to mind, body, and soul. Romance and intimacy are like a fire. If kept inside the fireplace of a home, it can offer warmth and light for the entire household. If that fire is taken out of the fireplace, however, it may provide light and warmth, for a time, but it will quickly consume the home and everyone in it.
So those of you who see Valentine’s Day as the day before Half-Price Chocolate Day, don’t be afraid to use the occasion to reach out to the people that you love. There’s a friend out there that’s seen you cry when you won’t even shed a tear in front of your own father. There’s that bro that took the fall for you when he totally didn’t do anything wrong. There’s your sister from another mister that showed up at work on a bad day with a cup of coffee, just because. If someone starts to snicker and ship you with your friends–whatever. Know that they likely don’t understand love the way it was meant to be perceived, and take the opportunity to change their perspective.
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