“There was an idea to bring together a group of remarkable people to see if we could become something more, so when they needed us, we could fight the battles that they never could.”
Avengers “Infinity War” 2018
“I don’t like bullies; I don’t care where they come from.”
Steve Rogers in Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Heroes are called when there seems to be no other way out of a situation. Avengers Infinity War is no exception.
OK, I’ll admit the headline is a goofy reach. But if you read the article below, you’ll know what I’m getting at.
Last night my wife, a few of our kids and grandkids went to the new Avengers movie, Infinity Wars. I was on a tractor at our small farm taking advantage of warmer days and extra sunlight getting ready to plant all kinds of off-the-grid goodies. You have some time to think on a tractor, so after they left, my mind drifted towards this business of heroes who come to make broken things right again.
There’s tremendous amount of worldview archetecture in the “American movie mind” today. Most of it acting as a kind presuppositional “given” with precious little attention paid to anything except the existential CGI moment. But seriously…
Think about it. In an unfallen world there would be no evil, no danger, no conflict of any kind to use as fodder for books, movies and the like. Of course, in an unfallen world, men and women could still push themselves to excel. The mathematician could stretch himself to grasp abstruse mathematical concepts, but he would always have the help and support of others in the field. The artist could wrestle with paint or marble, but he wouldn’t have to wrestle with his own sloth or pride. The mountain climber could test his abilities on tougher and tougher cliffs and peaks, but he would never be in any real danger.
Everyone could strive for greater and greater mastery in this skill or that art, but there would never be any risk of loss or harm. In this quest for excellence, you could challenge someone to a competition, a race, contest of some sort, but the whole thing would be a stricly friendly matter, a time of mutual encouragement and true camaraderie. In a world without sin, there would be no jealousy, animosity, or bitterness between the competitors. Each would be happy with the outcome and perhaps even proud of the guy or gal that beat you. Here’s the rub…
Now, imagine trying to tell a story, a really riveting, high drama driven story that assumes this sinless, unfallen world I’m talking about. Pretty tough. As a matter a fact, I don’t think it can be done. At least the kind of stories we’re used to simply wouldn’t make much sense to us. All the stories our brains normally process in this fallen world involve real conflict. And so, every story that does make sense to us is rooted in the Fall and the “fallout” from the fall, so to speak.
The conflict in life (in all media and literature for that matter) begins with sin and the curse of death that seeps into our world because of that sin. In literary analysis, we speak of any number of conflicts:
- man v. man
- man v. woman
- man v. God
- man v. himself
- man v. society
- man v. the State
- man v. Nature
- man v. the demonic or monstrous.
- Mothra vs Godzilla (just kidding)
And so on. Each of these conflicts involves some sort of danger … physical, spiritual, psychological, or social … to one or more of the parties involved. Often, the actual or potential victims either can’t see the nature of the danger or they don’t have the resources to deal with it. In all of these situations , there seems to be no direct way out. Enter the need for heroes.
A hero may me a very ordinary guy. He doesn’t have to be a superhero, a spy, or a Navy Seal. He doesn’t have to carry a six-shooter, a vibranium shield, or a light saber. But he has to confront the danger or the inherent evil in the circumstances. He could confront with strength, wisdom, courage, maybe even love. This much is always true though: He will do it even though the costs may be high.
What Heroes Do
Real heroes give themselves to solving the problems created by sin and the curse. The problems may be large or small, but they all present real and difficult challenges. The hero will normally find that these challenges come in three forms. He may run into a mystery that must be solved, an obstacle to overcome, or a sacrifice to make. A lot of times these challenges are all wrapped together in a package.
To solve a mystery, the hero needs wisdom. The hero needs to think through a complicated situation. Perhaps he’s faced with a puzzle or a riddle. I’m thinking here of detective fiction, like Arthur Conan Doyle or Agatha Christie. Or perhaps the hero has to devise complicated tactics or strategies. (Think Mission Impossible.) Maybe he has to invent a new live-saving technology, a medical cure, or even a weapon that stops the bad guys or aliens. There are all sorts of dangerous situations that require research, interpretation, analysis, discovery, or invention.
And, to overcome the obstacles, the hero needs courage, boldness, and skill. He may face physical stress, danger, even death. Our plays, TV and movies are full of such heroes. They may be lawmen, soldiers, knights, or superheroes. They may be reformers, explorers, or evangelists. Often, they bring weapons or tools that they must brandish with great skill. In the movies they may drive fast cars, fly faster planes, or be “jumpers” through hyperspace or whatever to save the day. In real life, hereos may work on a limited budget, with limited resources and without political or legal leverage.
Then there’s the word sacrifice. Most people are capable of showing love. But the real hero must love profoundly, often love the unlovely and with question, this love comes with a big price tag. That’s we say the true hero loves sacrificially. And it’s with great purpose that He lays down his life for his friends.
The most engaging stories challenge the hero on all three levels. He must solve the riddle or come up with a clever plan. He must act on his solution, his plan, with great courage, power and skill. His motivations are pure … he must challenge the conflict out of self-sacrificing love. He will risk his life. Given all this, it is no accident that popular literature divides itself into mysteries, action/adventure, and stories of relationship. It’s no accident that readers, viewers and listeners divide themselves along the same lines. (so does Netflix and Hulu)
Jesus Christ is the archetypical Hero. He came into this world to undo the work of the Fall. The gospel calls Him Messiah or Christ, the Anointed One. As Messiah, Jesus is the anointed Prophet, King, and Priest and the head of our salvation. He saves His people through wisdom, courageous action, and self-sacrificing love.
First, Jesus came as our Prophet. He came with divine wisdom. No human wisdom or philosophy could ever have foreseen the cross because no human wisdom or philosophy sees sin as a problem, let alone takes sin seriously. The gospel of redemption was a mystery hid in the heart of God. But Jesus came in time and space to reveal the plan of redemption as well as fulfill it. By His words and actions, He has revealed the Father to us, along with the realization of His incredible wisdom and love. Fortunately for us, He continues to speak to us through His word.
Jesus also came as a conquering King. He was not a martyr. The cross wasn’t a mistake. Jesus steadfastly pursued His mission all the way to the finish line: the cross. There, He took on sin. In His resurrection He defeated death itself. Now He reigns from His Father’s right hand with all of the collective power in heaven and on earth at His disposal. He continues to gather and defend His Church and press the claims of His kingdom to the ends of the earth. One day He will return in glory as Judge. (a very bad story ending for those in unbelief)
Lastly, Jesus came as our great High Priest. He loved His people and gave Himself for His church. But not just that … He gave His life to redeem us from sin and all the broken glass that goes with it. We all know that pain, don’t we? The good news is that He continues to intercede for us at the Father’s right hand. He knows our failings, our weakness and provides help in ways we could never understand.
Every literary hero, every flesh and blood hero, at the end of the day … must imitate Christ. I guess that why G.A. Henty said only Christians could be true heroes. It’s a matter of metaphysics after all.
Some heroes imitate a single aspect or dimension of Christ’s threefold office more than the other two. Others are “well rounded” in their heroism. Sometimes heroes come in sets: the man with wisdom and a plan; the man of action who makes things happen; and the man (or more often the woman) who feels compassion and empathy for those who are hurting. But listen, not one of us can be Jesus and be hero at this ultimate and infallible level. But every child of God is called and equipped to imitate Jesus Christ. We are all called to courage, so we can be heroes for Jesus sake. But as we move into action and purpose, we must always remember that we don’t control the outcomes. Not our pay grade as they used to say.
Our duty, as image bearers is to dive into the roaring flood waters to save whoever is trouble knowing that we as well as the drowning victim may very well perish in the attempt.
Are you ready to dive in? Are you ready to be part of the rescue team? Or…
Are you a “hot tub hero,” happy to live life without conflict and sacrifice?
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