The Avengers and the Body

I wrote an earlier post that looked at a spiritual theme in the Avengers movie. That one had something for both the lost and Christians, so I posted it on both blogs. There’s another theme that really only applies to Christians, and it only really changes the end. Here is the post again, but with a slightly different ending.

The Avengers is one of the best superhero movies ever made. Like some of the other recent superhero movies, the thing that made it so good wasn’t just the spectacular adventure, but the personal stories intertwined with that adventure. Real characters that develop as the story unfolds, adding a literary depth to the well-crafted adventure. In this case, a key theme was how a bunch of diverse and independent characters came together to battle something bigger than all of them, and how they ultimately succeeded. There’s was a success born not only from physical power, but from paradox ultimately more powerful than even the tesseract. The seed for this paradox was planted near the beginning, during Loki’s speech.

At that point, Loki speaks to a crowd under his control. After commanding them to kneel, he proclaims that humans “were made to be ruled”. Interestingly, no argument is made against that, but exception is taken to Loki being the ruler. In a very real sense, the statement is true, because we all choose who is the ruler of our lives. One way to frame this is whether we choose to focus on self or selflessness. Basically, we decide who is going to be Lord of our life; ourself, or someone else.

In the movie, the heroes faced this dilemma as they struggled to work together without destroying each other (and perhaps the entire world) in the process. All of them were powerful and strongly independent. For example, Tony Stark was so arrogantly independent and egotistic, that he was deemed unsuitable to work with the in a team (“I don’t play well with others”). As powerful as they were, as long as each asserted his own will, they had no success. When they tried to work together, they were less than the sum of their parts.

It was only upon the death of Agent Coulsen that they began to look beyond themselves and came together in a spirit of selflessness. They realized the necessity of putting their individual perspectives below the greater need of defending the planet. Each had different abilities, and could support the effort in a way that none of the others could. The best chance for success lay in making sure they each used their special talents the most effective way possible, but coordinated so that they worked in harmony instead of conflict. Thus, each one had to put his or her strength in the service of the group.

For this to work, they needed a leader to coordinate. But in this context, any leader had to be selfless as well, able to think of the whole space, and not just those aspects he was special at. This leadership position fell naturally to Captain America. He was a natural choice for two reasons. First, they were in a war, and he was the ultimate soldier. Second, and more important, he was the most selfless one of the group. Although others, like Thor and to some extent Ironman, developed some sense of self-sacrifice in their growth as heroes, Captain America was chosen from the beginning because of this trait. While still normally human in his origin movie, a pivotal event occurs in which he throws himself on a grenade in order to save others. And in the Avengers, while part of an elite group with incredible powers, he acknowledge the reality of an even more supreme power.

With Captain America as leader, and each Avenger serving the common good in their best form, they began to act like a single unit, like a single body functioning in unity. In this sense, they can be a model for the Body of Christ. Just like each Avenger had their own specialty, each Christian has a spiritual gifts and talents. And just like the Avengers fulfilled their talents only after recognizing the sacrifice of Agent Coulsen and coming together in selflessness, we are fulfilled only in recognizing Christ’s sacrifice and coming together while dying to self. While Captain America was the leader in the movie, our leader is Christ: Lord of our individual and corporate lives.

The beautiful reality is that the success of them working together was based on their individual selflessness. The team was only truly formed when they each denied themselves. The truth that we are only fully realized as individuals when we bow down to Christ, is also manifested corporately. The group is properly alive only when the individuals die to themselves.

So in this sense Loki was right: we are at our best when ruled, but only when that ruler is the Lord.

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