Spoilers for Marvel’s Avengers Infinity War and Endgame
It’s common for Catholic commentators to look for “Christ figures” in superhero movies (Bishop Barron, I’m looking at you!). Often this takes the simple route of looking for a character who makes “the heroic sacrifice.” This can lead to a whole set of superhero figures being baptized as “Christ-figures” – everyone from Harry Potter to Batman.
While this isn’t necessarily wrong, it does paint a rather simple picture of who Christ is, and what our relationship with him is. There is a large difference between the Good Lord and Gotham’s vigilante. This process also has another drawback . . . in focusing solely on the “heroic sacrifice” sometimes we can miss other ways Christ can be, inadvertently, reflected in our culture.
Which brings us to Marvel’s Endgame, and to Dr. Strange. In the movie, Dr. Strange sees all possible outcomes of the conflict with Thanos and then makes a shocking choice. In what may be the most dramatic moment of the Infinity Saga, Dr. Strange gives the final infinity stone to Thanos, much to Tony Stark’s horror. This directly leads to the snap and Dr. Strange’s enigmatic “There was no other way.”
The completed Infinity Gauntlet gives Thanos control over the whole universe. Which is reminiscent of something the devil claims:
Again the devil took him up into a very high mountain, and shewed him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them,
And said to him: All these will I give thee, if falling down thou wilt adore me.
Then Jesus saith to him: Begone, Satan: for it is written, The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and him only shalt thou serve. (Matt 4:8-10)(Douay-Rheims Matt 4:8-10)
The Devil claims to have control over “all the kingdoms of the world” and Christ does not contradict him. Granted, Christ does not give the Devil what he wants; namely his worship. But neither does Christ use his power to stop the Devil’s power. Granted the devil’s power originates through God’s permissive allowance of freewill — sinful mankind handed the devil the kingdoms of the world — whereas Dr. Strange proactively hands something over. Nonetheless, I think some parallels can still be drawn.
Like Stark’s horror towards Dr. Strange’s choice, we can often be horrified by the power God permits evil to have. It’s been a rough time for the Church. Persecution rages strong in many parts of the world, in the West our culture continuously rebels against the Faith that laid the foundations for its most meaningful contributions to the world, and forces hostile to democracy seem to grow stronger each day. Poverty, disease, and starvation sill ravish the world. One can’t help but wonder why God permits evil to have the power it does. Just as Tony Stark feels betrayed by Strange’s permission of evil, we can feel betrayed by God’s permission of evil.
However it’s the only way, at least the only way granting certain presumptions, including human sinfulness. The Avengers only come up with the solution to defeat Thanos when they lose. Their defeat forces them to grow and stretch themselves.
God knows that there are some of the elect who will only choose God when they hit rock bottom and see the opposite of God. It is precisely through the cross and the Church’s struggle with it that God’s glory is made clear to some of the elect. St. Ignatius only turned to God after being hit by a canon ball. St. Dominic’s order saved many souls, but only after the Albigensian heresy forced the Church to evolve. Part of St. Patrick’s journey was being taken by pirates.
This is not to say that God directly empowers evil (and thus this is where the analogy to Dr. Strange may break down). When human beings rebel against what is life giving, God permits those choices to have consequences and to, in the short term, strengthen the devil’s hand even to the point where evil may seem to be invincible. However, what might seem like a final defeat will lead to a final victory.
Thus, just as Stark didn’t understand Dr. Strange’s plan, we must have faith when we don’t see God’s plan. Because God’s way is the only way, and faith in Him is what will allow us to win the Endgame.