To Ascend

The greatest dungeon crawl, IMO, is Dante’s Divine Comedy.  So you can imagine that my Catholic, geeky self has been enjoying World of Warcraft: Shadowlands.  (At time of writing I have not beat all of it yet). 

Shadowlands’ tale starts with a raid on “the Maw” (Hell by another name) and after a harrowing escape you visit a realm of angelic beings who are chosen from the most virtuous of all souls.  These souls go through a purgatory of sorts.  They face the darkness within to join the ranks of the “Ascended.”  It is these Ascended souls that bring newly deceased persons to the next life.

However, there is “a tumult in heaven” and many of the angelic beings have fallen.  And, whilst I am aware that Warcraft, even at its best, isn’t the most deep of storylines, I can’t help but see some interesting connections and contrasts between Warcraft’s angelic struggle and the real struggle of souls.

Warraft’s Ascended may have a heavenly realm, but it comes at a cost:  one must be purged of anything that could bias your transportation of souls, even the memory of your own family.  I actually think the Catholic Church would nod to the notion that the duty of transporting souls must only be entrusted to the unbiased, though it would be horrified by the Ascended’s solution.

The situation presents an interesting thought experiment for a wide range of questions.  Is there anything you should be willing to trade your memories for?  What causes us to be human?  What causes us to be biased?  Can those things ever be separated? 

The reason why there is a tumult in Warcraft’s heaven is that some of the aspiring Ascended feel wronged by Warcraft’s purgatorial process and are now trying to destroy the system.  Admittedly though, in a very imperfect way, this conflict does mirror the motivations for the war between the actual Heaven and Hell.

To ascend to Heaven does in fact cost everything.  But not in the sense of everything about you being destroyed.  To be purged of all that that prevents us from becoming “ascended” we need to “sacrifice” everything to God – not so He can eliminate it and neuter our humanity- but rather so we always see those finite contingent realities against the backdrop of all reality, including the ultimate reality of God himself. 

Least anyone doubt the totality that Christianity aims for, think of Christ’s words “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  “And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.”  Christ himself had an earthly father, and St. Paul uses the term as well. So is Christ asking us to transcend our humanity and forget our family like Warcraft’s Ascended must?  No – rather Christian perfection is achieved by entrusting ourself through Faith to Grace, so that those contingent realities are not destroyed, but seen as part of the larger whole.  For example, our Earthly parents cannot usurp the will of our Eternal Parent. Recognizing this helps us love our parents more, not less. With the eternal truth in view, family members can better understand each other and aim for a higher goal.

The Bible is aware that this sacrifice is a big ask but says “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

So far I have shown sympathy for Warcraft’s devil.  But what about the real one?  In the battle between heaven and hell St. Michael asks “Who Can be Like God?” and when Christ fights the devil in the dessert we also see the devil promoting the seeking of power separate from the divine will. 

What the war between heaven and hell is ultimately over is that total sacrifice that God does ask of us.  The Devil wants his nature, on his own terms and his power exercised on his own terms.  Cooperating with grace does not diminish our free will, but the free choice to cooperate with grace does demand a sacrifice.  Two paths cannot be walked at the same time.  To turn ourselves over to the light of Grace, we will need to see the value of contingent, finite things on God’s terms, not our own. 

For the Devil, that was unacceptable.  The irony though is that persons (both human and angelic) reflect the image and likeness of God.  Thus, our nature ultimately needs grace.  The Devil, in exercising his nature on his own terms, his own power alone, according to his self-invented value system, separated his very self from his purpose.  The life the demons and the human fallen live is a parody and quite a petty one compared to the beautiful tapestry of the Divine Will.   

So, the Ascended of Warcraft are right, to be free from “bias” or sin, a complete and total sacrifice is demanded.  But Warcrafts’ fallen might have been counted amongst the saved in real life.  We don’t need to destroy our humanity.  But we do have to acknowledge that we are not its author, that enforcing our own will at all costs won’t free our humanity, but will entrap us in the things that do degrade us.

In a society that sees life to have whatever meaning we self-assign to it, where it is normalized to “edit” our body in any number of ways, where identification is seen as an act of imposing meaning instead of discovering it, where self-wielding the current Barnes & Noble fad spellcraft is seen as more valuable than surrendering to Grace, we risk locking in on ourselves instead of harmonizing with the whole.

Pray soon more of us, like Dante, are willing to brave the dungeon crawl through our own brokenness and ultimately to our very human and very glorious interior castle. 

The Mission of Virgil

Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust on Unsplash

Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust on Unsplash

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