Solo Leveling and the Value of Life

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous…”

Matthew 5:43-45

As imperfect humans trying to solve intricate problems with our flawed human approaches and intellect, it’s no surprise that the issues in our communities, countries, and world are substantial and difficult to resolve. So it seems too simplistic to advocate what Jesus teaches from the Sermon on the Mount—to love our enemies in addition to our neighbors and those who already love us in return.

However, I don’t see that instruction as naive but rather as the perfect model we should emulate. It’s more the “getting there” that’s challenging, perhaps more pronounced than ever in this country if not for much of the rest of the world. For instance, Twitter these days is afire over the recent outlawing of most all abortions in my home state of Texas, leading to much anger and aggressive tweets by those outraged by the law and the Supreme Court’s decision to allow it. I’ve read a few reasonable tweets, but they are overwhelmed by angry and vicious ones, and by those that are gloating in nature as well.

Doesn’t sound a whole like like loving one’s enemy, even from those that proclaim themselves Christian, users who identify as Christ followers.

Fundamentally, I think the issue comes down not to pro-life vs. pro-choice, but rather to how we treat other people. How we see them. How we value their lives.

As all this is raging in the background of my life—for indeed, we’ve been having conversations at the dinner table almost daily about the issue the past few weeks—I’ve simultaneously been reading a light novel that made me think further about life. Solo Leveling, a webtoon adapted into manga and now also into the light novel form that I’m reading, features a revisioning of this world, but one where fantastical monsters and real-life RPG mechanics exist.

Sung Jin Woo, Solo Leveling’s protagonist, is the lowest rank of “hunter,” level E, before an incident pushes him to what appears to be a wholly undiscovered level of adventurer. Once a laughingstock and constantly in danger against even the lowest level creatures, Jin Woo now has powers exceeding, well, most anyone. (SPOILERS ahead for volume two of the light novel, volume four of the manga, and chapter 54 of the webtoon.)

He generally hides his powers, but in volume two, is forced to reveal his own strength in a dire situation where he and others are trapped in a Red Gate dungeon. An unusual phenomenon, when Red Gates appear, they confine the party within a dungeon (level) that features very high-level monsters in sometimes difficult elements. The hunters are unable to escape unless they defeat the dungeon boss or the dungeon is somehow broken. As an hour in real life is the equivalent of a day in the dungeon, days and months can pass by for the adventurers, during which time all but A-level hunter all likely to die.

In this particular situation, the hunters divide into two groups. Chul, the only A-level hunter presents, takes with him the other strongest remaining players, while the weaker ones are grouped with Jin Woo, who is still ranked as level E though he is now far stronger than that. Eventually, Chul’s party is decimated and he barely escapes with his life, stumbling onto Jin Woo’s group, which is faring quite well under his leadership. An arrogant and selfish man already, Chul attacks the group, but is knocked unconscious by a single smack from Jin Woo.

What happens next is what made me consider the topic at hand. After this melee, Jin Woo and his party are attacked by the dungeon boss and his minions. During the havoc, Chul awakens and charges Jin Woo, intending to kill him, but the latter predicts this possibility and calls forth one of shadow warriors, Igris, who defends his master and kills the A-rank hunter. After the entire battle is completed, Jin Woo, who had earlier in the novel wondered what would happen if he used his summoning skill to turn a dead human into a follower (basically a zombie) as he had with monsters like Igris, does just that with the dead Chul, who now joins his undead army.

Part of what makes Solo Leveling compelling—and a bit sickening—is how Jin Woo becomes a man of little compassion for others. He has some fear, some heart, but much like Naofumi in The Rising of the Shield Hero, does his tasks without much care. Chul’s death is an example—he has the ability to disarm the adventurer, but kills him instead, and then zombifies him, later expressing no qualms about doing so.

To Jin Woo, Chul is a bully and worthy of death. Worse still, he has no idea what this action will do to Chul. While already dead, does this magic restore some half-life to him? Is he giving the former hunter an eternity of living death, a sort of hell?

In a non-fantastical context, very few of us are given the opportunity to deal out death (much less eternal death) to our enemies. And yet, Jesus words ring no less true as he speaks about how many around him must have lived during his humanly stay on earth, which feels no different than now and how your or I might harbor a hatred towards our “enemies” in our minds, in our hearts, and with ever increasing frequency, on social media. And make no mistake—hatred is a murdering of another human with one’s heart.

“Murder by words” is a way of life these days. As I read through the tweets on my dash, I get frustrated at the amount of tearing down rather than building up, with most of my frustration reserved for those tweeting out of spite or just, like Jin Woo, with a lack of care, while also expressing their faith in some way.

Christians are missing the point in troves and, via social media, in such a marked way. Loving one’s enemies is a way to model Christ for a lost world and to show them the way to salvation. And loving one’s enemies is precisely what the church as a whole is struggling with, now more visibly, as least, than ever.

I know that there are many Christians doing good work. I’ve seen it. I experience it. And I know, too, that we might know that we should love but fall into these unloving acts. Believe me, out of this mouth of mine I will impart godly lessons (as I hope this one is) and then curse others, treating them as inhuman, for that is exactly what I do when I call out “raca” to them by mouth, mind, or word. I’m taking away their humanity, for I’m seeing them as something less than one imbued with the goodness of God, as something less than God sees them, and forget in that moment, too, that my need for God and salvation is every bit as great as my enemy’s.

That’s last bit is perhaps what worries me the most. In forgetting another’s humanity as we call them out, clapback, or just generally rail against others’ points of view (especially without a godly context), we forget our own humanity—the sickly and dying insides that were repaired and restored only by the grace of God.

It is that gift which should challenge us to love others like he loves us. And to love others may mean not reveling in a pro-life law or mandate, but rather opening conversation with a pro-choice friend to understand her better and grow closer to her heart. It may mean abandoning one’s worship of a political or organizational philosophy and to engage those our hearts have turned bitter against.

It may mean once again loving those we once loved, but have grown cold toward. It may mean loving our neighbors who sharply disagree with us. And most of all, it may mean loving our very enemies, those who might even be okay with seeing us get hurt, punished, or die.

For remember, we were once the enemy, too, but instead of an awful and lasting punishment we deserved, like that which Jin Woo inflicted upon Chul, we were given grace, forgiveness, and life instead.

And now, it’s time for us to do the same, to trade those clapbacks for grace and mercy—for that is His way. And it must be our way, too.


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