The Black Panther enters boldly into the discussion about privilege, and our stewardship of it. How does it feel to suffer and/or to watch people suffer, knowing others had the resources to stop that suffering? And what about those with the resources—it’s easy to say what they should have done with them, but is it really that simple? Do you just empower those with nothing and flip the tables, or is only reversing the equation, and not balancing it? This is a movie about stewardship and responsibility and how complex a matter that can really be.
I think that those issues are fairly obvious in the movie—the solutions are not, but the points of conversation are. It’s an important issue for all of humanity, Christian or not—but all the more so for Christians because we are taught that everything we have is a gift from God, to be stewarded for His glory and His Kingdom. None of it is ours. So we not only have a responsibility to our fellow man, but more importantly, we have a responsibility to our God to be good stewards of His resources. And good stewardship involves wisdom. It involves knowing who, how and when to help, as well as who, how and when NOT to help.
There is one other, and perhaps more obscure, point of connection to the Christian faith that I would like to point out. The movie itself is kind of a metaphor for the Christian life. T’Challa (the Black Panther) is the son of the King of Wakanda. Wakanda is a kingdom much like Heaven—it’s very real, but invisible until it is revealed. To the outside world, Wakanda is a the poorest of kingdoms, but to those who belong, they know it to be the richest on earth. T’Challa was raised in privilege and love, and has a great understanding of the power and the riches of his kingdom. He is noble and wants to protect and care for his people and his kingdom. But he also begins to get a greater understanding of the world outside of his kingdom, of its pain and poverty and need.
There is another who wants to have the throne—a long-lost relative who grew up hearing about the beauty and greatness of Wakanda, but was raised in poverty as an orphan. Erik is strong like T’Challa, but motivated by bitterness, pain and greed. Erik talks about leading Wakanda so he can help the world with its riches, which all sounds very good, but the reality is that he spent his life killing people to get there. It’s ironic, or perhaps it’s telling, that someone who wants to “help” the world should kill whoever it takes en route. He wasn’t willing to die for the world, but he was willing to kill for it…which in the end amounted to his willing to kill for himself—because there was no love for the world in him.
Erik killed T’Challa to claim the right to rule Wakanda. During his very brief reign, Wakanda fell apart and the world itself was nearly destroyed. Erik is very much like Satan who came to steal, kill and destroy. Erik’s job in the military was to destabilize countries. He knew nothing of healing, or bringing health and life into the world. He specialized in killing, destabilizing and destroying. He knew how to bring fear, but knew nothing of love.
T’Challa (in a great Jesus moment) was essentially raised from the dead and returned to Wakanda to take it back from Erik. As he arrived, you can see how those who were loyal to him were overyjoyed to see that he lived. Conversely there was fear deep in the hearts of all who had betrayed him and followed Erik. He did take over and Erik was defeated once and for all. T’Challa regains power and sets about with a greater vision for leading his kingdom—one that includes spreading the goodness and wealth and power of Wakanda to those in need.
Our original mandate in the Garden of Eden was to expand the garden. God intended for us to take this part of the world that best represented His nature and goodness, and spread it to the rest of the untamed world. Then sin entered in and we were kicked out of the Garden. So he went to the Israelites, told them His vision for them as a people…and gave them the command to be lights to the world, examples, again spreading His vision for His Kingdom to the rest of the untamed world. Then again we see the same kind of mandate, when, after Jesus came, died and rose again, His followers are told to be His witnesses, starting with their home towns and spreading to the ends of the earth. We are to make it “on earth as it is in Heaven.” We belong to this amazing invisible Kingdom, full of the riches and power of Heaven, but it’s not just so that WE are blessed. It’s so that we can be a blessing to the world. That takes some wisdom, however. We must do so in a way that stabilizes, not destroys.
So, for those who us who are raised in the kingdom, like T’Challa, we do this from a place of love, not entitlement. We don’t need to apologize for or guilty about the fact that this is all we have known. Our great understanding of the Kingdom will help us to share it all the better. For those of us who were raised outside the kingdom, and only recently discovered it, like Erik, we also do so from a place of love, not bitterness. We don’t need to resent those who had it better than we did, for in this Kingdom, all things work together for good. Our pasts will give us compassion for those outside the Kingdom, and a greater understanding of how to reach them. The point isn’t where we came from, but the fact that we now have found the Kingdom and know that we belong to it.
Questions for Discussion:
- Who do you identify with more, Erik or T’Challa? Why?
- How is the Kingdom of Wakanda a bit like the Kingdom of Heaven?
- What makes stewardship such a complex issue? Shouldn’t it be simple to just help others with the resources you have?
- What is the difference between stewardship and ownership? If we as Christians are stewards, not owners of our lives and our possessions, then how does that change what we do and how we live?