This article contains spoilers for Final Fantasy VII and its companions, Advent Children and On the Way to a Smile.
On the Way to a Smile is a collection of short stories recounting how Final Fantasy VII’s party members spend their days directly after the apocalypse, or “that day” (for more information on the actual book, you can check out my review). Each tale centers around one or two characters, and everybody deals with their guilt and grief differently; just like real people.
In fact, reading this book made me think less about Gaia and more about here and now. Cloud and the others are dealing with the aftermath of a nearly world-ending event, not the least of which is a pandemic (Coronavirus anyone?). With each tale, I learned something about the unique ways humans deal with disaster and why we desperately need God.
Denzel is a new character introduced in Advent Children. At the age of seven, he is orphaned by the Sector Seven plate fall and lives with an older lady until the Lifestream kills her with geostigma. Geostigma is a usually fatal sickness which manifests in black slime and extreme pain. Denzel makes his way down to the slums, stopping to comfort a toddler and small family, all of whom die minutes later. Sick, starving, and bankrupt, the little boy searches for a mutated rat to poison himself until he stumbles across Cloud’s phone and calls for help.
Sometimes in life, we run into problems we cannot conquer on our own. Without Tifa and Cloud, Denzel would have given up. He has no one to lean on, nothing to hope for, and no future in sight. Fortunately for us, the Bible states, “We can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5). We have moments when, like Denzel, we feel all alone and wish to die. But no matter what happens, we can find the strength to persevere, for we have a Helper, future, and hope.
Tifa & Cloud
Tifa, Barret, and Cloud rebuild Seventh Heaven outside Midgar. The ex-Avalanche member finds herself running the bar, taking care of Marlene and Denzel, and keeping track of Cloud’s delivery service. She spends sleepless nights regretting her choices in the terrorist group and wondering if she is enough to hold their surrogate family together. When Meteor plunges toward the planet, Tifa wishes for death to atone for the sins of her past. “The guilt, she knew, lay coiled within her, and she could only wonder how she was meant to go on living with that suffocating embrace around her heart” (036).
To Tifa, nothing ever atones for her actions with Avalanche. We have all sinned, and there is nothing we can do to atone for the atrocities we have committed. However, John 3:16 says, “For this is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.“ Jesus died so we are not strangled by sin and regret. We can give up those horrible decisions we made and be freed by the blood of Jesus. All the guilt can be gone forever.
Barret & Cid
Barret leaves Marlene with Tifa and Cloud because he is searching for answers. Everywhere he goes, people still see him as a monster. How can a man with a gun for an arm be anything else? In his travels, Barret meets up with Cid, who is working on a formula for gasoline fuel instead of mako. Both men recognize the need for change in this new world and in themselves. Even though Barret’s guilt spurs him to action, he realizes the need for change and plans to exchange his gun for a prosthetic hand. 2 Corinthians tells us we are made new in Christ, and the old person is gone (2 Cor. 5:17). We can leave our “gun arms” at the base of the cross and take up the “prosthetic hand” of grace He gives in return.
Nanaki finds himself torn between human intelligence and animal instincts. He yearns to travel the world, but loses himself in the forest. After the party separates, Nanaki’s human-like heart starts experiencing a phenomena he calls “Gilligan.” At certain times, he despairs and trembles until he cannot move. Sometimes these episodes occur without warning, but Vincent discovers the truth of the matter. “Gilligan” visits because Nanaki knows one day everyone he loves will die, and he will be all alone.
As someone who suffers from anxiety and the occasional panic attack, I relate to Nanaki’s story, especially in this time of uncertainty. The youngling’s worry hits him when he least expects it, and he can only combat it with Vincent’s support. Like Nanaki, we need to surround ourselves with supportive friends. “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken” (Eccl. 4:12). Connecting with other people is more important now than ever. Video calling, text, and social media give us access to a plethora of ways we can reach out to others even during our own post-apocalypse.
Yuffie returns to Wutai, planning to recount her exploits to anyone who will listen. Instead, the people run her out of town, and she ends up creating a quarantine house for geostigma victims. Yuffie starts the story as a selfish child, but manages to rally herself searching the world for a cure. None of the experts believe this cure is possible, but the ninja continues her quest. Even when everyone is against her, she pushes forward in faith.
Paul says, “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see” (Heb. 11:1). Like Yuffie, we must have faith in our quest of life, even when it seems like nothing will come of it. When everything is going wrong and the world is a complete mess, we must trust God’s control, just like Yuffie trusts her skill to find the right materia.
Rufus Shinra survives Meteor, Weapon, and numerous kidnappings only to contract geostigma. The sickness is born from Sephiroth’s impurity and only attaches to victims when they fear for their lives. That terror invites the darkness to cling to their souls and, subsequently, their bodies. Like the geostigma, our enemy lies in wait for darkness to reveal itself in our hearts. The Bible describes him as “prowl[ing] around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Rufus could withstand the geostigma when everyone around him fell, but when he was in danger himself, it overcame him.
We are often the same way. When things like pandemics hit, we get nervous. We take our eyes off God, and we start to sink in worry. That’s when the spiritual geostigma takes hold of our hearts. The only cure is to set our eyes back where they belong, the One who made this crazy, mixed-up world. Without God, we would never be able to change ourselves or get rid of our guilt.
As much as these characters tried, they could never accomplish their goals under their own power. Yuffie did not find a cure, Tifa could not absolve her guilt, and Barret would not trade out his gun. There is only so much humans can accomplish on their own. In fact, we cannot even breathe without God first breathing into us!
We Christians have supernatural power on our side. That’s the only way we can get anywhere in this life. If we ask Him, we will lose worry, panic, and guilt, and we can live in His peace. In this aftermath of a pandemic, we need to lean in to His strength. Remember, He is not just “God of the good times.” He is God of the bad times, God of the apocalypse, and even God of the post-apocalypse.
“Jesus looked at them intently and said, ‘Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God, everything is possible.’” – Matthew 19:26