Grace in Tearmoon Empire: Escaping the Zero-Sum Game

The premiere episode of Tearmoon Empire blew me away—so much so, that I’ve already written about it! But there’s still more. Not only do we have Mia’s story, the very picture of what it is to be born again, but we also have Anne’s, and it is this servant girl’s story that shows us what grace looks like, not once, but twice over: first, in the giving of grace and again in the receiving. And let me tell you, this grace is a beautiful, unexpected, and untamable thing that changes everything. Grace is the ultimate game-changer! So let’s take a look at how it is that this little thing called grace turns everything on its head, in the very best of ways.

First, a recap. You may remember Anne from my first post (or indeed from the episode, manga or light novel) as the kind-hearted, yet klutzy servant girl who, at the critical moment, prays for Princess Mia. This prayer, offered earnestly, alters the fate of not only her Highness, but also Tearmoon Empire as a whole, if not the known world too. It is this prayer that sparks a change in Mia and triggers the second chance she is granted as she is reincarnated back into her younger self. You see, the deity of Anne’s world heard her prayer and found it pleasing—so much so that her request for Princess Mia’s heavenly protection was granted. Mia was born again in both the spiritual and physical senses because of Anne’s prayer. Powerful stuff!

Now, in my previous post, I mentioned the mercy that Anne extends toward the petulant princess as she continues to serve her during her imprisonment, rather than taking vengeance for her abusive behavior. But what I didn’t discuss was the grace that the servant girl shows toward Mia. This is really what lies at the heart of her prayer. 

Wait a second, aren’t mercy and grace basically the same? Is there really a distinction between the two? Oh boy, there sure is! And it’s a really key one. Mercy is the forgiveness of a debt that is owed, the refusal to take an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth (let alone 1.3 million in damages for emotional distress and loss of income). Mercy provides us with a reset—which is why God’s mercies are new every morning! It brings us out of the negative numbers back to zero where we can start again, fresh. Mercy gives us another chance. 

But let’s be real, we are not like reincarnation isekai protagonists and we don’t generally do all that well with second chances. We tend to squander them, repeating the same mistakes as often as not. It’s human nature! We get stuck in harmful patterns, in the downward spiral. This is where grace comes in. Because grace is not just more mercy, more second chances. It’s most often defined as “unmerited favor”, like credit poured into our account or a boost in our stats that we don’t deserve and could never earn. But grace is actually a great deal more than this.

Grace is not just credit or favor; it’s also a powerful force, the ultimate special ability, if you will, and one that comes straight from the heart of God. Grace is active, and it changes everything.

You see, grace is the power to interrupt the downward spiral of indebtedness and the hopelessness it brings, and to stop short the spiral of fear and sin that leads to death. Where mercy resets our stats, grace scoops us out of the zero-sum game altogether—the one where tit and tat always have to even out, even if by supernatural means; the one where every winner means that there is also a loser. Grace drops us into the middle of a whole other reality, where we’re no longer subject to the rules of this world’s game. 

Anne’s prayer for Princess Mia is not just merciful, it is full of grace. The long-suffering servant girl does not simply ask that Mia would be forgiven for her evil deeds, but that she would “be granted heaven’s protection,” that is, that she would be lifted beyond the reach of the rules of the game completely. That she would be considered worthy of protection by the One in heaven. Anne prays for something that is beyond her power to grant. She prays for a blessing only her deity can accomplish, and in so doing, she joins with the heart of heaven. 

Grace is not of this world—or any isekai either. It does not exist in ancient religions or classical philosophies, and though we can trace the roots of grace in the Old Testament, the word itself is absent; the concept was not fully revealed until the ministry and cross of Jesus. When we walk in grace, then, as Anne does, we are walking with Jesus himself. 

But it gets better. Anne doesn’t just extend grace, she also receives it! This is because grace doesn’t just interrupt the downward spiral, it kickstarts a whole other, upward spiral that carries us closer and closer to God and his deep love for us. So let’s turn to the second part of Anne’s story now, where she finds herself overwhelmed by grace.

Anne’s first encounter with the reincarnated young Mia does not go well. It should have been great—the servant had the privilege of delivering the cake so desired by the peckish princess—but then her feet got in the way and…SPLAT! Release the wrath of the royal! But as Mia heats up to explosive levels, ready to flame the girl, she suddenly recognizes the servant trembling before her as the one who tended her so faithfully through those dreadful, dehumanizing years in prison, and the one who showed her such love in her final moments. In a flash, Anne’s destiny is rewritten. Mia embraces her, forgives her mistake, and promotes her, much to the distress of the other maids who do not hesitate to point out all of Anne’s flaws (as if Mia didn’t just witness them in action!). From this moment on, Mia defends Anne and showers her with favor, gifting her with gold for her family, visiting her sick sister, and honoring her as an equal and confidante. Mia shares her great wealth and privilege with Anne, and uses her authority to the servant’s benefit. 

This is more than what Anne deserved, not simply because of the disproportionality of the reward in light of services rendered, but because Anne has not actually done anything for Mia! The princess is crediting Anne for faithfulness that she has not technically demonstrated.

This taps into one of the most mysterious things about God’s grace: the fact that it doesn’t abide by our understanding of time and cause and effect. Mia, in her reincarnated form, exists outside the usual confines of time: she’s experienced more, seen more, knows more about the people in her world. She knows who they will become and what they will do. God is like this too, only much, much more so! He doesn’t simply have oversight of different possibilities, but rather, he knows all of time and human history so intimately (having invented them, after all), that he already knows the end from the beginning and everything in between. We can’t actually fathom how this works, since our brains are wired for linear time (thank goodness or we’d explode), but God is eternal and exists outside of time, before it and after it and all throughout it. Time is his creation. He knows all there is to know about the happenings of Earth and all its people. And he, like Mia, credits us with things that we have not actually done—not yet, and not completely.

The most mind-boggling example of this in the Bible is Hebrews 11, often called the “Heroes of Faith” chapter, and it is outright hilarious! The author essentially rewrites history, only highlighting what everyone got right, from Abraham and Sarah to Noah, Isaac to Jacob and Joseph, Moses to Rahab. All these “heroes” made terrible mistakes, sinning in arrogance, fear, greed, and more. They doubted God. They sinned against him. And none of this is mentioned. Instead, they are all credited with righteousness, and celebrated for their faith. It’s shocking—but it’s also how God sees them, from outside of time. Every act of faith and belief in him is remembered in minute detail, while their sins, flaws, errors and shortcomings are forgotten—not just forgiven. They have been pulled out of the game of human history and a fallen world, and exist now in another reality, one defined by grace, which gives us credit that we don’t deserve. This is what happens in a reality where tit for tat is no longer considered, where the rules of the game are non-zero-sum. This is grace. And this is the world we live in when we receive Jesus into our lives.

In a way, Anne has earned the favor she receives in Tearmoon Empire—at least some version of her has done. But that’s not the case with us. For us, God’s favor is pure grace. It is something we could never earn, not even if we were to be reincarnated a hundred times over and granted endless merciful redos. In Christ, we don’t just break even before God; we live as conquerors, we live under the banner of Jesus’s own victory. And that’s the even more mind-blowing thing about grace that we haven’t yet seen reflected in Tearmoon Empire: we don’t just receive right now the credit for our lifetime’s worth of acts of faith and belief; we receive the credit earned by someone else, by another player, the Son of God himself, accrued through a life lived perfectly and a victory so transformative that it released new powers and possibilities into the world, including grace itself. 

Our world is desperate for grace—for more than a do-over or a second chance. It is desperate for a way out of the zero-sum game where there are endless tallies of gains and losses. We are desperate for grace. And, praise God, it has come. What a privilege to live in such a world!

Tearmoon Empire is streaming on Crunchyroll.


3 thoughts on “Grace in Tearmoon Empire: Escaping the Zero-Sum Game

  1. Mia may never know this herself (bless her heart), but the single greatest thing she did in her redemptive arc was to reward Anne for her faithfulness. It affected every subsequent decision, more than “avoiding the guillotine” did.

    1. So good! I haven’t read the light novel, but it’s been so powerful to see with each new episode this exact thing you’re saying here — the way Mia’s grace toward Anne is totally spiralling out of control in a good way! Looking forward to the rest of the story! (And may just have to pick up the LNs once the season is done…)

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