It’s what we have all come to expect from the Avenger’s movies…lots of actions, lots of comedy, lots of fun, and lots to talk about—if you’re looking for it. Taking a page from The Incredibles handbook…scratch that…it’s not just taking a page, it’s nearly taken the entire playbook. People are upset at their saviors because innocent people are sometimes hurt while they are saving the world from certain death. The government wants to step in and regulate them, to “protect” them, but also control them. And in the end, we find that their nemesis who has been trying to destroy them the entire movie is simply someone who is bitter because one of his loved ones ended up being collateral damage. (Ok, so that part is a tad different.) While the outer shell of the two movies is very similar, the underlying themes and motivations end up going in very different directions.
Most of the Avengers team has decided that they should sign a document which would submit their group to the control of the government. Tony argues that, “If we can’t accept limitations we’re boundary-less.” He recognizes the danger in power being without accountability. (See the Money Monster discussion for more on this.) Steve, however, sees the exact same concern in a different light—who is holding the government accountable? If they give the government power over themselves, who is to ensure the government does right, both by them and with them? “If we sign this, we surrender our right to choose.” Steve felt that, even though they weren’t perfect, their own lives as well as the world was still safer in their hands, so long as they were free.
With elections coming up, I can’t think this is accidental…this is so much the heart of the presidential question. Do we trust big government and want more oversight, or do we want more freedom and trust our own judgment more? It’s a political statement. It’s more than that, however. It’s also a question of how we feel about God. Is God just this super powerful being like an Avenger, who makes mistakes but also tries hard to protect us? If so, then does he need to account to us for his actions? Captain America commented, “We try to serve as many people as we can… Sometimes that doesn’t mean everybody. … If we can’t find a way to live with that, next time…maybe nobody gets saved.” Is this God’s mentality, too? Miriam says, “You think you fight for us? You fight for yourself.” There are plenty of people who would say the same about God. He only fights for us when it serves Himself.
Interestingly, I think generally people are for Iron Man being held in check a little. He is selfish and flawed. He does make big mistakes. He learns from them, and he’s not a bad guy by any means, but he himself is the first to recognize how many of the past major problems have been caused by his ego and selfish pursuits running forth unchecked. Steve, however, is good through and through. (Not perfect, but good.) We know that he isn’t driven by his ego. He is truly motivated by doing what’s right for his fellow man. So, when he refuses to sign, we tend to agree with him. We don’t want to see him restricted. We want him to be free to act, to do what he knows is right and to fight for us.
Even when he ended up fighting for someone who had done unspeakable harm, there were people who sided with him, because they trusted him. They trusted his judgment. (Maybe we even like that he fights for Bucky because it gives us hope that someone would fight for us, no matter our past.)
The more we understand God’s great love for us and the purity of his motives, the less we want to see Him have to answer to anyone. We actually want Him to be God, to be free, to act as He sees best. We trust His judgment, even when we don’t know, understand, or see things the way He does. And when He seems be fighting with the good guys, and defending the bad guys, we trust that there is more to the story. We even see some hope in that that He’ll overlook our mistakes and our past and fight for us and defend us…seeing something good in us after all.
This struggle within us that we see in the movie, sometimes longing for a head, for leadership, for something govern us and hold us accountable, and sometimes longing to be free and untethered, often mistrusting the authorities that would govern us…this is an age old struggle. In the Old Testament, the Israelites begged the Lord for a King like the other nations had. It felt more secure to have an authority in leadership over them. There is something innate in us that looks for leadership. God designed us that way, not so that we would like to an earthly king, but so that we would look to Him. He is our King.
Here is what is brilliant about that—it alleviates all our fears about submitting to a faulty authority. God is all wise and all knowing, so He doesn’t make mistakes. He’s also perfectly good and loving, so He will never abuse the authority He has over us. He will hold us accountable in good ways, but never use us for selfish ends. He will protect us so that we are freer than we might be otherwise. We are designed to have accountability, but Steve was right to be cautious about what or whom he was accountable to. The answer isn’t to refuse to submit to anyone, but to choose to submit to God.
On another note, I can’t help but make mention of Zemo, the antagonist. He’s been hurt and he’s bitter. He wants to hurt the Avengers, but he knows he isn’t strong enough to fight them himself. What he does, therefore, is to turn them on each other. “I know I couldn’t kill them, more powerful men than me have tried. But if I could get them to kill each other…” “An empire [that falls] by its enemies can rise again, but one that topples from within—it’s dead forever.” He gets them to turn on each other by dividing them. Division is horribly costly. Once divided, he stirs up hatred and suspicion between them. They actually think that they are each other’s enemies, without even realizing that he was behind it all. They weren’t each other’s enemies, HE was.
This is exactly how our enemy works. When we accept Jesus, he knows he can’t kill us himself. We have Jesus in us and he can’t compete with that. What he does, instead, is create division. He turns us on each other and creates division. He gets us to think that we are each other’s enemies and we never stop to question if maybe we are wrong about who our enemy is. He also gets us to turn on God (just like they did on Captain America). He whispers to us that God is bad and that he can’t be trusted. When God defends some guy with a bad past, our enemy convinces us God is wrong on this one and his judgment is clouded. This is why God cautions us that our enemy is not flesh and blood, but rather a spiritual enemy (Ephesians 6:12). It’s also why he warns us so strongly against division, extolling the great need for unity in the body of Christ. “I appeal to you…that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10). (Just Google “verses on unity” and you’ll see what a pervasive theme it is, especially in the New Testament.)
Questions for Discussion:
- How did you feel about the question of whether or not the Avengers should have some regulation? In what ways would it be good? In what ways would it be harmful?
- Are you scared to submit to God’s authority, or do you trust His leadership?
- Why didn’t God want the Israelites to have a King?
- How did division among the Avengers nearly destroy them?
- Have you ever been in a group or organization that was destroyed by division in the ranks?
- Do you think it’s easy to mistake who our real enemy is?