As far as anime shows go, The Saga of Tanya the Evil is one of the most explicitly spiritual in its themes. The show centers around Tanya Degurechaff, a young girl who in her past life had been a ruthless modern-day Japanese salaryman who held no faith in God. When pushed in front of a train by one of the people he had fired, God freezes time and speaks to the salaryman in the hope of stirring up the man’s faith. The salaryman not only claims that any god is useless in the age of modern technology, but he also goes so far as to deny this entity’s divinity, instead deciding to call it Being X. In response to the salaryman’s continued faithlessness, Being X reincarnates the salaryman as Tanya in an alternate-reality version of World War 1-era Germany. Thus begins the ongoing conflict between Tanya and Being X, as Tanya builds a career in the military in hopes of landing a cushy officer job and reclaiming the comfortable life that had been taken from her…all while trampling those who get in her way.
While most of the runtime is devoted to Tanya’s exploits and her rage against her creator, I can’t help but also be intrigued by Being X. As a Christian, I am in a close relationship with the real God; how does Being X compare? What is he like? How does he treat his subjects? And what might we infer about how the world views the idea of God based on this depiction of the divine?
Perhaps the closest biblical parallel to the story of Tanya and Being X is found in the account of the tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-8:
“Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.’ And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the Lord said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.”
The people of Babel were enamored by their technological capabilities and believed that they could supplant God through its use. God, in response, confuses their language, forcing them to disperse (in line with his command to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1 to “fill the earth”) and to abandon their attempt to replace their creator.
Similarly, the salaryman asserts that science, technology, and human ingenuity have made God unnecessary: “Of course there’s no faith in a world full of advanced science, where almost everyone’s core needs are met. Here, you only matter to the weak and desperate who look for someone to cling to when times get hard. A smart businessman like me would never need you.” Being X then replies, “What if I placed you into dire straits? Do you think then your faith in me would be awakened?” Just like the God of the Bible disciplined the people of Babel by taking away that which caused them to put their faith in other things, so does Being X remove the salaryman from the comforts of the modern world in the hope of changing the salaryman’s mind. Indeed, throughout Scripture we see God use various forms of discipline and hardship—such as the death of King David’s first son, and the Babylonian captivity of Judah—to both punish people for their wrongdoing and draw them into deeper faith. In that respect, Being X’s penalty seems acceptable.
But outside of this one similarity, the differences between Being X and Yahweh are quite stark, and it stems from one significant distinction: Yahweh seeks a personal relationship with his people, while Being X does not. Being X reincarnates people when they die, intending that those who had faith in one life would grow to have faith in the next. But aside from the moments when Being X freezes time to speak to the salaryman/Tanya, we never see him make any other form of direct contact with his people. He makes no promise of drawing close to them or dwelling with them. Lip service is paid by various character’s to God’s love and justice, but what is this based upon? Is he merely being their creator? One’s existence is indeed precious, but is that all that Being X has done for them? If so, he is not unlike the clock-maker god that the deists believed in.
Being X’s lack of relationship morphs into an even uglier form as the story progresses. As Tanya continues to resist Being X in her new life, Being X starts to exhibit a sadistic pleasure in placing Tanya’s life in danger. During one encounter in which Being X speaks to Tanya through a dead soldier, his smile twists as he taunts her: “Are you enjoying yourself? It seems every nation is out for your blood, my lost lamb of such little faith. The great crusade to punish the child blasphemer has only just begun. How does it feel to know you’re going to have to fight the entire world if you want to survive?”
Yahweh, in contrast, establishes his desire for personal relationship when he makes his covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17:7 (“I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring…for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you”) and reiterates this to Moses in Exodus 6:7 (“I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God”). He instructs the Israelites to build the Ark of the Covenant to represent his presence among them, and its placement in the tabernacle (and later the Temple) showcased the permanence of his dwelling.
Even as humanity rejects him again and again, his compassionate heart desires their change. God sends the Israelite Jonah to prophesy to the city of Ninevah, the capital of the pagan Assyrian empire. In his book The Prodigal Prophet, Tim Keller describes Assyria as “one of the cruelest and most violent empires of ancient times,” recounts the horrifying details of their torture techniques, and references how another commentator has gone so far as to label them a “terrorist state.” Though Jonah attempts to flee God’s call, he eventually relents and delivers God’s message, declaring judgment on Ninevah if they do not change their ways. When the Ninevites accept Jonah’s words, the prophet is dismayed and wishes to die. God rebukes his prophet in Jonah 4:11 by speaking compassionately about those who live there: “And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” Keller remarks:
“That is an exceedingly generous way to look at Nineveh! It’s a figure of speech that means they are spiritually blind, they have lost their way, and they haven’t the first clue as to the source of their problems or what to do about them…[God] shows remarkable sympathy and understanding.”
And then, of course, we have Jesus, God’s greatest gift to us, the ultimate display of God’s compassion and his desire to live in relationship with us. Here is where we see the most significant difference between the God of Scripture and Being X: the Gospel. Unlike Being X, who is satisfied to rain down judgment upon Tanya from afar in response to her sin, Yahweh comes to earth himself and takes the punishment that we deserve. As Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins, he uses the same kind of generous language to describe his killers as God used to describe the Ninevites, crying out: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). The apostle Paul drives the point home in Romans 5:7-8: “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
With all this in mind, I find myself feeling an ounce of sympathy for Tanya, at least as far as her conflict with Being X is concerned. Being X is a god who does not seek a relationship with people, and rather than sacrificing himself for their sake, he delights in their punishment. He offers no solution to the violence and sin of the world, leaving humanity to fend for itself. Tanya’s selfish and despicable actions almost make sense in this context, were it not for the bloody trail she leaves behind her. Being X reflects many people’s beliefs about the real God: distant, cold, and angry. As Christians, God calls us to share his loving gospel, the hope he offers the world and the relationship he wants to have with every one of us. Let the story of Tanya Degurechaff and Being X be an incentive for us to show others how much more our God has to offer than they think he does.