Freedom Through Submission: Reflections on The Avengers Movie

“Freedom is the biggest lie in life.”

Westerners and Americans in particular are a people obsessed with the ideal of freedom, and rightfully so. Those who have experienced the bonds of slavery and imprisonment can readily tell you what it costs to lose freedom. The particular brand, however, of autonomous self-actualizing freedom that so many idolize is actually far more myth than it is reality. In fact, it is from the realm of myth that so many discussion of this freedom derive, but a recent fictional film develops it in a way that is far from stereotypical. The Avengers develops the theme of “freedom” in ways you wouldn’t expect from a typical superhero action film.

The theme permeates various scenes from the film. Much of the tension that exists between Captain America and Iron Man is related to their perspectives on submission. Cap believes it’s their job as soldiers to take orders; Iron Man rebuts “I am not a soldier!” Nick Fury refuses to respect the wishes of the council; he does as he pleases, believing his plan should take priority over his submission. The most interesting development, however, comes from the main villain: Loki.

When a demigod deigns to visit earth it’s not usually just to catch up. Loki has come to seek revenge against his step-brother Thor and to conquer earth. Part of his plan is to overwhelm the earth with the powerful forces of an alien world, but he is also using a mind-control campaign aimed at convincing earth’s citizens that true freedom is only found in submission. “Is not the natural state of mankind one of submission?” He asks a crowd in Prague. At various moments in the movie he seems to be the only one who is actually running free. Certainly Bruce Banner is always bound by his fear that he will turn into the big green monster and harm someone. At one point on the S.H.I.E.L.D. aircraft, Loki is imprisoned but, in the words of Director Fury, “seems to be the only one who wants to be on this ship.” The Avengers are all fighting each other, chasing their tails, and one-step behind the demigod. And for the heroes themselves, it is only after they submit to their dependence on others, diminish their egos, and defer to one another that they find success.  Could it be that true freedom only comes by means of submission? Is Loki right?

The Bible does teach us that the autonomous freedom is a lie. The Bible makes it clear that God controls everything, that man can do nothing without God allowing him to, and that autonomy is idolatry. Perhaps nowhere is the reality of freedom through submission more clearly seen than in Jesus’ paradoxical invitation to come and find rest. If you want to find rest then you must take upon you the “yoke” and “burden” of Jesus (Matthew 11:28-30). Paul gives us another picture in Romans 6, where he states that having been set free we are now “slaves of God” (Romans 6:16-23). That’s an interesting thought: we are always slaves.

Either we are slaves to sin and fear and anxiety and trouble, or we are slaves to God. Loki is right: freedom is a lie. At the kind of autonomous freedom we most frequently think of. But we may experience true freedom in submission to God’s rule and reign: freedom not to sin, freedom from condemnation, and freedom from eternal punishment. It is not enough, however, to say that freedom comes through submission. Said submission must be to one person primarily: God.

Loki is right that submission is the place of true freedom, but it is not found in submission to him. His freedom is as equally deceptive as the autonomous free-will of our culture. The Bible points out that submission to others comes only under the umbrella of submission first and foremost to God himself. Wives submit to husbands, Christians submit to Christians, congregants submit to pastors, citizens submit to governments, in each case the submission falls under full submission to God. People are corrupt and evil at their core. Submission primarily to another human being, even submission to a so-called demigod, which does not first begin with submission to God will not find us free. Rather, we will quickly become enslaved in unhealthy relationships. Submission outside of or apart from God finds us in relationships of oppression, co-dependency, or idolatry. But under submission to God we can hold these other relationships rightly. We know when to draw the lines and where to draw them. We know when to submit and when to stand and fight. We know when to take orders and when to buck trends. Submission first and foremost to God reminds us whose soldier we are, and whose authority we must resist.

The Avengers points us down an interesting path, challenging us to consider our freedom and our submission. The Bible calls us to consider it more carefully in light of the sovereignty of God. After all, the ultimate super power in the universe is the ruling Creator/Judge of it. It’s to him primarily that we owe total submission. Loki is no comparison. In the words of Captain America, “There’s only one God.”

Comments

  1. Thanks for this post, Pastor Dave. I just saw The Avengers with my family this weekend and agree with almost every word of your post. I don’t agree, though, that the autonomous free will of our culture is a deception. Even in a strictly theological sense, it is the free will of every waking moment that allows each person to confirm that he/she is saved by the blood. Free will should certainly be guided by biblical principles and the Holy Spirit, and the closer one grows to Jesus the closer those choices will align with the word and His will. Submission, then, is a choice. A general commitment, but also a moment by moment choice to continue to submit. And the grace of the blood of Jesus is so amazing that when we make a wrong choice, veer off the path ever so slightly, we are covered by the blood and can get in right standing again. And again. Have mercy and THANK YOU, Jesus! Just makes me happy. 😉 Thanks again, Dave!

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