Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Inari, Divine Being, Human Relations

Inari, Konkon, Koi Iroha is one of my favorite shows currently airing. Despite being only ten episodes long (nine of which have aired as of the time of this post), this show has explored so much in the way of various relationships: middle-school first loves, friendships, and relationships between humans and the divine kami of Shinto. While all of these are great, as someone who loves spiritual themes in anime (see Gingitsune), it's the last one that I love about the show the most.

Indeed, once again, despite being based around the Shinto religion, this show offers some great perspective for Christians, particularly with what our relationship with God is like. In this case, though, what the show provides is in some way more of a contrast to show how Christianity differs from the religion presented in the show.

As a disclaimer, the depiction of Shinto in this anime is the series's own interpretation of it and not necessarily representative of actual Shinto religion. And as one might expect, there will be mild spoilers after the jump.

Divine hugs are the best kind of hugs.

"Humans being friends with gods? Impossible!"

The central relationship in this show is the relationship between the high-ranking kami, Uka-no-mitama-no-kami (frequently referred to as Uka-sama) and the middle school girl Inari Fushimi, who gains some of Uka-sama's divine power in the first episode. Unfortunately, the kami pantheon, including the sun goddess Amaterasu, is not happy about this development. After all, Uka-sama is a high-ranking Shinto deity; for her to have a friendship with a lowly human is absolutely preposterous.

For Christians, we talk about our "relationship with God" so much that it is easy to forget just how great the God with whom we have a relationship with is, and how this sort of divine-human relationship is definitely not the norm among religious worldviews. Remember back in Exodus, when God was passing down His commandments, the people of Israel were afraid of God talking to them, lest they die (Exodus 20:18-21). And when Moses wanted to see the glory of God (Exodus 33:12-23), and he could only see His back, as anyone who would see his face would die? Fact of the matter is, humans cannot even look at God in the face--and what possibility of friendship with God can exist if we cannot even do one of the most basic things friends do: see each other's face?

It was not always this way, though. When God created Adam and Eve, they were living directly in His presence; however, when they sinned, they suddenly felt ashamed, not just of each other, but also of God's presence, as shown when Adam tried to "hide" from God (protip: if you're trying to hide from an omnipresent, all-knowing God, you're doing it wrong). It is our sin that is the main reason why we cannot be in the presence of a perfect, holy God. In Exodus 33:1-6, God mentions that He cannot go up among the people of Israel, or else they would be consumed because they are a "stiff-necked" people. For sinful, fallen people, God's divine power is simply too much to handle.

We can also see this in Inari Kon Kon when Inari gets into trouble many times because she ends up using her divine power (intentionally or not) for her own, selfish reasons. The reaction from Amaterasu upon seeing this is to state that humans are simply not fit for having divine power. No matter how much one might want to be in God's presence (Inari can only see Uka-sama because of the divine power that she gave to her), our sinful ways would ensure that nothing but tragedy could come out of such a meeting.

"We want to be friends with humans. We're sure this path is not wrong."

Despite the opposition to their relationships, Uka-sama still persists in trying to maintain her friendship with both Inari and her older brother Touka. One other complaint that the other kami have about this is that, because of their relationship and the divine power that Uka-sama given to Inari, Uka-sama has become more like a human--and likewise, Inari is starting to become more like a kami herself.

Likewise, despite our sinfulness, God still wants to be in relationship with us. To Christians, because we hear so often about how much God loves us, it is easy to forget how absurd this idea is. It is not just that our sinfulness makes us distant from God; our sin is directly against God. For God to still want a relationship with us is rather like a king wanting to be friends with a peasant who killed his son. By all means, we do not deserve anything close to friendship; if anything, we deserve the death penalty! And indeed, if God did not want a relationship with us, that was exactly what we'd get.

But God does want a relationship for us, and that is exactly why he orchestrated the story of the Bible, from selecting a chosen people in Israel and guiding them, all the way up to sending His son to Earth and sacrificing him on the cross. Jesus's life, death, and resurrection are all key elements here. His death on the cross takes the place of the death penalty we deserved, and His subsequent resurrection proved that he was God and had the power to change lives and resurrect our own bodies from death. As for Jesus's life on Earth, He lived a perfectly righteous life without any sin--and thanks to his death and resurrection, when we humans choose to enter a relationship with God, God then considers the very righteousness of His son as ours.

It does not matter how much we have sinned before, or how much we continue to sin (both past and future sin are covered by Jesus's death). When God looks at us, what He sees is a perfect righteousness that matches Christ's. And suddenly, the problem of our sin keeping us distant from God is, at least in one way, no longer a problem; in terms of our status of being sinful versus being righteous, God sees us as equals.

Of course, just because God sees us as righteous and without sin, does not mean we will not continue to sin. Righteousness is the status that God has given us so that we can be in relationship with Him; our sinfulness is still a reality that must be dealt with. That is why a large part of our earthly lives involves God guiding us into living lives that are more befitting of our righteous status. In this way, God wants us to be more like Him, and while certain kami might have problems with humans becoming like them (or the other way around), to God, this is simply bringing us closer to how He originally created us to be, as people made in His image.

This is certainly not a process we have to do alone. In a recent episode, when Inari, in a moment of weakness, nearly lets her divine power cause some serious destruction, Uka-sama is able to spiritually rush over to calm her down. Likewise, when we feel weak to sin, we can ask God--specifically, the Holy Spirit--to help us overcome temptation.

Overwhelming mercy

All things considered, though, it is still rather incredible that the great and mighty God would want to have a relationship with us humans. This, however, is a good way for us to remember just how overwhelmingly great His mercy is for us. To the people that least deserve it, from the One that is the least expected to give it, God gives us such an incredible mercy that it has the potential to change lives. I think this is what it really means to "fear" God; it is not that we are scared that He will condemn us or throw lightning bolts at us when we do wrong, but rather, that we are in utter awe at how such a great God would still be merciful to us, and from that awe, our hearts just naturally want to follow Him.

Not everything in Inari, Konkon, Koi Iroha can be paralleled to Christianity; in some ways, the kami and their wanting to be completely distinct from humans and not have anything close to a relationship with them serves as more of a contrast than as a correlation. However, in exploring the relationship between humans and the divine, this show does reveal some important things for Christians, and this is one of the big reasons why I love this show so much--albeit far from the only reason.

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