Defying Destiny and Changing Fate in God Of War: Ragnarök
2022 was a pretty fantastic year for gaming - as most years have been for a while now - but perhaps the two hallmarks of the year capped the beginning and end quite nicely. We started 2022 with Elden Ring and wrapped it up with God of War Ragnarok. God of War has been hotly anticipated since the 2018 smash hit, and folks were waiting with bated breath to see just how many times Kratos would say, “Boy!”
But the best bit of the game for me was knowing what we were in for by the title alone: Ragnarok. And this game did not disappoint in exploring all of the complexities of the archaic term. If Kratos’ story since the refresh has been one of redemption, then Atreus’ story has been one of destiny… or rather, defying that destiny.
For this nerdy sermon, we’re going to explore how the relationship between purpose and destiny relates and how Kratos & Atreus’ story can teach us how to focus on the right stuff as we move forward toward whatever is ahead. Let’s talk about it.
Welcome to Checkpoint Church - where nerds, geeks, and gamers come together to talk about faith, games, and sweeping the Game Awards before just missing the mark for GOTY. I’m your Nerd Pastor Nate. If you like these weekly deep-dives, be sure to sub and hit that bell to find out when our next one drops.
Matthew 25:32-45 (NRSVue)
All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You who are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’
Okay - let’s start with the obvious - what is God of War Ragnarok?
The latest release from Sony Santa Monica, Ragnarok continues the story from the franchise refresh back in 2018 that saw Kratos’ story be added upon with a family, namely his son Atreus.
BTW Spoilers for the 2018 game, but I’ll try to keep light on spoilers for this game since it is beefy and has tons of great twists.
Atreus is half-giant, ¼ god, and ¼ mortal and is also mysteriously referred to as Loki.
In the previous game, Kratos and Atreus kill the Aesir God Baldur, the son of Odin and Freya, who plays a heavy role in this game, and upon his death, receive a vision of this thing called Ragnarok.
Ragnarok, also known as the Twilight of the Gods, is this significant eschatological event that pops up often in Norse mythology as this great war that will see to the death of many significant figures like Odin, Thor, and other high-tier gods. Other gods, such as Kratos, too.
In fear, this begins the era of hiding for Kratos and Atreus, which starts off the game's events.
But this concept sends us down the rabbit hole of fate, destiny, and what you do with that information.
For some, fate is fate is fate. The prophesied events of Ragnarok must come to pass exactly as they should have happened.
For others, destiny is more malleable. A vision of the future is just that - seeing things that would happen if nothing changed from this moment forward.
But, if the wind of a butterfly wing can cause a hurricane in the future, surely fate is not set in stone.
This becomes the ultimate question posited by God of War Ragnarok. As it is a great game and story, it should be evident that the prophesied information in Ragnarok doesn’t come 100% true. The fact that Kratos and Atreus have successfully hidden until our game starts is proof enough.
So, ultimately, the question shifts from - how will we evade destiny? To who will evade fate the best?
We have several figures at play in this story and the events of the game, but the clear heavy hitters are Kratos and Atreus - our heroes - and then the antagonists Larry Davi— Odin- and Hemsworth 3.0 – Thor.
In a story where everyone wants to save their skin and lie through their teeth to get there, we experience the back and forth of trust and betrayal between nearly every character thrown into the mix.
As we are Kratos, our primary goal is to figure out how to defy fate the best to survive this supposed prophecy the longest. But in the words of Mimir (at minuter marker 4:48), I don’t know if we’re breaking fate or if fate is breaking us.
With that, let’s shift gears into another prophesied moment, but this time with a bit more weight than pixels and code.
Our scripture for today comes from the gospel of Matthew, which is one of the more famous moments where Jesus offers up a foretelling instance of the eschatological - end times - story for the Kingdom of God.
In this story, we have the Son of Man, who has officially ascended to the throne and has gathered all of the nations before him. And then he starts to divide them like a round of red rover - on the right go the sheep and on the left go the goats.
Then he looks to the sheep and says, Hey, all of you are welcome in the Kingdom, pick up your inheritance, lavish in the finest decadence… and here’s why you get to do that. You fed me when I was hungry, gave me something to drink when I was thirsty, welcomed me in when I was a stranger, clothed me when I was naked, took care of me when I was sick, and visited me in prison.
The sheep-like look around, and one brave and humble sheep steps up and asks, When did we ever do that?
The King responds - when you did it to the least among humanity, you did it for me.
Then he looks to the goats on the left and says, You are all destined for the worst of the worst, for cursed burning for your wickedness. Why? Because you didn’t do any of the stuff, I just listed - no food, no drink, no welcome, no clothes, no care, no visiting.
The goats waste no time - hey, whoa, when did we ever see you like that and not help you?
The King responds - when you didn’t do it for the least of these, you didn’t do it for me.
Other than a mic drop moment here, Jesus is laying out so much in this passage, but it is only an illustration of what Jesus repeatedly says through the gospel message.
It’s not about just doing good; it’s about being good.
Suffice it to say that people in the ancient time of Christ were equally obsessed with the end times as we still see today. This kind of piggybacks on last week’s sermon on Pokemon and the eschatological assumption we made there, too.
People didn’t want Jesus to come and tell them how to be better; they wanted a vengeful Jesus to ride into town on a white stallion prepared to slaughter the evildoers.
Jesus offers up the vision of the end time in this story. This is a sort of prophecy - this is exactly what the Jewish synagogue is asking for. Please, Jesus, tell us when you will judge the world. Is it going to be the Jewish people and the Gentiles?
No, Jesus offers an allegory, a metaphor, a parable of sorts - we have sheep and goats. No racist judgment; I’ll make it about animals.
Well, what about the sheep? Are they devout rule followers? Do they keep to the Torah? Are they clean? Do they pray unceasingly?
And the goats? Are they vile and evil, and unclean? Are the outsiders who look and act differently?
No, Jesus instead tells of two that are nearly vanilla and without twinge and characters at all - the only notable difference between the sheep and the goats in Jesus’ story are their actions described by Jesus.
The sheep fed, gave drink, clothed, welcomed, visited, and cared for the least among humanity, and thus also did so to Christ.,
The goats did not. End of story.
That’s the judgment day.
For all of the hyped-up megachurch pastors that you’ve heard rag upon that devastator Babylon and the vicious nature of the human condition and the sinful lives we lead and live - it’s all excess and extra drama added on sometimes by the apostles but often purely by the imagination of a creatively tricky pastor.
No, Jesus knows what measuring stick will be used for judgment.
And it’s barely at all about the judgment day anyway.
Jesus doesn’t even have the decency to line them up one by one and let Saint Peter at the pearly gates read from the big book of Santa’s Naughty list to each sin and screw-up they’ve made. No a la carte for judgment; Jesus shops the sheep and goats in bulk at the Sam’s Club.
It’s almost as if Jesus is telling this story to people on purpose.
It’s almost as if the story isn’t about judgment day.
It’s almost as if judgment day isn’t a day at all.
It’s almost as if Jesus wants this story to be heard right now, right here, to make a change.
Whenever we get to look at the two opposing sides of Ragnarok, we see the shifting perspective of Kratos, the former god killer, and the stoic nature of the historic Odin, the Allfather, in a whole light.
Odin is presented to us as a researcher, a student, and a curious person constantly seeking to understand Ragnarok. Once he understands it, he might know how to prevent it or, better yet, how to use it.
Kratos might have seen things that way, but Atreus and his family have shifted his concept of others. It’s no longer about destruction; even for the God of War, the vital work to be done is not about using Ragnarok but preventing as much harm as possible from the aftershocks of Ragnarok.
Kratos will pursue what he must in this game so that he might be able to survive Ragnarok. Still, I’d be more willing to bet that he is far more concerned about leaving Atreus as well-prepared as possible whenever he does pass, whether in this game or some other entry.
See - that presents the tonal shift - understanding the end times versus the self.
Destiny, Fate, knowledge versus Purpose, Calling, and Perspective
Destiny has victims. Purpose has contributors.
Kratos doesn’t know what aspects of Ragnarok will come true or not. So instead, he knows that he is a father and his role now is to educate and example the best possible lifestyle for his son - destiny unconsidered. He will do what he must avoid harm, but he prepares for battle and sacrifice during downtime.
With this in mind, what can we do with this information?
Both the God of War and the God of all seem to agree on one central point - we are ultimately known for how we love. Those are the relationships that we form that remain. Perhaps one of those is more generous than the other, but the point remains.
The sheep and the goats are one of the most applicably valuable scriptures. While Love God and Love Neighbor might be more succinct, this passage provides a literal framework by which we might serve other people - feed, give drink, clothe, welcome, visit, and care for others as if they were Jesus because, well, they are.
And it’s not just literal food - feed those who hunger for community like we are at Checkpoint. Offer drinks to those who are thirsty for genuine human connection. Clothe those who have never experienced love with abundant empathy. Welcome those who have been estranged from the church for far too long. Visit those who are imprisoned by their mind in mental illness. Care for those who just need someone to finally freaking care for them once in their lives.
It’s so easy that it’s complicated. The blueprint is there, and the framework exists, so if you’re like Odin, gouge out your other eye that’s focusing on getting what you want from some fictional futuristic premonition and live right now in a way that loves the least, the last, and the lost, because that - that - is what you’re being judged for.
What better way to defy destiny than to pave it yourself? Say… like a digital church for nerds, geeks, and gamers? Let’s defy destiny together, just like Jesus would have wanted.
So whether you’re half-giant (Atreus), knockoff Hades from Hercules (Odin), or just a parent with a scattered past (Kratos), know that you’re always welcome at Checkpoint Church.
God loves you.
We love you.