Tuesday, May 10, 2011
"The Lord said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.' And so I boast most gladly of my weakness in order that the strength of Christ may dwell within me." 2 Cor. 12:9
How is strength measured? In most cases, with brute force. Looking at the movie posters for Thor, we anticipate that we'll see much of the same: strength through muscle, power, prestige, and weapons (just look at that hammer!). Perhaps that's the image the marketing department at Marvel wants to get across - to lure audiences into the theatre... only to have their preconceptions about strength pulled out from under them.
The movie's story follows Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the son of the king of an alien super-race at the center of our galaxy, whose power is purely physical: with his trusty hammer in hand, he can defeat any army and destroy any civilization.
Thor thinks with his muscles, but not his head or his heart. When his coronation ceremony is interrupted by the "frost giants," he exacts revenge on them by visiting their homeworld in an attempt to punish them violently. But his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) will have none of this - and after rescuing Thor and his friends, banishes his son to earth and strips him of his power.
When Thor lands here, his strength leaves him - and he is as weak as any other man (unfortunately, the filmmakers decided not to strip him of his good looks, a form of great strength on this planet, making this character slightly less believable in his weakness). Nonetheless, Thor must learn other ways to become strong.
Luckily, he has landed right into the hands of a good teacher, the astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) - who shows Thor that kindness to strangers, compassion for others, hard work, and earned intelligence are the source of her strength.
Despite the film's flaws, audiences expecting a festival of vengeful strength are treated to the story of a god who learned the greatest power was in the human heart.
In addition, these audiences might not expect that this message is one rooted in Scripture and put so well by a self-described weak man, St. Paul, who writes, "The Lord said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.' And so I boast most gladly of my weakness in order that the strength of Christ may dwell within me." (2 Cor. 12:9).
To many in the world, a poor scientist living in the middle of the desert with homemade equipment, seems weak and insignificant. But like St. Paul, she is actually the strongest one of all because she is filled with the strength of Christ - compassion, love, selflessness, kindness, generosity, forgiveness, dedication, and hope. By comparison, a demigod filled with with vengeance, selfishness, narcissism, rage, and violence is the weakest one of all.
Thor must learn the values of Christ to regain any of his strength. Then he will truly be worthy of the hammer and the heroic status that comes with it.
So, too, must we if we really want to be strong. Despite the commercials for Bowflex or the body-building actors like Chris Hemsworth or Natalie Portman, there is a deeper strength that Christ calls us to aspire towards. That strength comes in our humility, our love for others, our respect for life, our forgiveness of our enemies, our daily work, and our hope for the future.
Even the core of our Christian faith is the weak body of a Jewish carpenter dead upon a cross. Yet this simple, crucified man vanquished the power of the gods in human history, replacing the values of vengeance and selfishness with the the gospel of compassion and peace. (it is also worth noting that a world impacted by Christ's message has re-written the tale of the Norse god Thor so that it conforms to the values of Jesus).
May all of us, no matter how weak we are and no matter how insecure, frightened, or flawed we feel, put on the strength of the gospel by living the nonviolent, selfless, and generous lives that Christ invites us to live. Then we will truly wield a hammer more powerful than Thor's and occupy a superhero story more exciting than anything we'll see at the movies.