These past couple weeks of playing through the Old Testament - sorry, I meant Elden Ring - have been some interesting ones. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the game as much as I did at the beginning, given my lack of interest in all of the other Soulsbourne games.
Nevertheless, the hype of the game itself has kept me engaged with the entry whenever the game itself isn’t managing to hold my attention. I knew from the intro sequence that I wanted to write a sermon on this game - I mean I’m a Methodist and this game’s most consistent mechanic is GRACE come ON -, but, even after hours of research playing the game and more extensive hours on the lore behind the game - I’m not sure about this one.
At first glance, this story feels a little par for the course with the fantasy genre in general, but maybe it’s telling a story that we can learn from as Christians? Let’s explore how this game presents the absolute toxicity of power and compare it with the actual power presented in the Kingdom of God. Let’s talk about it.
Welcome to Checkpoint Church - where nerds, geeks, and gamers come together to talk about faith, games, and does every character have to have such a similar name? I’m your Nerd Pastor Nate. If you like these weekly deepdives, be sure to sub and hit that bell to find out when our next one drops.
1 Corinthians 1:18-27 (NRSV)
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.
A pretty weighty scripture for today, huh?
So what is Elden Ring?
Elden Ring is an action role-playing game developed by FromSoftware and published by Bandai Namco Entertainment.
The story takes place in the Lands Between, sometime after the destruction of the titular Elden Ring and the scattering of its shards known as the Great Runes.
Once graced by the Ring and the giant golden Erdtree that symbolizes the Ring’s presence, the realm is now ruled over by the demigod offspring of Queen Marika the Eternal - who has stake spread throughout the land that feel at times like a game of Where’s Waldo.
Each of these kiddos possess a shard of the Ring that corrupts and taints them with power.
We play as the Tarnished, who are exiled from the Lands Between because of the Ring's grace We have been summoned back after the Shattering and now are compelled to traverse the realm to ultimately find all the Great Runes, restore the Elden Ring, and then become the Elden Lord. Ideally. That’s the plan anyway.
But things never really go according to plan, do they?
As we journey across the realm, we take on each of the demigod children in order to take their chunks of the Ring and present our progress to our benevolent benefactor of the roundtable, the Two Fingers.
Now, I hardly want to rob all of you viewers of the experience of this game - which may say it’s 30 hours on the tin - but come on - the loading of each death will add up to 30 hours by the time you roll credits.
I’m going to put a spoiler warning, but it’s only really for the ending of the game, not really for how you get there or the story beats in between. So don’t feel like you have to skip this one unless you just really don’t want to know anything about the actual ending to the game, assuming you ever get to it.
This game has several different endings, but they are mostly echoes of themselves in the long run. Or at least that’s the case with the endings that have been discovered so far.
Elden Ring has only been out for a little over two weeks at the time of this video, so it’s no telling how much more has been discovered of the lore and backstory at this point.
Regardless of the shifts and changes to come, the prevailing sentiment of the endings so far has been a pretty depressing bit of cynicism.
The player ultimately find themselves with a few varying choices between how to best restore the Elden Ring at the end and unlock that uber challenge New Game+.
The basic gist of the ending of this game is that the player character defeats everyone that they need to in order to find Marika’s body and then restore that body in some shape or form in order to reforge the Elden Ring and thus become the Elden Lord
The default ending leads to what the game calls the Age of Fracture. You can also either create an Age of Order, an Age of Despair, an Age of Duskborn, or an Age of Stars. You can also create an age of Frenzied Flame, but that feels more like a easter egg than an actual ending to the game.
With each of these choices, the ultimate decision comes down to how you as the player character allow for the ring to be restored. If you restore it, then who are you? Are you a pure person? Are you tainted? Are you evil? If you allow someone else to restore it, then who are they? Are they really good or is it all fake? Who’s lying and when?
We can’t really know how things will progress after this story (with the exception of Frenzied Flame, really). The only thing we really get at the end of the story is someone narrating over the ending that our ancestors will recall this moment as the Age of _____.
What spawns this age? Who really knows? Regardless, it’s our actions as the Tarnished that lead to this moment of change.
So let’s get super vague and walk through all of this again.
We have a place where everything is perfect, then things get shattered when the power-hungry try to vie for power. This leads to a time of strife between the powerful that corrupts them all. Suddenly we have someone who doesn’t belong who shows up to save the day. Everyone in power rejects them and tries to keep them away. Even the most “holy” reject them because of their class and stature. Inevitably, that person ends up changing everything with their actions.
Ultimately this is a rags-to-riches story, it’s practically Princess Diaries.
Except, here’s the clincher - no matter what option we take, the ending is always the same. Someone is put back in the place of power. And that power will inevitably corrupt once more. That’s the harsh reality of power as presented in this story and in most stories like it. It just makes sense.
So with that, let’s make no sense at all and talk about the insanity of the gospel presented by Paul.
Our scripture for this video comes from the first letter that we have that Paul wrote to the people of Corinth. The first chunk of this letter, a portion of which we read earlier, is a kind of re-telling of the gospel story for the Corinthians. Rather than just re-write the narrative, Paul is kind of laying out the why behind the what that is the story of Jesus.
He starts out with a dualism - there are two types of people: those who are perishing and those who are being saved by the gospel.
Those who are perishing see the gospel as foolishness.
But, to Paul, that doesn’t really matter. Because far be it from God to consult with the scribes, the wise, and the debaters over God’s own Creator wisdom.
Paul then goes on to explore how we comprehend wisdom as human beings.
The Jews look for signs.
The Greeks consult understanding and knowledge.
So whenever the very concept of Jesus - who is the God-man who dwelt on Earth only to be killed by humanity - goes against the signs that the Jews were looking for and against the logical deductions of the Greeks.
Hence, the gospel itself is foolish. It goes against human wisdom entirely.
That’s the paradox that we’re working within. God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. God’s weakness is stronger than human’s strength.
This is an obvious conflict for us as we interpret this passage. But we can keep reading just a bit.
Paul then directs the text to the audience reading these words - consider your calling to this place beyond human wisdom. It is also foolish - because Jesus changed the rules of the game by calling the Gentiles, the Pagans, the Tax Collectors, the Sinners to oneness in the Body of Christ.
We have a whole chunk of scripture called the beatitudes that are full of these concepts of the weak being strong, the poor being rich, the mourning filled with joy. It doesn’t make sense and yet it is the truth.
So now we go back to Elden Ring - the Greater Will is the faux ‘God’ character in this game. We don’t really get much out of the Greater Will. We know that this is the entity that has sent the Tarnished to reforge the Elden Ring. We also know that the Greater Will was in the Realm before the Shattering, but left because of the power struggle. We also know that the Greater Will has a vassal known as the Elden Beast - who I won’t spoil - and a vessel for the Elden Ring with is Marika the Eternal.
If the Greater Will left the Lands Between because of a power struggle and each of the endings thus far have pretty set up for a power struggle somewhere down the line - because even the Age of Order could lead to an Age of Disorder eventually - then my theory is that either A) we haven’t found the Greater Will’s True Ending that they sent the Tarnished on or B) there is no true ending of the Greater Will. Because it would be foolishness.
The path we have so far is one of foolishness, but the writers have created endings that make sense. We are a Tarnished, it makes no sense for us to become the Elden Lord. Yet we are on this path and regardless of who tries to stop us - we still press on foolishly.
The only thing that we do that isn’t foolish is to restore power somehow. The truth of the gospel of Jesus is that it replaces power with weakness. It replaces wisdom with foolishness. None of the endings of this game have satisfied that sentiment.
This means that the Greater Will won’t return to the continued foolishness of the broken land OR that we just haven’t found out how to do that yet.
Now I’m not a dummy - I know that Elden Ring is not trying to tell the story of the gospel. And it may not have a ‘happy’ ending at all. But from our perspective as Christians, it’s still important to analyze the story being told to find the kernel of truth that Jesus is offering through this art.
So with that in mind, what does this story mean for us today?
Hopefully this game can teach us a lot about difficulty and challenge in video games, but the story of the game can teach us a thing or two about power and how to best pursue power. The gospel writers would tell us that the best power is the power found in the foolishness of Jesus.
The most power we can hold over others is servanthood and grace. We can foolishly forgive over and over. We can offer the coat off our backs to our thieves. We can love the enemy. Offer the other cheek. Defy the logic that holds us to our humanity and accept a better possible ending than even our 10/10 games offer us.
So whether you’re a Tarnished, an Eternal, or a Severed, know that you’re always welcome at Checkpoint Church, even when it doesn’t make sense. Let us be foolish.
But if you’re a grafted, maybe keep your limbs to yourself.
Question: Do you have a favorite Soulsbourne entry? I guess mine is Elden Ring since I haven’t played most of them. But even after a few sessions of this one I still just don’t ‘get’ the genre.
God loves you.
We love you.