This latest Avengers movie, Age of Ultron, like those that have preceded it, has a number of great entry points into meaningful discussion on a variety of topics. Like when Thor thought, because he was “mighty” he was above falling for Scarlet Witch’s mind tricks (compare to 1 Corinthians 10:12, “Be careful if you think you are standing firm, lest you should fall”). And when Hawkeye thought maybe he wasn’t needed because he was surrounded by “gods”…but his wife saw how much they needed him (compare to 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, when Paul writes about the body and the need for all of its parts: “the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable”). And Hawkeye’s pep talk to Scarlet Witch, telling her that her past was past, all that mattered was what she did moving forward, and if she wanted to, she step out and fight, as an Avenger (compare to Paul talking about his past and saying that he put all of it behind him, “straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ,” Philippians 3:13-14). And one more, Tony Stark’s provocative statement about how he “doesn’t trust a guy without a dark side.” (I wonder, would he trust Jesus? Jesus doesn’t have a dark side. Why do we trust people when we know their failures and struggles? Is it power over them or is it the feeling that they are more honest with us? Do we like feeling that our heroes are more attainable, so that there is hope for us? Or do we prefer to have role models that elevate us to something higher, showing us that there is something greater?) There are a lot of tangential discussions to be had, but I want to focus on something a little more central to the storyline…because it hits us at so many levels—parenting, government, our walk with Jesus, etc.
That’s where I should have put a colon and told you what it was in a concise word or phrase, but I didn’t have one…so let me explain the plot a little and tell you what I’m getting at. Tony Stark wanted to create an artificial intelligence that would protect the world from future invaders. He wanted a “coat of armor around the world.” There wasn’t an immediate threat of invaders, but he wanted to be prepared. Here is where the debate comes in. Bruce Banner pointed out that this sounded like cold war thinking. Captain America (Steve) pointed out that “Every time someone tries to stop a war before it starts, innocent people die. Every time.” And yet, as Ultron said (who mostly voiced Stark’s thoughts anyway), “I think you’re confusing peace with quiet.” He saw that the quiet they were experiencing didn’t mean they were really at peace, that there was no threat of danger.
So, Tony worked to create a defense against invaders and harm to mankind. But, as so often happens, that pre-emptive defensive backfired. Ultron, his artificially intelligent offspring, rebelled and came up with his own plan…to take over the world and destroy mankind. Dr. Helen Cho asked Tony, “You built this program? Why is it trying to kill us?” Ultron gave us the answer to that. “Everyone creates the thing they dread. Men of peace create engines of war. Invaders create avengers. People create… smaller people? Uhh. Children! [Laughs] Lost the word there. Children. Designed to supplant them. To help them… end.” Tony had created the thing he was trying to avoid, the thing he feared.
This is a very provocative idea on so many levels. Of course, it has political implications (back to Steve’s comment about how every time someone tries to stop a war before it starts, innocent people die). And applications for parenting—how many kids do you know who are essentially just like Ultron—rebelling against their father’s (or mother’s) ideology, twisting his teachings, rising up in rebellion against him and all he stood for, hating their father most of all just as Ultron hated Tony more than any of the other Avengers. Before we look at those aspects, however, perhaps the most important one to consider is how it applies to our own personal walk with God. Our tendency to try to create a shield of armor around ourselves and protect ourselves from sin and/or from an invasion of the enemy often backfires and leads us into legalism. We become Pharisees, enshrined in rules and guarded by boundaries, protecting us from some sins, sure, but also opening up our back door to a whole set of other, worse sins, that we never saw coming—a Trojan horse of sorts. We become susceptible to pride, contempt, snobbery and hatred of our fellow man. Even worse, we begin to think we don’t need Jesus because we are “mighty” and well-defended. In our attempts to protect ourselves from sin, we fall into it worse than ever. We create the thing we fear.
What is the answer then? We would be foolish not to guard against sin. Just as we would be foolish not to try to stop evil from happening in the world and hurting people. But where is the balance? When have we gone from reasonable and practical caution to creating another Ultron of sorts—to becoming Pharisees, hurting innocent people, creating yet another “preacher’s kid”—a child who, instead of loving the God He was raised with, begins to hate Him and rebel against Him?
These are tough questions, and I can’t answer them definitively. I struggle to find that balance in my own life. (I can’t imagine how hard it must be to find that balance for someone else’s life, like a child’s…or a nation’s…) Here are a few things that might help, however:
- Follow, carefully, God’s rules, but do so without adding to them. And yet, sometimes it’s good to add to them because you know your own weaknesses. For example, God doesn’t say not to drink, He says not to get drunk. So the rule is to drink moderately if you drink. BUT, for an alcoholic, it is wise for them not to drink at all, because they know their weaknesses. In that case, there is wisdom in adding to the law of God. SO, let me say this: If you need to add your own boundaries to the ones God has already given (for the sake of staying within those boundaries), then recognize the difference between your boundaries and God’s and don’t apply your personal rules/boundaries to the public at large. It is enough for them to follow God’s law. They don’t need to follow yours.
- The best way to keep the enemy out is to love Jesus and stay close to Him—not to erect a coat of armor.
- Worship. We “enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise” (Psalm 100:4). The enemy won’t be in the presence of God, so the more we recognize God for who He is, and love Him—in short, the more we worship, the less we need to worry about the enemy coming near.
- Don’t be cocky and don’t rest—keep on the lookout for the enemy. The Bible warns that Satan is looking for an opportunity to attack, to trip us up. When we stop looking out for him, we are vulnerable. Sometimes we stop looking because we think we are good. We think we have safe boundaries in place and/or that temptation isn’t one we struggle with… When we think we are standing firm, we are in danger. “Be careful if you think you are standing firm, lest you should fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Instead, “be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil [prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith” (1 Peter 5:6-11). Keep watching for signs of trouble.
- The flip side of not being cocking is to be humble. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you… And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” It is God’s job to protect you, yours to be obedient, starting with being humble before Him. He is your defender. He is your protector. You are not. “It is GOD who works in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
- Rest in the knowledge that God is the source of all you need to escape the corruption in the world, and He has given it to you. Freely. So don’t be afraid, (“perfect love casts out fear,” 1 John 4:18) instead receive. Trust that “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” (2 Peter 1:3-4)
- When you seek to strengthen your life’s defenses by adding to them, rather than adding rules, add these (continued from 2 Peter above): “For this reason make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love… For if you practice these qualities, you will never fail.” (2 Peter 1:5-10)
- And finally, as Vision said, remember that “There is grace in [your] failings.” Don’t miss that. God is near to sinners. He came to heal the sick, set the captive free, loosen the chains for those who are bound (Isaiah 64)… So know that when you sin, are held captive, bound in addiction, and/or sick—there is grace for you, and His name is Jesus. He came for you.
Questions for Discussion:
- Have you ever created the thing you feared? Explain.
- Have you ever added to God’s word in any way? Have you known someone who has?
- Why do you think good-intentioned people add to the law of God, adding rules of their own?
- What are areas in which you know you are weak, areas in which you need stricter guidelines to protect you from sin?
- How hard is it to find a balance between being wise and protecting yourself from sin, and going too far such that you create the thing you fear? (One extreme is not protecting yourself at all, the other is being over-protective…what is the middle ground?)
- How would you say the authorities over you have done with this balance? Did they tend toward too loose, or too protective? How did you respond?