Thursday, April 17, 2014

For Frank: Is Captain America a Christ figure?

In the modern era of American Christianity, we have a habit of trying to shoehorn an image of Jesus into every container we find. Mocking this, a blogger of ill-repute named Frank Turk has emerged from his hiatus long enough to poke Internet-based Christianity about Captain America and Jesus. While there were several efforts to line up Jesus with Superman last year, there have been no major efforts to align Captain America (Steve Rogers) with the Lord.

I am not the comic book junkie that my Inter-friend Frank is, so I cannot address the comic book Cap. I am familiar with him from the recent explosion of movies from Marvel Movie Studios, including Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers, as well as the affiliated other films. As an aside, the Marvel/Avengers series has filled the gap abandoned by Star Wars when Lucas decided to justify Darth Vader as simply a maladjusted loving husband who made a few errors.

Back on track, the question that has been posed is this: How does Captain America compare with Jesus? Should we find a comparison? I expect that more than a few preachers will find those comparisons and make them this Sunday as we try desperately to be cool for all the folks who reject God’s plan of continual fellowship with believers.

I have found a few parallels, but unfortunately I find that Captain America, awesome as he is, is not Jesus. Nor is he a good stand-in or stunt double for the Lord Almighty. Here’s why:

First: Steve Rogers begins as a great heart with no power. That reason alone should stop the comparison points. Despite being a compassionate, self-sacrificing man, Rogers begins his journey without the power to act on his heart for righteousness. By comparison, Jesus comes in with life in the first place, with all power over Creation (John 1:1-4 suits that issue). Compare this to the Lord, who rather than needing to take on power, Jesus came with all power and retains it through this day (Matthew 28:18-20).

Second: Captain America trusts others. Take the scene in The Avengers when Tony Stark and Bruce Banner confront Steve about their doubts regarding SHIELD’s behavior. Rogers, to this point, has trusted Nick Fury without doubt. Nick Fury? As Stark points out, “his secrets have secrets.” Rogers trusts, because he expects others to be honest like he is. Compare this to Jesus, who had no such trust issues, as we see in John 2:24-25, that He knew what was truly in people.

Third: Steve Rogers fails at points. Take the first film and the battle on the train. Rogers’ has lost his best friend in that battle because he could not save him. (SPOILER) We know from Captain America: The Winter Soldier that Bucky is not dead, but is his fate not worse? Rogers has a friend and a follower in Bucky Barnes and he loses him, body and soul, to the forces of evil. Compare this to Jesus who did not lose one from those who were His (John 17:12).

Fourth: Captain America’s primary weapon is reflecting the enemy’s power back at him. That’s a little long, but it’s the second use of Cap’s shield. Generally speaking, you see him deflecting shots, explosions, or other rays of doom back at the sender. It’s effective, mind you but when you see Cap with a weapon, it’s no different than any other weapon on the field. Compare this to the Rider on the White Horse who brings His own weapon, the Word of God, wielded perfectly and effectively (Revelation 19:11-15). Jesus equips His people with His weapon rather than equipping Himself with whatever everyone else uses.

Fifth: Steve Rogers struggles to find his purpose. Across three movies with Cap, it takes him some time to know what he should do. He’s conflicted in his origin story; he struggles with how things work in the action gathering; and then he has to find his place in the second Cap film. He’s uncertain what he should be doing, other than to do what’s right. Compare this to Jesus’ prayer that He came for a purpose (John 12:27); that He should be about His Father’s business (Luke 2:49); that He came to give His life and to serve (Mark 10:45).

With all that, though, there is one major parallel between Steve Rogers and the Lord that I see. They both love imperfect spouses. Rogers is passionate about Lady Liberty, the beautiful image of the United States as the Land of the Free, Home of the Brave, a place which does right in all things. Even with the flaws, the changes, Rogers does not suggest destroying America to create a different nation. He wants to see her come right, to turn toward the greatness that he saw so many give their lives for in the years gone by.

Compare this, though, to Jesus and Cap pales a bit. Jesus loves His bride, the Church. Loves us through the failures and shortcomings, loves us though we are not what we ought to be. Loves us, shown in His death for us. Loves us, and is working to make us without spot or blemish. Jesus does not want to see His bride go back to greatness but to progress in holiness.

Captain America is a great guy. Little would have helped Loki in Thor: The Dark World like trying to be like Cap rather than just look like him. And I’d rather my kids grow up to like a hero who defends with a shield instead of a narcissistic rich guy with a nice suit.

Yet Jesus is so much more. Our goal as Christians is not to be like a great hero but to be transformed into the image and likeness of Christ. We get good entertainment from good films.

We draw our life’s purpose from God’s Word.

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