Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Divine Childhood Friend (The Osananajimi Series, Part X1)


A while ago, I wrote a post about how childhood friend (osananajimi) relationships can mirror a “born into the faith” Christian’s relationship with God, and had intended that as part of a longer series. I haven’t forgotten about that series, but this entry is not a direct continuation of that series, but rather a “gaiden” series dedicated to a special case of this, in which there’s no actual romance involved and the “childhood friend” is actually pretty close to a deity himself.
 
The show in question is the newly-airing Gingitsune, which features shrine maiden Makoto Saeki who, when she was four years old and after her mother died, met Gintaro, a “messenger fox of the gods”. Makoto is the next “oracle” in line after her mother and is such the only person that can see and talk to Gintaro. As for Gintaro, he is a messenger from the Shinto “gods” and has the ability to reveal things about the future, which Makoto can then use to help out people. In addition to this religious connection, Makoto and Gintaro are also close companions, having been together for over ten years.
 
Despite the fact that this show is based around the Shinto religion, the religious-yet-personal nature of Makoto and Gintaro’s relationship does provide an interesting look at the Christian’s relationship with God, and right from the first episode, too. As usual, expect spoilers from that episode after the jump.

Sorry, bishounen lovers; Gintaro is much more beast than hot guy. Art by 

くりねこ.



 
A Royal Priesthood
 
In the first episode, Makoto asks Gintaro to look into the future of her classmate Yumi, who got into a fight with her boyfriend. Due to some miscommunication, Yumi’s situation does not go according to what was foretold, and Yumi calls Makoto a fake, which leads to Makoto and Gintaro getting into an argument and Gintaro leaving the shrine. This show being the type of show that it is, eventually the two make up, and in the process they help save a wayward cat and Yumi makes up with her boyfriend as well. The journey there, though, as well as the moments afterwards, provides some great insight towards the relationship between Makoto and Gintaro.
 
You can tell how comfortable the two are with each other with just how easily Makoto gets into an argument with Gintaro. She knows that it’s her fault for not communicating everything from him clearly to Yumi and she still fights with him to the point of telling him to go away. It’s all very reminiscent of a fight between longtime friends who know just how to get on each other’s nerves.
 
However, after a cat that two young girls (and Yumi) have been taking care of runs away, and they plead for Makoto to help them (despite Yumi’s protests), Makoto goes to try and find Gintaro again. Seeing her father, the head priest of their shrine but who cannot see Gintaro as he married into the family, she tells him about how she often goes to Gintaro for all sorts of selfish requests, but that there are people out there that really need his help.
 
Her father then tells her that it’s okay to keep going to Gintaro for help. Because she is the only one who can see and talk to Gintaro, she has a special role in that she can serve as an intermediary between the human world and the divine world that Gintaro comes from. Therefore, her close relationship with Gintaro also serves a divine purpose in allowing those who have no direct contact with the gods to still communicate with them through her.
 
Likewise, the Christian’s close relationship with God is not just a personal relationship; it is also an interpersonal relationship. The Bible says this about the Church:
 
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9, ESV, emphasis mine)
 
In order to understand what it means to be a royal priesthood, we must go back to Old Testament times. After the fall of man, humans were separated from God because of their sin. In order to have a relationship with God, atonement needed to be made; however, the distance between man and God was so great that it would be impossible for any one human to make atonement for himself. This is where priests came in. Priests were descendants of Aaron, Moses’s brother, who were ordained by God by His law to perform sacrifices of atonement for the people. In other words, the priests were the intermediary between God and humans, providing a middleman to bridge the gap between God’s holy perfection and humanity’s sinfulness. Among these priests was the High Priest, who was the only person authorized to perform the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) ceremony, considered the holiest day of the year as a ceremony that would atone for the sins of all the people.
 
Of course, the priests themselves were imperfect, sinful humans as well, so the system was not perfect, nor was it intended to be… at least at first. What the system pointed to, though, was the coming of Jesus Christ, who would be the one perfect High Priest whose death and sacrifice would atone for the sins of all humanity across all time. Being fully God and fully human at the same time, while also being sinless, Christ was the perfect middleman between God and humans, with the extra benefit that he was also God, and therefore, his followers (a.k.a. Christians), in communicating with him and having a relationship with him, would also serve as priests who would be intermediaries between God and the people that don’t know Him.
 
The key word here is “intermediary”. In Gingitsune, Gintaro is a “messenger of the gods”: a divine intermediary between the Shinto gods and a designated human, the “oracle”, who would be able to see him. Makoto, as the 15th oracle, is then the human intermediary between Gintaro—and by his connection, the divine world—and the people around her. Likewise, for us Christians, Christ is a divine intermediary between God and ourselves, and we in turn become intermediaries who “proclaim the excellencies of him” to the people around us. In very simple terms, there are people out there that really need God, and it is our job to bring the good news of Him to them.
 
This is quite the responsibility for us! If we get too complacent about our faith, we can easily forget that we have this priestly responsibility. Like Makoto did with Gintaro, we can end up seeing God as just a personal deity who will take care of us, forgetting that the same God wants to care for other people. We need to remember that our special status as God’s adopted children is not just a great privilege, but also a great responsibility to be a royal priesthood that bridges the gap between God and the unsaved.
 
That said, just because we are a royal priesthood does not mean we are not also God’s children and can enjoy deep intimacy with Him.
 
Like Children
 
After the missing cat incident, Gintaro tells Makoto that for many generations before her, the oracles have always revered, worshipped, and feared him; only Makoto would dare to be as intimately close with him as she is—and he prefers it that way. It’s easy to see why Makoto sees Gintaro so differently from the oracles before her: she first encountered him when she was just four years old, and after the death of her mother too. It’s not hard to imagine that Makoto quickly bonded with him as a parental figure of sorts, which over time also evolved to have something more reminiscent of childhood friends. Makoto’s childlike dependence on him hasn’t disappeared even as a teenager, though, as noted when Gintaro says that she cannot do anything without him.
 
Make no mistake: God wants us to have an intimate relationship with Him. Moreover, He wants us to have a very childlike approach towards Him:
 
“Now they were bringing even infants to [Jesus] that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’” (Luke 18:15-17, ESV)
 
To “receive the kingdom of God like a child” is to be completely dependent on God, such that we cannot do anything without Him. (Not to say that we need to ask His permission for things like eating and breathing, though it’s still good to be aware that it is by God’s grace that we are even alive.) Mainly, we need to recognize that we cannot carry out our priestly duties, or anything else that is in God’s will, without going to Him.
 
For the question, “Should we be reverent and fearful of God, or intimate and friendly with Him?”, the answer is “Yes to both.” Reverence of God and recognition of our priestly responsibilities, and intimacy with God are not mutually exclusive; rather, they serve each other and work together to fulfill God’s mission on earth.
 
Relationship Status: It’s Complicated (But In A Good Way)
 
If it hasn’t been clear in this post yet, I am completely in love with Gingitsune right from the first episode; it is easily my favorite show of the Fall 2013 season so far. Not only is it relaxing, adorable, and heartwarming, but the relationship between Makoto and Gintaro is one of the most interesting and compelling I’ve seen. It’s a fairly complicated relationship, as Gintaro has a certain divinity to him, and Makoto not only sees him as a divine figure of sorts, but also as a guardian figure and as a longtime friend, and if the show continues to depict and develop the various intricacies of their relationship, I have no doubt that this show will become one of my favorite anime of all time.
 
For Christians, our relationship with God is also rather complicated; having a Father, a Son/brother, and a Holy Spirit to relate to is definitely not the type of relationship that can be described by a simple Facebook status. That He is also the Holy God and the King of Kings just makes our relationship with Him even more complex. Rather than being discouraged by this, though, we should appreciate the intricacies of our relationship with God, as well as the various relationships in media that reflect different aspects of the God-human relationship. They may not be perfect reflections—not even Makoto and Gintaro’s relationship is a perfect reflection, especially since Gintaro has his own human, fallible aspect to him—but we can learn a lot even from these imperfect reflections. 

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