Today we continue a final series of Throwback Thursday posts that run through the end of 2020 and help in celebrating our 10th anniversary! Twwk returns to one of this blog’s original columns, “The Invisible God,” in today’s article. We hope you’ll enjoy, and also continue to stay tuned as other current and former writers revisit their own past columns in the coming weeks.
We make comparisons between anime and faith topics all the time on Beneath the Tangles—often subtly, sometimes more plainly, and occasionally in a most blatant and clear manner. The “Invisible God” posts were in the lattermost category, often written in a more academic tone, as I most often compared anime characters to individuals and others from the Bible—not only Christ, but also including John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit, and more.
Today, however, I make a bigger leap than in the past. Or rather, I take quite a journey.
God as a Continent
I’ve mentioned before that despite the critical acclaim, I avoided A Place Further Than the Universe when it first aired because I couldn’t get past the premise: cute girls on an expedition to Antarctica? It seemed far-fetched, even by anime standards. But our followers voted, and I watched. It didn’t take me long to forget about what had kept me away (the story was ultimately as believable as any slice of slice series) and to focus instead on the journey that the four girls at the center of the series were making to the continent. And although I had my favorites among them, there’s no doubting which was most substantial and powerful: Shirase’s. After all, it’s her determination to go following her mother’s death in Antarctica that drives the entirety of the show.
Shirase is introverted, bashful, and prideful, all characteristics I recognize within myself. I also noticed one more strong similarity—we both can be headstrong, fighting to do something without thinking about the particulars or even much considering the reasons why. Shirase has battled so hard, through ridicule, anxiety, and pain, to make the trip to Antarctica a reality for the reason of wanting to “see her mother” there. But what does that mean exactly? I don’t think Shirase herself understands.
But with help from her friends, she moves forward anyway. They make it to the base where Shirase’s mother was last before dying in the cold, and desperately searching, find a remnant of the past: her work computer, topped with a sticker photo of the mother and daughter. The laptop, along with what’s in it, finally give Shirase comfort and release. Up until that moment, even as the other three girls run through the facility, Shirase has become hesitant—she doesn’t know why she’s there, what she’s looking for, or even if healing will come. She’s started to hide within herself, afraid not of what she’ll find, but of what she might not. But when she receives the answer, everything falls into place, and Shirase understands why she needed to come to Antarctica after all.
Nothing to Hide
The day that the girls start their journey home, Shirase steps up before the crowd, takes the mic, and overcoming her extreme fear of speaking in front of others and the camera, delivers a calm, wise speech:
As you all know, my mother was a member of your Antarctic expedition. She loved Antarctica and left our house in her obsession. When I looked at her, to be honest, it was hard for me to have positive feelings about Antarctica. I think wanting to change that feeling was the reason I came here. A place further than the universe. Mom…rather, my mother, called it that. It’s a place that strips everything bare. Time, life, hearts…It’s a place with nothing to protect you and nowhere to hide. It’s an environment that exposes everything we’re embarrassed about, and everything we want to hide. And so, naked and crying, we’re forced to come face to face with who we really are…I love this place. Good luck with the winter. I’ll be back. I swear.
Shirase pushed herself to the edge of her limits and to the ends of the earth, and there she found Antarctica—a place further than the universe, a “place that strips everything bear,” in which you have no place to hide.
And while that description certainly applies to the icy continent, it also reminds me of something, or someone, even bigger. It reminds me of God
As with Shirase preparing for her trip and even going on it, without thinking much about what it all means or how it will culminate, we can go about our daily affairs without thinking much about the meaning of life and the One at the center of it all. We can even attend church, proclaim to be Christian, and celebrate Christian holidays without really coming face to face with God., without truly experiencing him
How do you even know if you’ve come face to face?
You know because when you do, you’re exposed.
Danger from Exposure
I’ve always found “exposure” to be a strange word. It has a negative connotation when we think of the perverted crime. It also has other meanings—the one involving film hitting light, of being open to the world, and the condition in which natural elements can kill a living being. All of these definitions have this in common: They are dangerous. And so, too, is God. Remember Mr. Beaver from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and what he says to Susan about Aslan, the lion who represents Christ? “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.” And part of that goodness and danger is how he exposes us. Everything we carefully hide from others—from society, work and school; from our acquaintances and friends alike; even from our family and our selves, God strips bare.
Again, how do you know if you’ve come face to face with God? You know because you’ve been “naked and crying.” You know because he’s exposed “everything you’re embarrassed about and everything you want to hide.” You’ve stood before him and are in complete shame and embarrassment, like Adam and Eve in the Garden, realizing you can no longer run from him. And yet, like Shirase with Antarctica, should you see beyond the danger and fear, you can respond, “I love this place…I’ll be back. I swear.”
As with Aslan and with Antarctica, you don’t walk away from God filled with trepidation, depression, and disgust, not if you see him for who he really is and respond properly. The end of the encounter is the not the same as the beginning, which may be colored by shame, regret, and fear. Instead, it ends with thankfulness and love. For God sees you for everything you are, for all your faults and failures, and says he loves you anyway—and not just with a love that comes and goes, but a love that marches to the cross, that goes to the very ends of the earth. Even to a place like Antarctica. Even to a place further than the universe.
When you see God, you are bare. You are exposed.
But most of all—you are loved.
A Place Further Than the Universe can be streamed on Crunchyroll. And check out the previous Throwback Thursday columns: