The vulnerability of Isaac’s binding

"Inside the Chest" | Art by Kenny1654. Used with permission.
Have you played The Binding of Isaac yet? Admittedly, I have this weird obsession with stories that invoke Biblical mythology from a less than sensitive perspective. I find it intriguing to witness how a narrative I believe is perceived from an outsider looking in. What are the things they notice? What pleases them? What offends them? How do they define the concepts they encounter? Concepts like, in this case, vulnerability.

The Binding of Isaac is a game that clearly echoes the Biblical account of God asking Abraham to bind and sacrifice his son Isaac (Gen 22). In the Biblical narrative, Abraham obeys and moments before he is about to kill his son, God tells him to stop and provides a lamb for the sacrifice instead. This is one of those Biblical stories that has always bothered me. Sure, God knew of the lamb he would eventually provide, but how could a loving God even ask that of a follower? As a father of a three year old, if God were to ask that of me—I cannot possibly fathom ever saying yes.

Vulnerability is not something to be overcome.

In the game’s story, Isaac’s mother—who watches Christian television broadcasts—hears the voice of God telling her to separate her son from sin. Eventually she is told the only real way to succeed is to cut her son off from the mortal world, so she locks him in his room. Then she hears the voice telling her to end his life.

Isaac, through a crack in his door, hears this and sees his mother carrying a knife and coming towards his room. He finds a trap door to the basement hidden under his rug and jumps down just in time. There, Isaac faces an onslaught of monsters. His weapon against these hell-spawned creatures: his tears.

Setting aside the debate of “is this sacrilegious?” I’d like to ponder what did the author of the game perceive and what did they miss?

In both the biblical account and the video game narrative, Isaac is vulnerable. Because of the nature of parenthood, for good or ill, all children are ultimately susceptible to their parents’ whims. From here, however, our two accounts of Isaac’s binding depart.

In the video game, as Isaac, you rise above your vulnerability, slowly gaining in strength, and ultimately defeat your oppressor, Mom. It’s a pretty standard underdog story. You start off weak and become strong. You eventually become the greatest force the universe has ever known, even if tears are your weapon of choice. Vulnerability is something to be risen above and overcome.

If God were to ask that of me—I cannot possibly fathom ever saying yes.

But in the Biblical version, both Isaac and his father remain vulnerable to the will of God in hopes that there is something greater to be gained as a result of the situation. Biblically, vulnerability is not something to be overcome. Vulnerability is something to be embraced.

This is such a foreign concept to us, who are constantly fed a “find the strength within yourself” message from video games, TV, movies, books, or what have you. It’s all around us.

Yet being vulnerable—with ourselves, with others, and with God—it’s important because that’s what trust is built on.

By the way, the gameplay of The Binding of Isaac is quite good. Add a dash of macabre to a randomly generated dungeon crawler that borrows heavily from the original Legend of Zelda and you won’t be far off. I picked it up as a Humble Bundle offer so even if I never play the game again, some of the proceeds go to some great causes.

Kyle Rudge

Kyle Rudge

Admiral at Geekdom House
Kyle is an avid web developer and programmer with a strong tendency to be distracted by marathon watching various television shows. While he loved to write in several languages, most of them are based on 1's and 0's.
Kyle Rudge