I love movies. And I love superheroes. As you can imagine, I was eagerly anticipating the release of The Avengers movie. In fact, I was second in line Saturday night because I got there over one and a half hours early! And the movie did not disappoint.
Yet as I watched the movie I was struck at how much the basic storyline mirrored the Christian view of reality. It reminded me of how C.S. Lewis said that there are stories throughout the literature of the world that mirror Christian themes of love, sacrifice, duty, unity, and good versus evil. According to Lewis, God has placed this on the human heart. And we see shadows of this even in the most unexpected places.
The first thing that struck me is how similar the forces of evil are in Avengers with the forces of evil in the Bible. In Avengers an outside alien force invades earth with the intent of dominating it. The leader, Loki, wants earthlings to worship him as a God. Loki came to earth because his brother, Thor, “unjustly” stole his throne. Out of jealousy and pride, he desires to dominate the earth and force it into submission.
Sound familiar? Obviously, Loki is the Satan-type figure who was rejected from his own dominion—Asgard—because of pride. He wanted to be worshipped as God but was refused. So he came to earth to get his due respect. Christians have traditionally believed that Satan was rejected from Heaven because he desired to be like God. He was not content to be second in command (like Loki), but said to himself, “I will ascend to the heavens; I will set up my throne above the stars of God. I will sit on the mount of the gods’ assembly…I will make myself like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:13-14).
One of Loki’s powers is similar to that of Satan—he possesses people. In fact, Loki possessed Hawkeye by pointing his saber at his chest, which transformed him into his disciple. Once he was set free, Hawkeye described it like being taken over by an outside force. This is what happens in demon possession.
And the tactic of Loki is similar to the tactic of Satan—he aims to cause discord and disunity between the Avengers. His goal was to cause dissension among the Avengers so they could not fight as a united force. In an attempt to destroy them, Loki set the Avengers against one another. The entire book of Ephesians is written to emphasize the importance of unity among Christians since Satan aims to cause disunity. This is why Paul writes, “Therefore, I the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope at your calling—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all…” (4:1-6a). Notice how many times he says “one”! Like the Avengers, Christians are called to fight as a united front against the forces of evil.
And of course, there is a Christ-figure who ultimately rescues the world from destruction. Surprisingly, it is Iron Man, the arrogant, rash, and sometimes reckless (but very cool) superhero. Early in the film Captain America foreshadows the sacrifice of Iron Man by pointing out how a true hero needs character (his implication, of course, was that Iron Man had none). A nuclear weapon is released at the end of the last battle that is headed towards Manhattan. Iron Man personally catches the weapon and takes it through a space portal—making the ultimate sacrifice of his life—to save the planet. He does survive, but the point was made…Iron Man saved the city by being willing to sacrifice his own life.
I have no idea whether the creators of the Avengers had these points in mind. They probably didn’t. But it does show how powerfully the gospel story resonates with the deepest intuitions in the human heart. The Avengers is a great fictional story. The Christian story, of course, is true.