Marvel is getting spiritual in its latest cinematic offering. A lot of the conversation surrounding this movie in the Christian community has been negative. Much of this is due to the fact that a movie based on a comic book is taking a serious look at ideas that are rooted in the occult. This is not a Christian movie, and yet, themes that clearly reflect the kingdom of God are also breaking through. This seems to happen a lot in works of art, even if it's not the direct intention of the artist. I think it's for a couple of reasons. To begin with, God sets eternity in hearts of men. People naturally want to find God, they just don't want to submit to Him.
The Gospel is the most resonant story the universe will ever know. Storytellers (and cult-makers) have been borrowing elements from this story for centuries to give their tales greater impact. This presents an awesome opportunity to tell the rest of the story. In Acts 17, Paul encountered an idol to The Unknown God. Paul realized that the Greeks were still yearning to understand truth. With all of their gods and goddesses, they acknowledged they had yet to see the full picture. In one of the world's most compelling sermons, Paul communicates with the people in the midst of their cultural understanding. He uses their own pagan idol to point to the truth. If we keep our eyes open, we might get the same opportunity.
6 Gospel Lessons from Dr. Strange
1. We're in the midst of a cosmic fight.
When the movie begins, Stephen Strange is living the dream. He's a successful neurosurgeon with an enviable Manhattan apartment, a gorgeous car, and a pretty (ex) girlfriend. In one fateful night his illusions of security are shattered, along with his hands. After exhausting all of his resources on finding answers, Dr. Strange reluctantly turns toward the spiritual.
I've met a lot of people like Stephen Strange. Not cool neurosurgeons masking British accents. Rather, well-intentioned people living primarily for the here-and-now. Every now and then, we're offered a moment of clarity. When it comes, it reveals that we are in the midst of battle for the ages. Millenia ago, the ancient dragon and deceiver of the nations began seducing God's children away from their creator.
Our enemy is the most successful when he leads us to forget about the fight. In Dr. Strange, the story hits new heights when the protagonist realizes the stakes surrounding him. The same will happen for us. When we realize that our real fight is spiritual, it begins to change everything. We realize we have the freedom to take part in an epic kingdom adventure of eternal consequence. The sense of identity and meaning we experience will dramatically increase as we acknowledge the world's true nature.
2. The biggest battle is belief.
Stephen Strange is a pragmatist. When something goes wrong he relies upon his experience and his senses to troubleshoot. When all of this fails, he is invited to lay aside his arrogance...and believe. In a powerful moment in the film, Stephen's eyes are opened to a wide and vast universe beyond his imagination. For the rest of the movie, his greatest strength comes from his growing belief.
I've met so many people who know the bullet points of the Gospel. They might even acknowledge a belief in God, in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and in the forgiveness of sins. Here is where many people struggle: believing that these things are true for 'you.'
It's one thing to understand that the blood of Jesus is an atoning sacrifice. It's a bigger challenge to realize that this means my biggest sins are washed away and my deepest shame has been erased. Through my own pragmatic efforts, I can't do anything to add to this divine truth. I can only receive this wonderful gift through faith. There is a sacred vulnerability when it comes to faith. In order for it to be true, I have to let go of all control. I have to lay aside my efforts and my striving. I have to trust. In the middle of this perceived weakness, we will find our greatest strength.
3. Every man and woman is dealing with the issue of their mortality.
In 2014, I lead a team to conduct 300 spiritual surveys in the heart of Portland, Oregon. We wanted to understand the spiritual DNA of the city before we moved here to pray about starting a new church. On every survey we asked the question, "What is your biggest struggle in life." The number one answer we got back shocked us: "NOTHING."
For years, I've been preaching a message that could best be described as the abundant-life Gospel. It comes from a passage of scripture in the Gospel of John. Here's the general message. This world is filled with hardships and turmoil. We are all missing something deep within. Our souls are crying out for hope and healing, and that can only be found in Jesus. If you give your life to Him, you will find the fulfillment you are looking for. As a bonus, you can go to heaven when you die. I think this is a wonderful message. It is probably the best part of the Gospel to highlight in most of the world. However, as distractions increase, more people are failing to understand their deepest longing of their hearts. This feeling still exists and leads to tons of problems. People just don't look up from their phones long enough to notice. An abundant-life Gospel is becoming white noise.
Mortality, on the other hand, is an issue that isn't going anywhere. Dr. Strange tackles the topic head-on, and so should Christians. This summer our church spoke with 2,500 people about their beliefs. We stopped asking about their biggest struggle and began asking about their biggest passions. As the conversations progressed, we asked people what they thought about eternity. Most people had absolutely no idea. The vast majority had never seriously thought about their eternal fate. This is an incredible opportunity to offer hope to those who are hungry for it.
4. Evil in its truest form is both seductive and destructive.
The bad guys in the film are driven by their thirst for power. They've found a source of mystical strength that defies all logic. They ultimately meet their doom when they fail to realize that evil is selfish. Darkness only gives so that it can get.
We are constantly underestimating our sin. We like to think that we can manage our own micro-rebellions. The Bible tells a different story, exposing our sin as a spiritual cancer. It's always growing, always spreading, and always wanting more. You can't really manage cancer. The most effective treatment is to cut it out completely. If you leave a little bit, it will come back.
5. The greatest freedom can be gained through selflessness.
I never expected a Marvel movie to quote Rick Warren. And yet, in the climax of the film, viewers witness Tilda Swinton's character offering the hero sage advice. She eschews the character's Eastern philosophy and quotes the first sentence of the Purpose Driven Life: "It's not about you." She's right.
6. The greatest victories are obtained through sacrifice.
In the end of the movie, Stephen Strange saves the earth by giving his life, over and over again. Through his genius and persistence, he exhausts the evil villain. Finally, his enemy gives up. They strike a deal. But here's the rub -- we all know that evil will come back. It's only a matter a time.
Here is where the comparisons end. When it comes to the Gospel, Jesus gave his life once and for all. Evil hasn't been placated or exhausted - it has been defeated. We should never grow tired of telling this story. Every other way of eradicating evil will eventually stop working - except for one.