My kids and I have been making our way through Dragon Ball Super (though given its emphasis on food, we tend to refer to it as “Dragon Ball Supper”!). Episode 9 struck me as particularly inspiring for two reasons, one of which I’ll go into today.
The setting is this: Beerus, God of Destruction (and food-obsessed Egyptian cat), is bored and wants to fight the legendary “Super Saiyan God”. The Super Saiyan God, however, must be created by transforming a normal Saiyan; and the transformation process requires “five Saiyans pouring their hearts into another Saiyan.” Beerus threatens to destroy the Earth if one of the Saiyans there doesn’t transform into the Super Saiyan God. (It makes sense in context, as much as anything in Dragon Ball does.)
Between Goku, Vegeta, and their offspring—Goten, Gohan, and Trunks—five Saiyans and half-Saiyans are present. (Yes, the half-Saiyans count just as much as the full-blooded ones.) Summoning their fighting power, they channel it into Goku. Goku indeed becomes powerful—but doesn’t become a god.
At this point, Whis (Beerus’s attendant) points out two flaws in their approach: They need six Saiyans, not five (five to give, one to receive) and they are supposed to pour into him their hearts, not their power.
Beerus announces that, since they don’t have enough Saiyans present, he’s going to destroy the world. As he readies up a massive energy blast, and our heroes stand by helplessly, Gohan’s human wife Videl unexpectedly rushes between Beerus and the Earth. “Excuse me,” she asks, “Would a Saiyan in my belly work?”
There’s a beat, and then everyone realizes that Gohan has become a father and Goku a grandfather, and excited congratulations erupt—until Beerus yells at them to hurry up. Goku hesitates: “I ain’t so sure that a baby still in the belly can count as a Saiyan.” Still, with nothing left to lose, they all try again with Videl joining them.
At first nothing seems to happen. Then suddenly a bright light emanates from Videl’s womb and transforms the Saiyans into their “Super Saiyan” (powered-up) forms, a soft glow envelopes them, and… well, a lot of special effects kick in, in a laser light display that is excessive even by Dragon Ball standards. Oh, and a bunch of weird weather patterns hit. When everything settles, Goku… has red hair.
Yep, he’s now the Super Saiyan God!
The narrative clearly contrasts “power” with “heart,” strength with love. When the five Saiyans confuse the two and focus on power, they get a stronger Saiyan; when they correct their mistake and focus on love, they get God. Metaphysical discrepancies notwithstanding, the theological principle aligning love and God is sound, for “God is love.”
And yet this episode doesn’t simply consist of a fantasy take on the writings of St. John: It goes further and links this with a pro-life theme. I don’t mean simply that Goku voices a basic question that our culture is wrestling with today: Does an unborn baby “count” the same as someone born? And it’s not simply that the episode answers this question with a clear “Yes!” (since otherwise the Super Saiyan God transformation wouldn’t work).
What strikes me as significant is that the transformative energy that creates the Super Saiyan God begins with the unborn. Measured by raw strength, the baby is the least among them; but measured by love, he’s the most important. “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.” Without the presence of the weakest person possible, there is no love—no effective, transformative love at least. Love begins with, flows from, and is available to others only because the weak make it available.
What this means, I think, is that the everyday use of the word “love,” and related terms like “charity” (which, after all, comes from the Latin word for love), is backwards. Love isn’t something we do or show to those who are in need. In the first place, we’re all in need. And more importantly, love exists prior to and without any action. I daresay that generally speaking, no one loves more than a baby loves, in its untouched, wholehearted, innocent way. When you see a baby and begin to ooh and aah and act in a way that, in other circumstances, would (at a minimum) raise eyebrows, are you giving something of yourself to someone in need, or are you responding to something already present with that person? Most likely, I think, both are true; and yet even so, the giving is already a response. The love begins with the child. Love begins with the weak.
Is it any wonder, then, that the God who is the origin of Love revealed Himself as a child, and as someone weak?