May 9, 2011

Thor -- Reluctant Messiah

I just saw the new Thor movie. I really liked it. Not my favorite superhero moview, but still worth seeing. I am sure that other bloggers will notice some of the same themes and ideas in the film that I'm about to mention, and will probably explore them more fully. Nevertheless, I want to make my own observations before reading what others have to say.

What struck me most about the storyline is the almost unmistakable parallel with Philippians 2:5-11. Not a perfect parallel, mind you, but a parallel nonetheless. According the the Apostle Paul, the Second Person of the trinity, Jesus, was fully divine and had every right to "grasp hold" of his divine prerogatives. He was/is the king of all creation. Yet, out of deference to the Father's will and for love of humanity, he did not grasp hold of his divine privileges, but humbled himself and took on human flesh. He bacame a man, and even humbled himself to the point of dying on a cross for the salvation of the human race. As a result, the Father has now highly exalted Jesus to his former status as the divine king, even giving him the "name that is above every name."

Now think about the Thor movie (spoiler alert!). Unlike Christ, Thor (Chris Helmsworth), the thunder "god," is arrogant and egotistical. He thinks his father Odin is foolish and that he can do a better job as king of Asgard. Up to this point, Thor is anything but a parallel to Christ. But to teach him a lesson, Odin banishes Thor to the Earth and "empties" him of his god-like powers. Thor becomes a man. Though unwillingly, Thor experiences, like Christ, a kenosis and an incarnation. He takes on the humble status of a human being. In the course of the film, Thor comes to realize that there are bigger and better things to live for than himself and that he doesn't necessarily have all the wisdom that he thought he did. And when his evil brother Loki sends a giant, flame-throwing robot to earth in search of Thor and which threatens humanity, Thor sacrifices his life (yes, he dies!) to save the human race. In giving his life, Thor even pleads with Loki to take his life instead of the humans' lives. So, in Thor, we interestingly have the motifs of kenosis/incarnation as well as a substitutionary death. Then, of course, follows resurrection and exaltation. In response to Thor's new-found humility, Odin gives Thor back his life and his "divine" status, returning to him his famous hammer, Mjolnir, which allows him to go on to defeat Loki. Not only this, but before he leaves the Earth, Thor promises his human love-interest (Natalie Portman) that he will return to Earth after he defeats Loki. As events would have it, though, the technology that would allow Thor to return are destroyed in the battle and the movie ends with both Thor and his human friends on Earth wondering when (and if) he will make his return--though all are hopeful.

So, ironically, what we have in Thor is the story of a pagan, Norse god, re-telling the Christian story of the incarnate God dying for the fallen human race, rising again to achieve victory over the forces of darkness, and ascending into heaven, from whence we eagerly anticipate his return. It's kinda funny (and actually gratifying) where the gospel turns up these days!

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