I’ll admit it. I’ve been taken in by the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU for you Marvel nerds). And while some may argue that the Marvel movies are not high art, and even though they are comic book movies, from an art perspective, they are done well (sorry DC fans, there’s no comparison). The acting is good, the effects are mind blowing, the characters have depth, and the stories make you think. There are also interesting moral and ethical elements such as sacrifice, love, friendship, the value of life, and good versus evil. That last one, good versus evil, is particularly intriguing to me, especially in light of the fact that we live in a culture that increasingly tries to tell us that there is no ultimate truth, therefore no ultimate good or evil. But does our culture really believe that? Is goodness and morality really just a social construct?
In the movie Captain America: The First Avenger, before Steve Rogers undergoes the procedure that injects him with the top secret serum and is transformed him into Captain America, there is a fascinating scene. Sitting on cots in an army barracks, Dr. Abraham Erskine and Rogers are talking, and Rogers asks Erskine why he was chosen. Erskine explains that he was chosen because of his character, and then he says, “Whatever happens tomorrow, you must promise me one thing. That you will stay who you are, not a perfect soldier, but a good man.”
A good man?! That’s a stunning statement. One of the great things about comic books stories is that the lines between good and evil are usually drawn with thick lines. But in real life is it really so clear? How many of our heroes have recently been shown to have serious flaws? It’s a risky thing to elevate any man or woman to hero status.
In the Avengers movies, while in some respects Tony Stark is portrayed as the leader because his position and skill set, undoubtedly the moral leader, the one who can inspire the team and lead them into battle, is Captain America. Why? Because he is good. But what does it mean to be good? What is goodness? As much as our culture wants to secularize itself, there remains a naggingly resistant sense that goodness and badness, right and wrong, still exist. Christian apologists have long pointed to this phenomenon as evidence of general revelation, or conscience, or natural law.
In Luke 18, when Jesus was questioned by the rich young ruler, as to what he must do to inherit eternal life, the young man addressed Jesus as “Good Teacher.” Jesus responded with a question of his own, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Luke 18:19 ESV)
Heath Lambert, in his book A Theology of Biblical Counseling, says,
“God’s goodness means that everything God is and does is the standard in the universe for what is best. Wayne Grudem says, “God’s being and actions are perfectly worthy of his own approval.” God’s character and behavior do not need to conform to any external standard of good in the universe to be approved. If it did, that thing would be the standard of good in the universe. The Bible teaches us that something is good when it conforms to God (Ps. 34:8; Luke 18:19; Acts 14:17; Rom. 12:2; James 1:17).
Psalm 119:68 says, “You [God] are good and do good.” What God does is good because he is good. The character of God serves as the standard for good. As sinful people, we get so confused about this. We often think we should be the standard for goodness. We think words that conform to our standards are good. We believe that sexual behavior that meets with our approval is good. We think our great ideas about how to treat others are good. The Bible teaches, human history illustrates, and our own sinful lives prove that there is no good without God. Everything else might look good, but it ultimately fails to satisfy.”
If the virtue of goodness keeps popping up in the secular mind, like a mental game of Whac-A-Mole, as Christians we should see this as an open window for the gospel; a window left open when the front door has been closed. Interestingly, these windows can show up in the most unexpected places, and they often come through the arts. Yes, I just called Captain America art.
Augustine said in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Many of our unbelieving friends, neighbors, and family members may be resistant to traditional approaches of evangelism. Maybe they have heard it many times before, and as soon as they hear it, their wall of defense goes up—the front door shuts. But there may be open windows, undeniable realities such as good, justice, and love, that can, through honest and winsome conversations lead back to the source of these realities. The God who made us, the God who spoke and all things came into being. The God who alone is good and does good.
Praise the LORD! O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! (Psalm 106:1 ESV)