A religion geek hearts The Avengers
Caught The Avengers last night. It was a blast and I had fun with it on several levels. OK, let’s get it out of the way, Scarlett Johanssen in 3D was one. Another was Samuel L. Jackson - looks like Jules found that redemptive path after all (but still got to shoot folks in the process). God gives us more than we can ask or imagine, says the Book of Common Prayer.
But for a religion geek, there were many more enjoyments (CONTAINS SPOILERS):
Props to truth, monotheism, exclusivism, the scandal of particularity and other theological stuff that Christians love and others despise. When Captain America is warned to stay out of the fight between Thor and Loki, because “they are gods,” he retorts, “There’s only one God, ma’am, and I don’t think he dresses like that.” A number of friends have commented on that line. There’s a stunned hush that falls over the audience - you sense people ready to burst out in applause but the movie moves fast and there isn’t time to jump in if you dawdle. But you see the shadowy heads in the audience leaning toward one another to comment on it. Great line. How did that get into a 2012 movie?
A metaphor for the church. The superheroes are divided by egos and personal agendas. Only when they recognize each individual’s special power, and unify those powers in a common effort, do they overthrow evil. Jesus’ sign of “the vine and the branches” and Paul’s “parts of one body” express the church as a collection of individuals, all gifted by God for unified work for the Gospel. No need to thank me for this post-it in your collection of sermon illustrations.
Evil is manipulative but ultimately powerless. Loki is most effective when he plays on the heroes’ egos, shames and fears. He has some mind control ability, but it is rather easily undone, as Black Widow points out, by hitting the controlled person upside the head. When the Avengers recognize what he’s up to, his plan begins to come apart. And when Loki draws himself up to full height and delivers an oration about how he is a god and far superior to his opponents, the Hulk thrashes him and stomps off muttering, “Puny god.” The Bible reveals the devil as a deceiver. His power is in sales and marketing. So the New Testament tells us, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7 ESV).
Seeking redemption. Black Widow is a former assassin for hire. She keeps talking about “wiping the red off of my ledger.” Now, before my elder SF bloggers Kennedy and Ould fly in to Calvinistically remind us, the Christian message is that Jesus Christ redeemed us by his blood - the “red on his ledger” is the only way to wipe our ledger clean. “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14 ESV). Black Widow does not have a conversion of that nature, but she starts to understand that constantly looking to the past as a balance sheet is fruitless. When Hawkeye is rescued from Loki’s mind control, and comes to the horrified realization that he has been killing people for Loki, it is Black Widow who is able to warn him of the futility of going back over and over our shame and failure - redemption requires a true release. Christians understand that Christ’s sacrifice is the only redemption of our lives. But we also recognize that we are transformed in this life, turning from what we were into what God makes us to be.
Tradition. Captain America is a throwback to the moral certainties of the Second World War. When the Cap’n's world view is questioned, Nick Fury opines that the messed up world needs such old school virtue. The movie suggests that our post-modern, high tech reality has failed to make us better as a race - Loki mocks the way that humans continue to kill one another in big bunches. The Avengers encourage us to look back for values that subdue ego and invest life in caring for the common good.
As you’ve probably heard, the movie is chock full of action and humor, too. I encourage you to take your eyes of faith along with your 3D glasses. At the very least you’ll have fun, and you might come home with something more to remember.
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