Spoiler Alert: If you have not seen Avengers: Infinity War yet, what are you waiting for? Be warned that this post is a discussion of the movie.
Avengers: Infinity War was the most highly anticipated film of the year. The culmination of 18 Marvel Cinematic Universe movies led to this extravaganza which left audiences engaged, intrigued and ultimately a bit bewildered by the ending. The final shot shows Thanos looking out over a universe that he has culled by murdering half of the population with the snap of his fingers. As the screen faded to black, audiences around the world almost screamed in unison, “What?!? That’s the end? What happens now?”
The writers and producers of the film took an incredible risk to make a superhero movie where the superheroes do not win at the end. In my opinion, the risk paid off tremendously. I believe that the reason why this works is not just because it is an unexpected spurn of movie convention but because it taps into deep truths of life, faith and the Gospel.
The ending of Infinity War reminds me very much of the original ending of the Gospel of Mark. The earliest and most reliable transcripts that we have of Mark’s gospel, end with the promised Messiah, Jesus, being abandoned by his closest friends, brutally tortured and publicly executed as a criminal. After his burial, women go to visit Jesus’ body but when they get there they find that the tomb is empty and young men in white are there telling them that “He has risen.” The last line of the story says, “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8).
That’s it! Fade to black. End of story. Mark spends 15 chapters setting up all the hype and anticipation of Jesus being the savior who will provide a new way of life. He tells us all about Jesus’ life and his death and leaves us yearning to see the resurrected Christ. Then he ends it with a THUD. If you had not already been spoiled on how the story of Jesus turned out and you simply read Mark’s gospel, you would undoubtedly get to the last page and cry out, “What?!? That’s the end? What happens now?”
We call the day that Jesus was crucified “Good Friday”. It seems mislabeled. But the reason why we can call the day “good” is because it leads to the resurrection. It leads to Jesus conquering death and sin and creating a pathway for all people to experience forgiveness and eternal life through Him. However, on the day that Jesus died it did not feel “good” to His disciples and followers. It felt hopeless. It felt demoralizing. It felt like there was a need for something more.
This is why Mark originally ends his book with a cliffhanger (note: Mark eventually adds verses 9-20 to calm down the people who were too disturbed by the lack of resolution. Hopefully, the fourth Avengers movie that comes out next year will do the same thing). It leaves us crying out for more. It leaves us clamoring for some satisfying resolution. It leaves us yearning for a savior who can actually save.
I believe that the ending of Infinity War taps into these same yearnings. Just like at the close of Mark’s gospel, we leave the third Avenger’s movie feeling somewhat disturbed. We leave with a longing for resolution and restoration and the only way that this can happen is through some kind of resurrection! Spider-Man and the Black Panther can’t be dead, right? We know they have to still be alive to star in their next movies but we don’t know how that is going to happen. The bad guy can’t win, right? We know someone has to come and save the day but we don’t know who. Perhaps the answers to these questions lie in theological concepts that are alluded to during the film.
We Don’t Trade Lives
One of the major themes in Infinity War was the dilemma of trading one life for many. Multiple times throughout the film the quandary is posed of whether or not it is worth it to sacrifice the life of one person for the good of the whole. Each character ways in on their opinion on the matter. Thanos is clear on his stance. He believes in sacrificing a few for the many as His entire goal is to eliminate half of the universe so that the remaining half may have a higher quality of life. Dr. Strange takes a similar path as he says straightforwardly to Tony Stark that he is willing to let Stark and young Peter Parker die in order to protect the time stone (and save billions of people in the process). When Vision offers up the option of allowing himself to possibly die in order to destroy the mind stone embedded in his consciousness, Captain America firmly responds by saying, “We don’t trade lives”. The Captain highlights the value of every individual person and refuses to risk even a single life (unless it is his own).
The debate of the merits of sacrificing one life for the good of many is one that has a long tradition in philosophy throughout the ages. It is easy to view Infinity War as a moral dilemma between Kantian and utilitarian philosophical models. However, I believe that the tension is even deeper. I do not think that the proper question is, “Is it worth trading one life to save billions?” I think that the better question is, “Is it possible for one life to save billions?” If you believe in the Bible, then the answer is yes.
One for Many
The story of the Bible tells us that we have all sinned and are separated from God. We are all lost. The only way that we could be reconnected with God and restored to eternal life with Him is if our sins were atoned for. The only way that our sins could be atoned for is if a substitutionary sacrifice were to take place. Someone would have to die in our place. The problem is that no one is worthy to be that sacrifice. Every human being has sinned and is deserving of the consequences of sin. There is no one who can make that sacrifice.
This is where Jesus enters the scene. As a being who is fully God and fully man who lived a sinless life, He alone is exempt from the death and separation from God which are the consequences of sin. This makes him uniquely qualified as the only person who is worthy to sacrifice himself and trade his life for the lives of others. However, worthiness is not the only requirement to trade your life for others. You also must be willing.
Thankfully, Jesus is willing. He surrenders himself and He willingly gives up His life. It is not forced from Him or taken from Him, it is given. Jesus could have commanded angels to come and rescue Him from the cross or He could have used His power to destroy His enemies and save Himself, but He did not. He willingly gave of His life so that every human being who ever lived would have possible access to freedom and true life.
In the book of Romans chapter 5, the Apostle Paul talks about the fact that the obedience and grace of the “one man” Jesus Christ is able to make all people righteous because of His worthy and willing sacrifice. He states, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). He traded his own life for ours.
Looking for a Hero
The problem in Infinity War is not that it is morally wrong for one person to sacrifice themselves for the many. The problem is that there is no one who is both worthy and willing to give of their own lives. There are many sacrifices in the film. Thanos sacrifices Gamora in order to obtain the soul stone. But Gamora does not freely give of her life. Thanos murderously takes it from her. Vision is willing to give of his own life but Captain America initially prevents him from doing so. Ultimately, Vision does sacrifice himself to destroy the Mind Stone but it is too late and Thanos undoes the deed. Even though Vision was willing to sacrifice himself for the good of others he was not able or worthy to accomplish it. All of the would-be-heroes fail.
And so, the film ends with a disturbing sense of incompleteness that echoes our souls deep longing for resolve. The reason why this blockbuster resonates (and infuriates) so many people is because it brings to the surface our own unmet desire for there to be resolution in our world. We long for the wrongs to be made right. We long for justice to triumph and mercy to reign. We hesitantly but truthfully realize that no matter how strong or heroic we are, we are not capable of solving the world’s problems (or even our own problems) alone. We need a savior who is both willing and worthy to give of their own lives to defeat evil and secure peace and freedom.
Waiting for the Rest of the Story
This leaves us all waiting for Spring 2019 when we will finally get to see “Avengers 4” and discover how Thanos is defeated, how our heroes can be redeemed and what happens next. However, I believe that there is value in this “in-between” time before we get to see the big finale. The truth is that we are all living in the “in-between” time right now. Christ has come. He has made the sacrifice. He offers freedom and life to all those who receive it from Him. He promises that He will ultimately defeat death and evil and usher us into a time where we are restored to full relationship with Him without any war, hatred or pain. But in the meantime, we wait. We believe the promises. We know that total redemption and restoration is coming. We are left feeling somewhat unresolved but also filled with hope knowing that this is not the end.
Ultimately, Avengers: Infinity War reminds us of the truth: the story isn’t over. Our lives have moments where we feel like our existence feels incomplete, disappointing and maybe even futile. But we have to remember that the story isn’t over yet! If Infinity War is the last Marvel movie ever made, then it is a horrible, depressing failure of a film. But it is not the end! The sequel is coming. Even though we don’t know what comes next, there is assurance of hope and victory. If there is nothing more to our lives than our day to day activity, then our bad days are disastorous and our shortcomings are catastrophic. But there is more!
Let this comic book film (which I obviously take way too seriously) be an inspiration for you to embrace the life that you live and hold on to hope. All may look lost but the story isn’t over yet. There is a hero who is worthy and willing to redeem us all. I don’t know who that is going to be in the Marvel Universe, but I know who that is in our reality. I don’t know how the next Avengers movie ends but I know how our story ends. There is victory, hope and triumph. May you hold on to hope in the one true hero and allow even comic book theology to point you towards ultimate truth.
Excelsior, true believers!
(P.S. This is my first time writing a post like this. If you would be interested in reading more about how Christian faith intersects with popular film and books let me know! Leave a note in the comments and let me know what movies you’d like to me to write about.)