Friday, June 15, 2012

Marvelous Avengers? Part 1: Justice


Revenge is so sweet.  How else to make the perpetrator realize the impact of their actions?  Anything less would just be unjust.




I'm playing catch-up on superhero movies, but Joss Whedon's The Avengers impressed me.  Raised on the previous generation of superhero movies, I didn't know action and humor could blend so well without coming across as cheesy (I'm talking to you, Batman and Robin).  There are mild plot spoilers ahead.


There's a concept in Scripture of the Blood Avenger.  In ancient cultures lacking an evolved system of courtroom trial, vengeance for murder was the primary responsibility of the male next of kin, exacting satisfaction in kind ("eye for an eye").  The Bible placed limits on retribution in cases of unintentional manslaughter through the practice of refuge cities (Numbers 35:11-28; Deuteronomy 4:41-43; Joshua 20:1-9).


The Avenger is actually considered a "redeemer" or "restorer" of the blood that was taken.  Murder "steals" blood that belongs to the entire clan.  The Passover celebration remembers the avenging angel who was satisfied only after seeing the lamb's blood on the doorpost and who exacted the blood of the Egyptians who had subjected the Lord's people (blood) to bondage.


In Romans, Paul wrote about the redefinition of vengeance in light of Christ's life and sacrificial death, indirectly fleshing out Jesus' call to love your enemies and pray for them:


"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good"  Romans 12:14-21.


So, what are we to make of the Marvelous Avengers?  Loving your enemies makes for dull blockbusters!


Yet, this is not a movie about human conflict, but about what it takes for ordinary and heroic humans to band together to face a common and real enemy - an inhuman opponent - when the fate of the world is in balance.  The Avengers effect the wrath of God on behalf of a modern world increasingly skeptical of the super heroism of God.


The inhuman enemy is killed indiscriminately, but hope is held out for Thor's brother and evil mastermind trickster, Loki, to be redeemed (Yes, I understand Loki is not human, but a god, but he is also a person).  This might be a cultural trace of Christian theology.  


A Christian sense of vengeance delights not in the death of the wicked, but in the redemption of evil.  The ultimate revenge would not be to eliminate evil but to transform it.  To bring life to death.  This would require that Life give itself to Death, as all of the Avengers are willing to do as possibility, and one of them as certainty.


How about you?  Where have you seen examples of "Christian revenge?"  Please leave a comment below:





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