You Can’t Win: Marvel meets the Bible in a look at death and defeat

Dad,

               You can’t win. Time to start figuring out how to not lose.

V

We all like a happy ending. We love it when the couple gets together at the end of the movie, or when the hero beats the bad guy once and for all. Imagine what Lord of the Rings would have been like if Frodo had died in Mordor before destroying the ring, or if Katniss had died in the Hunger Games and failed to spark a revolution. It would suck. Now I know that this isn’t universal. Some of the greatest works of literature we have are tragedies…think Romeo and Juliet. But more often than not, especially in popular media, the ending is happy, and we like that.

This particular post was inspired by Marvel’s comics, Avengers: Time Runs Out, which narrates the lead up to Secret War. Those words at the top of this post come from the final panel of volume 1, where Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) reads a note from his daughter, Valeria. To cut a long story short, the multiverse is collapsing in on itself, and there is nothing that the characters can do to stop it. This isn’t shocking – Secret Wars makes the eventual destruction of Marvel’s multiverse nothing surprising – but what’s interesting about Time Runs Out is that you get to see something rare: the futile actions of superheroes who are going to lose.

What happens in that hopeless scenario? Chaos, conflict and anger quickly arise as much loved heroes like Captain America, Iron Man, Mr Fantastic, Captain Marvel and more end up on different sides in a three-way rift. There are also stirring scenes of sacrifice, with some characters embarking on a suicidal mission in a last ditch attempt to save the world. There are atrocities committed in the name of self-preservation. The extremes of humanity and its heroes are brought out and laid bare, but in the end, it will all be meaningless.

Pretty deep, right? It’s not often that you get something like that in a Marvel comic.

But it’s a situation that we all face on an individual level at least, and something that, as a Christian, I think it’s important to think about. We may not be facing the collapse of the multiverse, but, sooner or later, we face the end of our own lives. Death is the one universal fact of life, and it’s not nice to think about, but it’s there.

How do we act when faced with this? Do we simply forget about it, and live like we’re immortal? Do we strive against it, yearning for longer and longer lives? Do we get angry and afraid, thrown by the unfairness and the mystery of it all? Do we scramble for meaning, knowing that it will all come to nothing?

As a Christian I believe that there is another way – hope. A strong, true hope that makes our futile efforts pale in comparison. This is not wishful thinking. Some would say that my hope in something after death is merely denial of the inevitable – a spiritual crutch. Forgive my bluntness, but that seems as absurd to me as my beliefs might seem to you. The thing is, my belief in life after death is based on what I have seen in my life before death – a life where I have seen God moving in very real ways.

My belief equips me with a theology for death and life after it. It tells me why we’re mortal, and that we were never meant to be. This says to me that it’s no surprise that we are scared of death, and that we fight against the unfairness of ‘early death’ because, on some level, we know that it is, in fact, wrong. This is not what we were made for. These spears of mortality that we become aware of time and again point us to the realisation that this is not the best thing for us, that this is not right.

There is a beautiful passage in the Bible, written by Isaiah, a man who predicted the coming of Jesus centuries before he was born:

On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The sovereign Lord will wipe away tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 25:7-8)

How can I believe such a thing? How has God done this? Well when God came to earth as Jesus Christ, he was faced with death, just as we are. Not only that, but he was faced with a particularly humiliating, painful death, and he was affected by it. Mark writes that Jesus ‘fell to the ground, and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him’ (14:35).

But what’s even more important for me as a Christian is what he says next. After asking this, he then says, ‘yet not what I will, but what you will’ (14:36).

There is a lot of theological stuff packed into this short prayer, but what I want to take from it here is Jesus’ trust in God despite the inevitability of his death. By following his example, we can trust that God knows what’s best for us, no matter what our fears or weaknesses are.

In Marvel’s Time Runs Out there is no meaningful hope, there is only the end. But that’s not true for Christians. Because of what Jesus did, through trusting the will of the Father and undergoing death and separation from him in our place, we can have a hope beyond our own death. We can look forward to that time predicted by Isaiah with more than wishful thinking, because we have hope ground in the reality of our God who is living and active now.

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