May 2, 2008 was the beginning of a legacy and a rollercoaster of emotions yet to happen. In theaters across the world, we were introduced to the Iron Man played by none other than Robert Downey Jr. As of the moment I write this, the Marvel Cinematic Universe – which began that fateful day – spans 23 films (with an additional 11 in various production status’), 14 television series (and 10 of those in production), and a handful of short films.
In the 13 years that have passed since that summer, the world has changed drastically. In those 13 years, we’ve all grown up, gone through multiple phases of life, and figured out our lives even further. Hopefully, you’ve had opportunities to deepen your faith, find a church home that works for you, pursue your calling in life, and grow deeper in relationship with Christ.
But maybe even after 13 years of growth – like me – you still find it hard to explain the Gospel sometimes, especially to someone who’s never picked up a Bible or stepped into a church before. Sometimes your personal stories aren’t what they can see themselves in. Your go-to metaphors just aren’t clicking. Sometimes it’s easiest to take something relatable and see things through it’s lens. And we can do just that with the beloved MCU.
Marvel overall has done a fantastic job giving us characters of faith – we have devout Catholics in Nightcrawler and Daredevil, faithful followers of Christ in Luke Cage and Ghost Rider. Characters that represent innocence and true goodness like Captain America. Godlike characters with fatal flaws. Biblical parallels that can be drawn between Cain and Abel with Thor and Loki.
If you dig even deeper, you’ll find that some of the greatest lessons in the Bible can be looked at through just the screen adaptations in the MCU. So let’s do just that.
A fair warning: this post containers spoilers for films and TV shows that are part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Read on at your own risk.
We aren’t meant to do life alone. Read that again. Humans crave connection naturally – we desire bonds with family, deep friendships based on vulnerability with each other, romantic relationships with people we adore. That’s why the Christian faith is built around communal worship, small groups and house churches that allow for something more, teams that volunteer in the community together, missions that deploy to neighbors and countries together. Jesus, in his time on earth, lived, travelled, and taught with his inner circle – the 12 disciples. And he led them to do the same – deploying them to make disciples elsewhere and plant churches all over.
The author of one New Testament book puts it best in Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.”
Seeing this played out in the MCU is easy – just look at all of their team films (Avengers, Age of Ultron, Guardians of the Galaxy, Infinity War, and Endgame) or the show Agents of Shield. While we’re introduced to many of the team in films built around their character, we regularly see them united against a common enemy – one that they couldn’t challenge on their own. They do recon together, fight side by side, and sometimes we even get glimpses of them just living their lives – eating meals, fighting like only family members can, encouraging each other in other relationships and supporting each other. Eventually they assemble (see what I did there?) to rely on each of their respective skills and expertise. And speaking of expertise…
A beautiful part of being human and made in the image of God is knowing that we’re just that – all made in His image specifically. All of us have specific things that make us “us” – talents, passions, abilities, quirks, personality traits, and the list goes on. Take a second and make a mental note of yours. Maybe it’s artistic or athletic ability. Maybe you’re really good at leading, teaching, or helping others. Maybe you’re really good at making coffee. Maybe you’re obsessed with Marvel enough to draw parallels between your faith and the characters (if so, we just became best friends). Take a look at what Paul wrote in the New Testament about gifts:
“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” – 1 Corinthians 12:7-11
“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” – Romans 12:4-5
The heroes we see on the big screen (okay let’s be honest – on our smaller home screens watching on a shared Disney+ account) have a vast variety of powers and strengths and back stories. I won’t even attempt to list them all here. And their differences don’t make any of them any better or more unique – it makes them who they are. I’m sure we all have a favorite character, but that’s not to say the others aren’t just as much a part of the Avengers.
One of my favorite parts of the group films is the epic battle scenes we get where they play off each other’s skills. We see them use flight and telekinetic abilities to help stronger characters build up speed for an attack. We see them catch each other’s weapons and use them before gracefully returning them. Think back to the airport battle in Civil War where, although they’re fighting each other, we see them constantly switching off and helping each other out. Or – most epically – in the final fight against Thanos in Endgame where every single person is needed and matters.
In our daily lives, we need each other. But more than that, we need what each of us has to offer. We’re not in this alone, and the beautiful part is that we don’t ever have to be alone. It takes all of us to share the message of Jesus with the world. It takes all of us to overcome sin. It takes a community of people to be the Church. It can’t just be a bunch of people doing the same thing. Because if that’s the case, we’re missing out on the talents of others. And the Kingdom needs all kinds of work to flourish – leaders and writers and teachers and musicians and baristas and janitors and nurses and defenders and so many more.
One of the hardest concepts Christians and non-Christians alike struggle with is forgiveness. Not only is it extremely difficult to forgive others when we’re deeply hurt, betrayed, and brokenhearted, it’s just as difficult to forgive ourselves. But one of the most powerful blessings we have as fallen beings that turn to sin again and again is the everlasting forgiveness from God.
The MCU is all about forces of good fighting forces of evil, but you might not be surprised to see forgiveness as a theme interwoven in the storylines. Thor ultimately forgives his brother Loki and they end up fighting side by side for the sake of humanity. Upon realizing that they’d been deceived, Tony Stark immediately flies to Steve and Bucky’s aid against Zemo in secret (and later fights side by side with them as well despite yet another fallout). We may never know if Stark fully forgave Bucky for killing his parents, but it’s safe to assume that he knew that it wasn’t his fault. In Vision’s dying moments as Wanda held back Thanos, he spoke forgiveness to her and for her, knowing the guilt she would feel. And those are just a few examples. But let’s focus on the character that probably came to mind when I brought up forgiveness: James Buchanan Barnes.
“Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” – Luke 23:34
That’s a verse I could read every minute of every day of my life, and still struggle to believe in most situations. How could we be forgiven for our darkest sins? What about when I seriously mess up and hurt someone I love? Or even worse?
A quick recap: we first meet Bucky as the young best friend of Steve Rogers in the 1940s. He’s already a class act – taking care of Steve after the death of his parents, encouraging him to enlist alongside him, and supporting him fully. The two face the hardships of World War II together, with Steve believing in him enough to attempt a dangerous rescue mission and unfortunately grieving his loss in a mission gone wrong.
Then Bucky comes back as the deadly Winter Soldier, but we soon learn it’s not actually him. He’s been made into a weapon of HYDRA, brainwashed again and again to do their bidding. Which includes killing dozens of people against his will. Over the next films, we see him break free of this programming in moments of recollection, be framed for an international incident that divides the Avengers over the Sokovia Accords, and after some un-programming in Wakanda, join the fight alongside the Avengers against Thanos.
I’d argue that Cap is the reason he gets put on this path towards forgiveness. Steve perfectly embodies the grace of God in this universe. Upon realizing this Winter Soldier is actually Bucky, he doesn’t fight him but chooses to fight FOR him. Again and again, he reminds Bucky of who he really is. He pushes Bucky towards a better path when his old ways want to take over. He supports him in remedying the darkness he’s been pulled into. And we constantly see the effect this grace has on Bucky.
A major part of the most recent addition to the MCU – Falcon and The Winter Soldier – was also centered around his quest for forgiveness. A newly re-acclimated Bucky (who’s now 107 years old) is facing the consequences of his years as The Winter Soldier – attempting to make amends with the people left behind, facing
nightmares that force him to relive his darkest moments, and in a state of constant internal turmoil with who we was and who he now chooses to be. Throughout the six-part series, we watch him grasp what forgiveness really is. It’s not about avenging others or trying to fix the past in the present. It’s about coming to someone in pain from a place of love and mercy.
A major part of the most recent addition to the MCU – Falcon and The Winter Soldier – was also centered around his quest for forgiveness. A newly re-acclimated Bucky (who’s now 107 years old) is facing the consequences of his years as The Winter Soldier – attempting to make amends with the people left behind, facing nightmares that force him to relive his darkest moments, and in a state of constant internal turmoil with who we was and who he now chooses to be. Throughout the six-part series, we watch him grasp what forgiveness really is. It’s not about avenging others or trying to fix the past in the present. It’s about coming to someone in pain from a place of love and mercy.
Colossians 3:12-14 – Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
It takes work to forgive others. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s one of the hardest things we’ll ever do. But just like Bucky, we’re granted forgiveness. So we can live knowing that no matter what trap we fall into, no matter what comes our way and seems to force our hand, no matter what hurt we cause or fall victim to, forgiveness is possible. And we have a Savior that died for us way before we even needed to seek forgiveness.
The Sokovia Accords tried to prove otherwise (and I think we can all understand the “why” behind them), but at the heart of our beloved heroes is a desire to protect people – “Earth is closed today.” Our heroes aren’t perfect – their battles with villains and themselves alike led to the destruction of New York, DC, Lagos, Sokovia, New York (again) – but they always acted immediately in defense of the planet and people they protect. Even going so far to be completely selfless – Tony Stark shuts down his company when he realizes his weapons are being used for evil. Peter Parker immediately jumps into action to defend his “neighborhood”, fearlessly facing the unknowns of space and time as a teenager. Thor and Starlord learn to put their egos aside for something greater. Vision sacrifices himself to keep Thanos from getting all the stones. Many sacrifice their lives for what is right – Tony, Natasha, Loki, Pietro.
We see the tension again in Disney+ newest shows WandaVision and F&TWS where the “right” answer isn’t clear – who is the GRC protecting and are they doing it in the best way for people? Is Karli not as bad as she’s portrayed since she’s fighting for the rights of people? What about Wanda keeping people hostage under her illusion in the aftermath of her grief? In the end, we always see the leads doing their best to correct their own actions, hold higher powers accountable for their actions and beliefs, and do what they can.
Mark 12:31 – The second [greatest commandment] is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
Matthew 25:35-40 – For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
This is simultaneously quite possibly the easiest and most difficult to embody in our daily lives. There’s so many vulnerable people in the world today – from homeless and orphans to people in poverty or without access to water. They’re in our cities and neighborhoods and all across the world. Ask yourself: what’s my superpower, and how can I use it to protect my people? How can I love like Jesus every day with my abilities?
Think about how you feel when you see Captain America’s Shield, Thor’s Hammer, the suits of Iron Man and Spider-Man. The first time we see them all together on the streets of New York as the camera pans in a circle. When Doctor Strange opens portals for all the returned to unite against Thanos. There’s a sense of hope when you see them.
hink about how you feel when you see Captain America’s Shield, Thor’s Hammer, the suits of Iron Man and Spider-Man. The first time we see them all together on the streets of New York as the camera pans in a circle. When Doctor Strange opens portals for all the returned to unite against Thanos. There’s a sense of hope when you see them.
As Christians, we look to Jesus as our savior, our light, and our ultimate hope. We know there is more than just this life. He died on a cross for us, while we were still sinners and before we sin again. That’s what love is. Love is a man dying on a cross. Love is a God who created us in His image. Love is being able to live for others, use our gifts and talents for a greater purpose. Love is the forgiveness we struggle to understand. Love is hope. And it’s up to us to share that hope and be a symbol of Christ for others.
Marvel heroes aren’t perfect. They fall short and fail, struggle with mental health issues and physical ailments, lose loved ones, hurt each other. They aren’t perfect. But they use their abilities and gifts and talents for a greater purpose than themselves, fighting their own egos, faults, and pasts along the way. Whoever is reading this, I’m guessing that sounds a bit like you. It sounds a lot like me. So let’s all reflect what we see on screen as we share our greatest hero – Jesus – with the world around us. Christians, assemble.
Kat is a full-time ministry worker and has a passion for sharing the Gospel in creative ways. You can find her spending her weekends outdoors and on crazy adventures, reading a new book every week, attempting to perfect the art of making lattes, listening to all things indie and alternative, and binge watching Marvel, Star Wars, and action dramas.