In Episode 7 of Angel Beats, entitled “Alive,” Otonashi finally finds out about his life before coming to this afterlife. In the episode, we meet Otonashi’s sister Hatsune.
Hatsune is very sick. In life Otonashi loved his sister, cared for her while she was hospitalized by providing her manga, visiting her regularly, and telling her about his life. He snuck her out of the hospital on Christmas once so she could see the lights. He feels he has no purpose in life, but comes to a decision that he is living for her. When she passes, he falters into depression and once again feels this sense of emptiness. He doesn’t know what purpose he has, or why he’s alive. He then decides to go into medicine, to help others. He works hard, gets into a good school – then dies on a train sending him to this afterlife. Once again, without that opportunity to study medicine – he feels as though he has no reason to exist.
Otonashi had a problem in life – he was tying his life’s purpose to physical things of this world. But everything in this world is passing away, is temporary (Matthew 24:35, 1 Corinthians 7:31, 1 John 2:17). By tying his purpose to these temporary things – his career, his sister – he is falling victim to a simple lie; we can find fulfillment and true joy from the things of this world. In so doing Otonashi inadvertently fell into a life of idolatry.
What do I mean by that? Otonashi was living to help his sister or to study medicine – how was that idolatry? Consider this. What did Otonashi put before everything else? What did he put all of his blood, sweat, and tears into? What was at the center? What was the thing which was revered above all else? What did he live for? What was first in his life before everything else? His sister or his career. He had raised them up as a thing of worship. They were receiving his time, his treasure, his everything. They were being revered as the purposes of his life, his reasons for living. They were his idols.
We do not think of friends, family, or jobs as idols – but they can be. If we put anything before the Lord, we are creating idols for themselves. If it’s first, it is what we worship. If it is before God, we are making it more important than our God. This doesn’t merely mean statues – but anything we put before our God. We worship a jealous God, who does not want us to worship things ahead of Him. The Bible condemns idolatry over and over again (here’s an assortment of verses on the matter). We should take those condemnations to heart.
Now don’t get me wrong – the Bible does not condemn helping family, it says we need to (1 Timothy 5:8). It does not condemn working for a living, it says we absolutely should (2 Thessalonians 3:10). What it does say is this – do not put those things ahead of the Lord. If it’s before the Lord, it’s an idol. If it keeps us away from fellowship with Him, it’s an idol. Otonashi was worshipping his sister and potential career. His cult he had created centered on them so, when they faltered – when they ended, he fell too. We have hope in a God who never falters, who never fails, who will never collapse. He is perfect. He is forever. He is worthy of our praise.