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At the end of Part 2, I suggested that Okabe may be mistaken in assuming God’s will must override his own. Without question, what God intends will certainly come to pass—“The Lord of hosts has sworn: ‘As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand’” (Isaiah 14:24)—but this does not mean our choices are meaningless or necessitated, which Steins;Gate illustrates beautifully as the narrative unfolds. Furthermore, although Okabe is at first overwhelmed by the suffering he experiences in his efforts to save Mayuri and Kurisu, he later comes to see its significance at the climax.
But the Future Refused to Change
One of the nasty side effects of time travel—or for that matter, prophecy—is that it seems to negate our free will. If someone has already seen the future, how can it possibly be avoided? Are we not bound to it?
Okabe certainly thinks so after repeatedly failing to save Mayuri:
Deep down, I knew. I can’t save Mayuri. Even if Moeka’s group doesn’t kill her, someone or something else will. The world itself wants her dead.
This is true, up to a point (i.e., as long as he remains on the Alpha attractor field). But as Suzuha tells him later, it is possible to jump to a different attractor field. Once he learns this, he sets about undoing D-Mails, and it is during this process that his free will comes to the fore.
Specifically, I am referring to the existence of the bad endings, in particular those of Suzuha, Faris, and Luka. These occur if the player (Okabe) chooses not to send the text that will cancel out each friend’s respective D-Mail. Because Steins;Gate the visual novel has a true ending, we can think of the other endings as possible futures, and the mere fact that there is more than one possible future proves that the choices Okabe makes on his path to the true end—the attractor field where both Mayuri and Kurisu live and time travel is never developed—are not a foregone conclusion, but freighted with significance. Whatever the outcome, we see it could have been otherwise.
However, Okabe is unable to fully appreciate this for a long time because right until the climax of the true ending, from his perspective someone—either Mayuri or Kurisu—must die. As he says with dramatic irony, “There’s no perfect ending here. I can’t save them both.” He seems to think the universe (or God) must be this cruel because of all the pain and hardship he has to endure just to reach the point of choosing whether to save Mayuri or Kurisu. But the last-minute developments in the true end turn this hopelessness on its head.
It All Meant Something
When Suzuha arrives to inform Okabe and co. that World War III is imminent, it’s easy to feel like the entirety of the plot up till then was all for nothing (not that Okabe really cares, as long as Mayuri is all right). A ray of hope emerges, though, when she invites Okabe to embark on an attempt to rescue Kurisu and in the process avert nuclear apocalypse. He accepts, hopeful that at long last he can save everyone.
That hope is crushed when Okabe himself ends up accidentally stabbing Kurisu to death. This is the nadir of his emotional journey, encapsulated in his immediate reaction:
Is this the joke? Is this the punchline? I wanted to know who killed Kurisu. And now…
The tragedy of it almost breaks him completely, but a massive epiphany ensues when he receives a D-Mail from his future self, who explains in no uncertain terms that everything—every single bit of it—leading up to this point mattered:
You traveled to the Alpha worldline. You met Kurisu and fell in love. You sacrificed the dreams of those closest to you. But still, you fought to give Mayuri a future. For three weeks, you fought. And now, those memories are part of you. If you had not seen Kurisu’s body in the hallway of Radio Kaikan…
You would not have sent that first D-Mail. SERN would not have found you. When you encountered Kurisu later, you would not have been shocked to see her alive. You would not have spoken the words that led her to your doorstep. Without those memories…
You would not now be willing to travel through time to save her. I would not have spent my life searching for a path to Steins Gate. I would not have recorded this message. Daru and I would not have completed the time machine. Suzuha would not be standing beside you now. You must not reject the three weeks you spent drifting between worldlines. You must not undo the past! Those three weeks made you who you are, a man who would do anything to save the woman he loves. Your desperation made me who I am, a man who has given everything to make that dream come true. This moment would not be possible if not for the memories that you and I share! The man you were trying to create, a man with none of those memories to drive him, could never stand where you stand now. It all meant something.
After being charged by his future self to save Kurisu and “open Steins Gate,” Okabe goes forth emboldened, and this time he succeeds.
Ultimately, Okabe’s suffering was not in vain. In a sense, it was even necessary in order to bring about the best result.
But who is to thank for that? Is there anyone to thank? For his part, Okabe believes he owes nothing to a “heartless god,” but events are open to interpretation.
In Blaise Pascal’s Pensées, an unfinished work defending Christianity, there is a passage on God that reads as follows:
There is enough light for those who desire to see, and enough darkness for those of a contrary disposition.
Was God’s hand in Okabe’s tortuous path to Steins Gate, and if so, was it benign or malicious? Perhaps we can’t be sure, but I would venture to say Okabe is too quick to draw his own conclusion.
The same question can be raised concerning the biblical book of Esther. Haman plotted to exterminate all the Jews of Persia, but thanks to Esther’s rapid rise to the king’s court and her favored status as queen, she was able to foil the plot with some timely intervention.
God is never even mentioned in the book, so what are we to infer about the course of events? Was it purely by happenstance that Esther found herself in a position to do what she did? Her cousin Mordecai speculates that it may have been more than that: “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)
We make our choices in life, day by day. Along the way we suffer as a direct result of our own bad choices and those of others. Through it all, God never fails to act and turn even our bad choices into something good.
I believe that the story of Steins;Gate (even if unintentionally) reflects this, and that there as in real life, God’s love is never absent from the picture, if we have eyes to see it.
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James is a research associate with the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics. He writes regularly at their website, tifwe.org, and a sample of his work can be found here. He’s also written about Planetarian for us in the past.
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