Updated: Sep 25, 2021
Romans 7:23, “. . . but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”
Naruto Uzumaki is right up there among the most famous anime characters. Even for a young kid who never watched anime like myself, I heard of him. I even distinctly remember an episode or two running on tv while at a friend’s house. However, despite ‘knowing’ him I didn’t really know him. Only quite recently had I taken the time to get acquainted with the series and its movies. Now, to give a disclaimer, I wouldn’t exactly recommend this show for kids. Its violence gets a little gritty at times. Some of its ideologies are off. Not to mention, I do not appreciate its more *ahem* risqué antics with the ladies’ wardrobes, but I’ve gotta say, there’s a lot to like about this show. Not least of which the show’s primary hero himself.
To quickly describe Naruto’s character isn’t hard. He’s an ambitious, loyal, and determined young ninja who’s heart is bigger than his head. Sure, that sounds pretty basic for a main protagonist, but I find this ‘basic-ness’ suits Naruto well. You see, he’s got this ‘basic’ approach to life. He doesn’t beat around the bush in terms of goals or relationships. He’s a straight-shooter, and I personally really appreciate that. We need more of those in real life. However, while Naruto is simple on a surface level, this reckless yet well meaning warrior has a lot more going on beneath the surface, and it’s Naruto’s internal battles that piques my interest as a Christian most. It’s not just key to his character. It’s a conflict that hits home for all of us.
You see, Naruto is a jinchuriki. A jinchuriki, according to the series, is a human vessel for these giant creatures called the Tailed Beasts. Naruto in particular happened to become the jinchuriki for the strongest beast of them all: the Nine-Tailed fox. That might sound confusing to some people. I know. But the main points to remember are these. (A) Naruto is housing feral, gargantuan power. (B) Said power will do anything to break out of him. And (C) everyone hates or fears him for it. Yes, that last part sounds harsh, but the demon fox did ravage his home village the day he was born and became its jinchuriki. As a result, the villagers avoided Naruto, leaving him to grow up orphaned, ostracized and alone. Still, Naruto admirably choose not to let other’s negative perceptions determine his life. He instead dedicated himself to a lifelong dream. He’d work hard and train hard. So hard that he’d become not just their finest ninja but their chief protector and leader: their Hokage. Easier said than done, of course, when he’s got an angry monster inside, itching to free itself any which way it can.
Christians can definitely relate with Naruto’s struggle. We too deal with the beasts in ourselves each and every day. Of course, we call those ‘beasts’ sin nature, but sin nature is no less destructive and requires nothing less than the Holy Spirit to overcome. (Romans 7:14-25) Now, the Naruto anime doesn’t deliver a salvation by God’s grace message, but there’s another message Naruto portrays that’s just as Biblically relevant: how his trials beget his understanding and empathy for others. You see, because of his hurtful childhood and his inner battles, Naruto is able to relate to the hurts and fears that motivate most of the villains he comes across. That doesn’t stop him from kicking their butts from Monday to Sunday, of course. He’s also way more than willing to finish off antagonists should they be unrepentant, but he sees through them - right down to their broken souls.
It’s easy for us Christians to view our opponents the same way we view sin. The vile wickedness, especially the recently exposed evils within our governments, disgusts us and rightly so. God has no tolerance for sin, and neither should we. Justice must be fought for - especially for the sake of the people and children these perverse officials abused, sold, and murdered. However, are we to forget the beasts within us just because someone else’s looks so much worse? Aren’t we Christians to be God’s lights that point to a better future? How do we do that in a world that refuses to hear? Well, maybe it’s partly because many unbelievers themselves feel unheard too.
Evil plans aren’t strictly aimed at believers. It devours non-believers too, but the unsaved are less equipped to handle it. They’ve been hurt, same as us. They’ve been deceived, same as us, and the beasts within them are eating them alive just as it once did to you. Wounds need healers who know the precise treatments. People seek the best doctors via recommendations from those who’ve suffered as they. My fellow Christians, we have a direct line with the Great Physician - the sin curse expert. Shouldn’t we then understand our ailing neighbors better than anyone else? Have we talked to them like we’re real people and not as ‘perfect saints’? That we’ve been there, we understand, or we’ve found healing? You’d be surprised how responsive a person can be when they realize they’re not ‘the only one’.
Things don’t always end peacefully in the Naruto series, yet thanks to his literal beast, Naruto defused several conflicts by helping the villains come to terms with their own figurative ‘beasts’. He challenged them that if he, a formerly ostracized loser, could rise above his circumstance, so could they. Naruto’s effort to redeem his wayward best friend, Sasuke, is the epitome of how impactful such an outlook is. Driven mad from tragedy after tragedy, Sasuke dedicated himself to revenge. He cuts ties with everyone who ever cared for him and even tries to kill them. Like most of us, Sasuke’s former friends do the smart thing and let him go as a lost cause. That is except for Naruto. His care for Sasuke is so unbreakable, Sasuke has to actively try to get Naruto to hate him. Except Naruto won’t. Naruto instead fights Sasuke over and over, not to kill him but to get through to him that they aren’t so different. That he could help share Sasuke’s hurt because he’s handled similar hurts before. Then finally, after one last cataclysmic fight where Naruto loses his right arm, Sasuke can’t resist his battle-brother’s love for him anymore. Sasuke breaks down. He relents his hate, fully accepts Naruto’s friendship, and begins life anew - one that allows him peace and a loving family.
An ‘us vs. them’ does exist between Christians and the world, but let’s not hem ourselves in so tightly that we forget that we were one of them. We can hate who we were. We can hate our past pains, but those messy, dark parts of you can be the catalyst that calls another to a new life too. Because through you, they’d know firsthand that victory over their inner beast is not only possible but real. May God use our darkness to give us empathy to show our opponents the light.
“The pain of being alone is completely out of this world, isn’t it? I don’t know why, but I understand your feelings so much, it actually hurts.” – Naruto Uzumaki
1 Timothy 1:12-16, “I thank Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He judged me faithful, appointing me to His service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life.”
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