Black Widow: “Wait. You might wanna sit this one out, Cap. These guys are basically gods.”
Captain America: “There’s only one God, ma’am. And I don’t think he dresses like that.”
So goes the brief exchange immediately prior to Captain America’s leap from an airplane to engage Thor, Loki, and Iron Man in another gripping fight sequence from last year’s summer blockbuster, The Avengers. The mention of the divine is rare in this film—it’s not exactly meant to make us think as much as make us “ooooh” and “aaaah” at superhero awesomeness— but that doesn’t mean God is absent.
You’re probably familiar with The Avengers already, so I won’t go into all the details of plot summary, suffice to say that a group of gifted individuals must save the world from an evil invasion led by a deceptive spiritual being from another world. Come to think of it, that same description can be applied to the church. Maybe not “save the world” ourselves, but certainly use our Spirit-given gifts to be salt and light to a dark world.
Of course, it takes quite a bit of conflict for the heroes in The Avengers to come together as a team. The fight sequence between Cap’n, Thor, and Iron Man is one of a few get-to-know-you battles between characters. These might have simply been used as spectacle, a sort of combative filler to satisfy audiences until the climactic fight sequences. I rather view it as a preparation, a sanctification of sorts for each character to prepare themselves for the immense mission that is before them. These battles are not only external; the internal struggles with pride (Iron Man), anger (Hulk), guilt (Thor), naiveté (Cap’n America), and betrayal (Hawkeye) must be overcome and healed before a team of heroes can transcend their differences and save the world. This sanctification only happens in the context of community, both in an I-will-affirm-your-strengths and I-will-call-out-your-weaknesses sort of way.
The deceiver—Loki—does his best to manipulate and discourage this troupe of characters, much like the spiritual deceiver in our world. Loki is a tragic character, one that actually gets us to feel sorry for him at times, but ultimately is the source of chaos, invasion, deception, and destruction. While he tries to make others out to be responsible and pass the blame, just follow the trail of deceit and they all lead to the liar with the horns.
Director Joss Whedon is a self-identified atheist. In a 2002 interview, Whedon answered the question “Is there a God?” with one word: “No.” The interviewer followed up with: “That’s it, end of story, no?” Whedon answered, “Absolutely not. That’s a very important and necessary thing to learn.” In spite of his atheism, Whedon has crafted an entertaining film with redemptive messages about the values of camaraderie and community when given a mission to save the world. Our young people need to know they are also gifted and called, given the responsibility to share the good news of the kingdom together. We don’t need to avenge the world; Christ has already paid our ransom. Instead of avengers, we’re called to be ambassadors, given the ministry of reconciliation and the good news that this is a world God thinks is worth saving.