Here at Beneath the Tangles, we talk a lot about how God speaks to us through anime, manga, light novels, and other aspects of otaku culture. In fact, we write about it every week: how these stories challenge us, refine us, encourage us, and push us to go deeper in our relationship with God and in fellowship with his children and creation. But what exactly do we mean when we say that God “speaks” or that we “hear” him through these things?
Well, funny you should ask, because a recent episode of Spy x Family addresses this very question—albeit inadvertently.
Episode 7 sees Loid “Twilight” Forger donning multiple disguises in order to infiltrate his daughter Anya’s school and send her increasingly creative (some might say wacky) reminders throughout her day to do a certain something—so much so, that she begins to wonder whether God might be speaking to her. In doing this, Loid mirrors our heavenly Father—and not for the first time. Each of Loid’s messages depicts a specific mode of communication our own Father uses as well as he seeks to draw us, his daughters and sons, into conversation with him.
So let’s dive in and see what the spy, his antics, and his easily distracted daughter have to teach us about hearing from God!
Anya sets out to school on a mission: She is going to apologize to Damian. (Quick recap: She punched him in the face.) She already has a clear sense of conviction on this point thanks to a conversation she had with Loid about it over breakfast, not to mention the reminder he gave her as they chatted through the school bus window, and of course the awareness that world peace depends on her getting along with Damian.
But as she catches sight of the Second Son and his sidekicks in the distance, the struggle begins as people, circumstances, and Damian himself keep getting in the way of Anya’s apology. And as they do, her conviction wavers and it becomes a lot easier to just let things slide, rather than take the initiative and follow her father’s advice. Luckily for Anya though, her father is seemingly omnipresent, and he’s determined to help her do the right thing through a prompt or seven. And so begins a hilarious montage of Loid sending Anya subtle and not so subtle reminders of the path she must take.
First, Anya overhears the thoughts of the janitor, a seeming stranger, who is adamant that apologizing is important. Now of course the janitor is actually Loid in disguise, and Anya ultimately recognizes him, but she’s only able to do so because his words line up with those of her father. She recognizes him by his internal voice. God does something similar to this all the time, speaking through the people in our lives or even through strangers, echoing through them something that we’ve been feeling convicted about or a scripture that’s been standing out to us, or sometimes even seeming to answer directly a question we’ve been pondering quietly in our hearts. Sometimes God uses human vocal cords to speak into our lives, almost as if he’s in disguise right here among us.
Next up for Anya is a message literally written in light, as Loid uses a mirror to reflect a proverb onto the paving stones in front of her during her outdoor science class, directing her that: “It is good to apologize today.” God too wrote his word on tablets of stone, while every word of scripture, inspired by the Holy Spirit, can be said to carry light, life and truth in its every “jot and tittle” or dotted i and crossed t. “Your word is a lamp unto my feet,” wrote the psalmist. We too have words of light to lead us on our way.
Back in the classroom again, Loid’s next message comes to Anya through her literature textbook. That is, her father speaks to her in the midst of her mundane school life, through something she interacts with routinely in her studies. God speaks to us wherever we are: in the classroom, the workplace, the home, the commute, the shops and corner stores of our normal lives. And he speaks through whatever is at hand. That is to say, God speaks through supposedly secular culture, or things that some might consider “profane”, like Anya’s school curriculum or, for instance, anime. It doesn’t need to be produced by Christians or be part of a church service for God to use it to prompt us, nudge us, or give us clarity as we are seeking out the way we should go.
But what’s even more interesting with this example is that Anya receives a message from her textbook that no one else in her class gets. This is of course because Loid has done some cut-and-paste work in her book and changed the story to reinforce the value of apologizing and getting along with others. But there’s a key principle at work here that applies in our lives too: When Anya reads that book, she encounters something different, something crafted specifically for her, and which comes directly from her father. Jesus spoke about this phenomenon repeatedly, when he explained that we see, hear and understand differently when we engage with God with an open, teachable heart. Christ, living in us, gives us new eyes and ears and renews our minds so that we “get” something different from the world around us. We can see God at work in it, even when others cannot. Suddenly, “secular” becomes sacred as we receive a revelation of insight, encouragement, wisdom, or direction from God through everyday things.
This is possible because God speaks our language—not just English or Spanish or Japanese. He speaks the language of our hobbies and sub-cultures, our work and studies; the language of the everyday things that are integral to our lives and who we are. He speaks the language of anime, manga, and light novels. He speaks even the language of Spy x Family, infusing it with hidden depths, Easter eggs just waiting for us to uncover and delight in. Our God is the one who buries treasure in a field and waits in anticipation for us to come and discover it and celebrate with him over the wonder of finding gold where others would say there is only dirt.
Once class is over (ahem, once she awakens from her nap…), Anya heads to the cafeteria when she is overtaken by someone with a sign taped to their back that reads, “Sorry.” Now we’re getting to the good stuff: signs! Often in a biblical context, we think of “signs” as purely metaphorical or perhaps supernatural, but they can be literal and very material too. God uses advertisements on the sides of double-decker buses, street signs, posters and flyers taped to telephone poles—all the signage that wallpapers the urban environment—to highlight something to us. I have a friend who always pays attention to signage because of the sheer number of times a passing bus or ad in the London tube has been in direct dialogue with a question he is asking of God. Sometimes it’s a keyword or phrase that clicks into place, other times, an image. Such things can carry hidden depths of meaning that may not be apparent to anyone else, but which resonate with us at a specific time and place in our lives—like the word “Sorry” on someone’s back, which for Anya speaks directly to her concern about whether or not and how to apologize to Damian.
As Anya continues along her way, a glance to her left reveals that same word yet again, this time trimmed into the bushes like prophetic topiary. The message is now being declared by nature itself! The parallel here hardly needs any expansion: the Creator of the universe speaks powerfully through his creation, a fact that is underlined time and again in scripture, as prophets and kings and humble men and women retreat to the wilderness, the mountaintop, or the green grass by the cool waters in order to commune with God. The beauty, majesty and extravagant abundance of the natural world compel us into dialogue with God, to clap our hands alongside the trees, and cry out his praises in harmony with the rocks.
Back indoors, Anya makes it to the cafeteria where, in true anime style, the message appears in her food, written on her omurice with ketchup. There are a couple of delightful metaphors here: The message comes in her daily bread, as it were, but also at a time of fellowship, as she sits down to share a meal with her friend Becky. There’s also a connection here to the word of God as our food: We live by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
But there’s another dynamic at play as well, namely, the aesthetic one: Anya’s omurice is beautiful. It’s a work of culinary art that is pleasing both to the eye and the tummy! It combines the mundane (daily food) and the transcendent (beauty), transforming this message from merely functional into a delight for the senses. So too are beauty and delight at the core of God’s interactions with us: “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” says the psalmist.
Loid’s final message is not for Anya directly, but for her friend Becky, whom he calls away over the intercom on a false errand. He does this because all day long, Becky has been an obstacle to Anya’s apology, hauling her away from Damien in a huff, telling her he doesn’t deserve her consideration, and generally talking smack about him—all in a sweet but misplaced show of loyalty to her friend. As long as Becky is around, Anya will not be able to reconcile with the Second Son. And so by removing her from the cafeteria for a spell, Loid orchestrates an opportunity for his daughter to do the right thing.
And Anya takes it—with alacrity! Where Loid’s many prompts have failed, his intervention into her circumstances succeeds. Anya still has a few more hurdles to jump though, as Damian’s henchboys mock her mercilessly and their audible and internal taunts (which she can hear with her special power) send her into a panic. Damian himself is not the most amenable either, being struck both with admiration for Anya and overwhelming confusion as to what is going on in his heart, and how not to betray it on his face (which makes him appear like a very angry tomato). But against these odds, Anya presses on and delivers her apology. She can’t not do so, because the messages she’s been picking up on all day have resonated strong and true and given her the courage to do what otherwise might seem impossible or unnecessary. At the end of the day, she’s done her very best indeed.
The thing I most appreciate about this montage of Loid sending his messages to Anya, is that it takes a great many “communiqués” from her father before Anya is able to step out and apologize, and Loid is ok with that. Anya’s father doesn’t get angry with her after the first, second, or even third seemingly failed attempt at communication with her. He doesn’t hang his head in disappointment or shake it in frustration. He doesn’t give up either, or become aggressive, bursting in and scolding her, humiliating her at school. Instead, he tries over and over again, patiently, creatively, expressing a consistent message in a multitude of ways that he thinks might reach her. And when she shows that she has heard him and apologizes, he is right there, celebrating her, puffing up with parental pride over his little girl.
What a picture of the faithful Father! He carries the burden of communication, reaching out to us, speaking with and without words, in ways that have us as individuals specifically in mind, meeting us where we’re at and by means we can understand, even if it takes a while for us to piece things together and work up the courage step out. He doesn’t mind repeating himself.
And on the flip side, what a joy it is for us to learn to recognize his voice! Jesus tells us that to do so is in our very nature as children of God, as sheep under the care of the Good Shepherd. He promises that we can and will and do learn the timber and intonation, cadence and lilt of the Father’s voice.
But it is so much more than just an audible voice, as Loid and Anya remind us. God’s “voice” can be heard in the spoken words of others, in his written word, through culture, signs, nature, and the beauty that surrounds us. All these things can and do by times vibrate with the heartbeat of the Father.
So let’s keep listening, and let’s listen widely, attentively, and with the expectation that our Father is probably going to surprise us with the way he speaks next.
SPY x FAMILY can be streamed on Crunchyroll.