I know you probably would never guess this in a million years, but I like to play video games. I know. Shocker, right? But it’s true. Alright, now that I’ve come clean about that, I’d like to tell you about one of my favorite games… which I play on my phone… because technology.
The game is called Totem Runner.
Set in a forested world beautiful enough to rival the likes of Pandora, the story goes that there was once peace and harmony in the world. However, a dark and malevolent force corrupted the world, sending it spiraling into chaos and death. Now, the guardian (controlled by the player) must restore life and peace to the world by battling against the great dark evil. As you run through this fantastic world, you battle all sorts of monsters and overcome obstacles by changing into different types of animals (i.e., a boar, an eagle, and a dragon).
But what makes this game really awesome, I think, is the fact that two of the biggest ways that you defeat evil is by causing life to grow and relighting the stars!
Now, for any of you who are familiar with primordial chaoskampf myths, you can probably start to see why this video game makes me all kinds of giddy.
New Gods and Old Stories
For those of you not familiar with these stories, it’s really very simple. Every ancient culture has a story about some sort of great cosmic battle that took place before the world as we know it came to be. For instance, the Greeks had their story of Zeus and the new gods of Olympus defeating the chaotic old gods (or titans). The Sumerians had their story of the god Enki battling against hostile cosmic waters, and the story of the hero Gilgamesh (with the help of the gods) defeating the wild beast Huwawa. In the Babylonian Enuma Elish text, the god Marduk defeats the chaos monster Tiamat, recreates the world, and establishes himself as king of the gods. And in Canaanite stories (depending on the version), the young god Ba’al conquers either Yam (the sea), Lotan (a variation of Leviathan), or Mot (death), all of which are presented as incredibly powerful and destructive monsters.1
Generally these stories are one culture’s way of explaining why their god or pantheon of gods were the best. One common theme that is present in almost every one of these stories is the idea that out of the aftermath of these god-wars comes our world. Generally, humans are created from the dead bodies of the chaos monsters. With the exception of some very intentional apologetic story changes, the Bible itself has its own chaoskampf narrative that it mentions and presupposes.
Some of the most fantastic stories come out of the Ancient Near East, which is actually the same historical-cultural context that the Bible (particularly the Old Testament) comes from. In fact, the Old Testament Israelites drew on, and borrowed from, the stories of their neighbors when crafting their own cultural narrative about why their God, Yahweh (or Elohim), is the greatest deity, the “God of gods” (Deut 10:17).
Just as the Babylonian god Marduk split the body of Tiamat (lit. “sea”) and created the world out of it, Yahweh divides the sea (tēhôm)2 to make room for His creation (Gen 1:6-7). The Enuma Elish is separated onto seven tablets, and the creation account in Genesis is separated into seven days. On numerous occasions, we see the Old Testament authors using the same words for the Canaanite chaos monsters – yam (Job 38:8; Prov 8:29; Nah 1:4; Hab 3:15), Leviathan (Job 41:18-21, 26-27; Isa 27:1), mot (Jer 9:27; Hab 2:5) – but applying the primordial victory to Yahweh instead of Ba’al. In fact, Yahweh’s victory over Leviathan, often depicted as a sea dragon, is a theme that carries over even into the New Testament (Rev 12:7-9). This is why the first creation account in Genesis (chapter one) begins with the world being tohu wa bohu (sometimes translated, “formless and void”), which is a term used for the aftermath of divine destruction (cf. Jer 4:23). This is also why the second creation account in Genesis (chapter two) doesn’t even bother to explain the presence of a deceitful and crafty3 serpent that brings destruction to God’s good creation.
And this explains why I love the game Totem Runner so much. Because, in a very present-day sort of way, it retells a very ancient story about chaos, restoration, and re-creation. What’s more, just like the God we see revealed in Jesus Christ, the hero of the game does battle primarily by bringing life (not by inflicting death). I think there are some really deep and powerful truths to the whole chaoskampf story, so much so that God and His inspired authors felt the need to include it in our Scriptures. And now we’ve started including it in video games on our phones.
So… that awesome!
1: Don’t let this short paragraph fool you. These few examples do not at all represent all, or even most, of the chaoskampf stories present in ancient cultures. Like I said, all ancient civilization have at least one (if not several) of these sorts of creation myths.
2: From the same root as Tiamat
3: and talking?!?