There’s a distinction between a Christian in name only and one in practice. You don’t have to proclaim yourself a Christian to know as much – those outside the faith can see the actions of, say, the Westboro Baptist Church and without much knowledge still firmly state that these folks are not practicing the faith as Jesus taught it. It’s only a skip and a beat to Christian characters in anime, who aren’t there to preach the gospel to a nation that’s 99% non-Christian, but rather to color a series by bringing in a background that might provide for interesting storytelling. And so when you see a priest character, like Nicholas D. Wolfwood of Trigun, you understand as a viewer that this character is probably developed as a Christian in name, not in spirit.
What’s interesting about Trigun, though, is that Wolfwood is saved spiritually in part through the words of an unbelieving plant. And even more surprising is this – that “plant,” Vash the Stampede, is a better example of faith than his seemingly spiritual counterpart.
As we delve into the topic of faith, it’s probably a good idea to get a good definition of it. The writer of Hebrews defines it as such:
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
– Hebrews 11:1
This definition is significant in a variety of ways. Since many might focus on the idea that we “do not see” when it comes to faith, one could easily make the assumption that having “faith,” in a Christian sense, means that you believe blindly. That’s an easy conclusion to make, but it would be a wrong one. Not being able to see doesn’t mean making irrational jumps based on emotion and upbringing and whatever else leads one blindly to religion – it means trusting in one’s belief even if you can’t see it right now. Even when the road is difficult and you’re in despair, a strong faith will lead you to lean on your belief even when you can’t see it played out in action.
Do you see? A vibrant faith is based on a sound foundation. Truly faithful people have faith because they stand on the truth of the gospel. They believe that Jesus is the way – circumstances of life and swaying emotions don’t change this grounding.
Vash the Stampede isn’t a Christian, so his faith is not one in God, but he still demonstrates a faith that is otherwise similar to that which I explained. He believes that “love and peace,” a non-violent and perhaps overly optimistic worldview, is the way. He holds unswervingly to the lessons he learned from Rem, and despite all that he sees that shows something to contrary – that the world is made up of evil men and women – Vash continues to move ahead with his belief. Circumstances do not shake his worldview.
Wolfwood is on less firm footing. He’s of course more practical than Vash, willing to kill when necessary for the greater good. But it eats him up inside. He claims that Vash’s ways are naive, but the internal struggle reveals that Wolfwood cannot justify his beliefs. He’s being dishonest with himself – his way of life, he can see, is not what he truly believes. In his final scene in Trigun, Wolfwood finally comes to terms with this, realizing that he had followed a path that was on a slippery slope. He could never have a strong faith in his own way, because deep in his heart, he didn’t believe it – and it took a remarkable circumstance, in the form of a Humanoid Typhoon, to show him as much.
Vash, meanwhile, has his own struggles toward the end of the series when he’s forced by circumstance to temporarily, but with great consequence, abandon his belief. And following his confrontation with Legato, Vash disappears, discouraged and depressed. But that doesn’t mean he’s abandoned his faith.
In reality, Christians, too, are challenged by difficulties in life. After all, despite what some might preach, God doesn’t promise an easy or rich life for believers – quite the contrary sometimes, in fact. One thing He does promise, though, is that He is with us. The truth of the gospel dictates that our sins are washed away when we ask Christ for forgiveness, and because of that, we can rely on the truth and grace of God, even when our souls are put to the utmost pain and distress.
Eventually, Vash returns to complete his work. Burdened by his “sin” and in pain over his actions, Vash needed time away to think, recoup, and meditate upon what he believed. But trusting so thoroughly in the bedrock established by Rem’s teachings, Vash recovers and continues down his path of love and peace. And for the Christian whose faith is in the bedrock of Christ, we can believe the same, even in our suffering:
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
– 2 Corinthians 4:8-9