A super-heroic splash of cinematic entertainment has become the talk of the town… and by town I mean the entire world. This astonishment and acclaim comes with breaking an endless number of records (like making 1 billion dollars in 11 days) it also celebrates something more sublime. Avengers: Infinity War is a personal joy for me, as a kid who crew up living for the comic book racks and seeing my swinging heroes save the day. The realization of this “shareduniverse” on the big screen is amazing just on that note. But source material and genre aside, what has happened is unique amidst cinema innovations throughout the last century.
The “Marvel Cinematic Universe” has been weaving an interconnected narrative amidst what seemed like different people’s stories – different character franchises – over more than a decade of movies. While we’ve had sequels in the past, this shared universe represents an unprecedented experiment in movie storytelling that has apparently paid off. One can only imagine what care, what craft, what careful curating and seemingly endless talks, contracts, and deals had to take place to hold the story framework together and make everything come together (timelines, actors availability, etc. etc. ) at the perfect point and a culmination mapped out far in advance.
Actually, a Christian CAN imagine… as it’s simply a 10-year example of painstaking planning and foreshadowing that makes the centuries-spanning plan of God seem that much more amazing (or incredible, or mighty, or invincible… whatever adjective serves best). The gospel… our religion… our lives, existence itself… is something we know is not a material existence formed by chance, or even a construct designed and then let go… but a story-formed reality: the universe and our existence is the warp and woof of a Master Storyteller with glorious purpose.
Isaiah 46 tells us “I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.” In spite of our sin, God has been weaving a tale of redemption throughout the fabric of time, space, human history and every happening around us. The hero’s journey is that of the revealed Christ, and like Marvel superheroes and their colorful casts, some of us are folded in to that story as supporting players in God’s grand narrative.
The Prophet Jeremiah tells us what God says: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Even when the villain (or villains) in our lives (the world, our own flesh, or the devil himself) seem insurmountable, having the upper hand (or Infinity Gauntlet) we are promised that God is in control, the outcome is written, and despite imminent feelings of despair there is truly, in Christ, a happy ending.
As I frequently talk about on my website Cinemagogue, Christians believe we are image-bearers of our Creator, a master storyteller whose narrative spans all of creation, a meganarrative in which we all play a part. Made in the image of our Creator, we have a yearning to both create, and be entertained, by narrative. People immerse themselves in story much like Christians treasure the story of Jesus. It is our hope that people would enjoy and engage these cultural moments and storytelling mediums not just as “diversion” but with discernment, engaging the culture around us and reflecting on how it reflects (or at times, distorts) the larger narrative of our lives.
People think it’s mind-boggling that this latest Avengers movie succeeded over a 10-year plan and all the pieces and portents came together. I agree, it’s an amazing achievement for the creative purposes of humans. I AM impressed. But how much greater is a story that has unfolded with uncanny precision over millenia? The fall of man was not a surprise to our God, and the careful curating of His story and purpose throughout all history built to an incredible culmination with the coming of Christ. With what excellent and perfect planning did the Son of God come into the world and fulfill all intended prophecies… sacrificing to defeat death and rising from the grave? And then His ascension… and promised return, equaling what feels to some like a great “to be continued” moment. We live in between that first and second coming with great expectation.
As many wait for “part 2” of an Avengers story that will unfold next May, Christians wait even more eagerly for the second coming of Christ by the timing of our master storyteller. We wait for his second coming and final fulfillment. Will we wait a year? A decade? A thousand years? Only God knows, but we DO know we won’t wait for an eternity. Thanks to the plan of God and work of Christ, eternity awaits us. To quote that not-quite-sage, Buzz Lightyear:
“To Infinity, and Beyond!”