Re-Viewed: Angel Beats! Episode 02 and the Problem of Pain

When I first watched episode two of Angel Beats!, my emotions were mixed.  One one hand, I found Yuri’s background a little over-the-top and and the events of her...

When I first watched episode two of Angel Beats!, my emotions were mixed.  One one hand, I found Yuri’s background a little over-the-top and and the events of her past didn’t strike a chord with me.  On the other, I started liking Yuri as a character and embraced her as the centerpiece of this series.

The second time around, things are certainly different.  I went in knowing that Yuri isn’t really the heroine of the series.  I listened to her words more closely.  And I allowed her story to resonate with me…well, more than it did originally.

Yuri’s tale is a difficult one – her failures lead to the violent deaths of her siblings.  I’ve certainly never experienced anything of the sort, but all of us have experienced pain that we consider unfair.  Twice, Yuri calls her circumstances this – she can’t get over the injustice of it all, probably as much for herself having to go through this experience and live on (at least for a few more years) as her innocent siblings dying in a terrifying way.

Nakamura Yuri

2. Yuri (Art by はる)

And who does Yuri blame?  Well, a most natural source.  Towing the line between agnostic and believer (though probably more accurately a believer who has troubles with her faith), Yuri places her blame on God.  She wants to “defy God, if he’s really there.”  After all, why would a loving God allow all this tragedy to occur?

This is the problem of pain.  How can millions of Jews and other individuals be systematically annihilated while God stands by?  How can a baby with disabilities be thrown to his death from the fourth story of a parking garage by her mother?  How can terrible people gain riches and fame while a loving mother dies in squalor?

Those who don’t believe in God can be divided into two categories: ones who don’t believe because they do not think He exists and those who believe He exists and choose not to believe.  Of those in the second category (fictional Yuri included), many defy God because of the belief that He really doesn’t love us at all.  He’s not a loving god, but a vengeful, sadistic, uncaring one.  Their proof is the world around us.

But is He really that way?  How can Christians put together the seemingly polar ideas of a loving God and a painful world?

Well, Christians believe this: the world is painful not because of God, but because of man.  When Adam ate of the apple, he brought sin into the world.  The world, once perfect, was now marred.  As time passed, murder, death, genocide, cancer, infanticide, disease, abductions, rape, and all sorts of evil, unfair, and painful things entered the world.  As people attempt to live their own way rather than God’s (a definition of sin), we reap the consequences of our action.  We live in a world of our own creation.

Why doesn’t God just clean up our mess?  Part two of the answer to pain is this –  He allowed sin into the world because He gave us the choice to follow Him or follow ourselves.  Like a father allowing his child to make a mistake and learn from it, God does the same for us.  And yet, He does offer a “do over” of sorts.  In letting Christ take on the burden of our sins, we can choose to have a “second life,” with a “new heart,” never fully transformed here, but one day made complete in Heaven.

That answer is not satisfactory for many, but I believe that it’s true and that it makes sense.  And as I travel through Angel Beats! again, having forgotten exactly why certain events transpired, I’m eager to see how Yuri comes to a conclusion that will lead her to peace.  What is her answer to the problem of pain and does she indeed come to peace with God?

What about you?  What do you see as God’s role in this problem of pain?

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  • M
    7 September 2011 at 6:05 pm

    I love Angel Beats! and have seen the entire series (I promise not to give anything away!). It is such a sad series, full of tears and horrible pasts, but ultimately the coming together of people all in pain and death to overcome it. And not to mention the wonderful music and humor throughout. The male protagonist, Otanashi Yuzuru, provided light to Yuri’s dark world and answer’s others’ problems. It is amazing to see how each character reaches acceptance of God and their lives and fate. It is equally amazing to how Tenshi/Angel (Kanade) prevails to help the students to help them through and give them a purpose in this new world, even as they are constantly try to destroy her.

    I myself found some question’s about God’s ways seeming to be answered. God does not ignore our problems and let countless people die. WE have to learn from our own man-made mistakes.

    With that, Angel Beats! is a great anime, and I like it better than the manga, Angel Beats!: Open Door (which is rare). Open Door provides and explanation as to how Yuri and the others got there at first and focuses on Hinata as the protagonist.

    I highly recommend this to everyone out there – Christian or not.

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    • TWWK
      7 September 2011 at 9:01 pm

      Thanks for the great comments! I’m really enjoying going through the series again. The first time I watched it was more of an emotional, anticipatory experience – this time, I can try to analyze it more. And with that, I think I’m appreciating the series more, flaws and all.

      Your take on Kanade is interesting – I hadn’t thought of the irony in what she’s doing as opposed to what the others are trying to do to her…

      And about the manga…I haven’t read it, but I have read some of Track Zero, upon which it’s based. I may go read the manga after rewatching the series, because I did enjoy the bits of Track Zero I read (and Hinata is one of my favs from the series, if not my very favorite character).

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  • Cytrus
    8 September 2011 at 5:14 am

    “When Adam ate of the apple, he brought sin into the world.”

    “Bring into the world” is a neat, ambiguous way of stating this. But behind it lurks the choice between the statements “man created sin” or “God created sin, man just chose it”. The second one is nasty in obvious ways. The first one actually has some fascinating consequences, especially for people like you TWWK, who mention cancer right alongside murder-

    (I’d actually strongly urge you to reconsider that point – disease and cancer are in no way related to any kind of intent, much less sinful intent, and it seems kind of a stretch to say that man’s evil created bacteria, which were around long before man come to be and were a necessary step in the evolution of living things… without the tiny “evil” stuff, there would be none of the good and nice stuff in the first place.)

    -because that would mean that man created cancer and stuff. And that makes man quite godly indeed. As devastating, cruel, terrifying and unfair as cancer is to us, it’s actually an incredible example of the strength of life and near-infinite resilience. You would probably need a Kyuubey to fully appreciate the thing.

    On a side note, Christian scholars did find ways out of the duality presented above, but I’m not spoiling ;).

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    • TWWK
      8 September 2011 at 8:35 am

      Yeah, I was definitely ambiguous in how presented – purposely and for reason, however.

      When it comes to putting cancer and say, murder, in the same list, I mean to bring them together in some ways, but certainly not others. I’m working from the perspective that there was no death prior to the fall of man (and obviously to a literal interpretation of Genesis). Man’s action led to physical death – a powerful action indeed. Man has some power over life and death, birth and killing. But just as we cannot determine all the specifics of how and when a child is conceived or when cancer strikes our body, we also didn’t control how sin and death would invade the world. Did man “make” cancer? No, but I believe man’s action led to disease coming into being.

      God created a world in which that choice, that action, and that result was possible. As for deeper theological and philosophical answers…you probably no better than I.

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  • tsurugiarashix
    9 September 2011 at 11:32 pm

    Cringe every time I think about specific epsiodes of the story that touched a nerve with me. Although in the case of Ep 02 and nearly all the characters stories, that is just the worst side of life. Not to discount God or any Divine beings involvement, but as you stated, we truly do live in the world of our own design, thus, a reflection of those choices and the choice is then mirror through life. However, their is a duality to this and does not only reflect to the darker side, but also their is also much “Good” into the equation as their is “Evil” or “Bad”. In the case of Angel Beats itself, for me, it just reflects the idea of balance and the idea of their is always much positive aspects as their are negative ones in life. A tad light-hearted and seemingly open opposed to normal cynical view of things, but then again, their is a lot to say I won’t.

    Nice article btw (happen to find your blog through a friend).

    Leave a Reply
    • TWWK
      10 September 2011 at 12:34 am

      Thanks for the comments (and the kind words)!

      You’re right in that there’s a lot of good in life as well as bad. Though I don’t believe in a balance of the two, the opposites do sometimes seem to counter each other. However, I think what’s most important is our response – the whole idea that it’s “darkest before the dawn.” Where do we place our hope? If we believe in the God of the Bible and that He does offer mercy and grace, we have strength and hope. Another choice, to rely on ourselves, can often lead us even further astray. For instance, Yuri is relying on herself in the series and is moving away from the ultimate goal.

      Anyway, thanks again for the comments – you gave me a lot of food for thought!

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