It’s been months since I sat down to watch Thanos wield Infinity Stones in Avengers: Infinity War.
[Editor’s note: Beware spoilers, starting in the very next sentence.]
And it’s taken me nearly as long to fully wrap my brain around Gamora’s death. It was meant to be disturbing and heartbreaking, yet there was something much deeper at work than the evil of Thanos.
In true Isaac and Abraham fashion, Gamora followed her adopted father, Thanos, the film’s antagonist, to the top of a mountain to serve as a human sacrifice. Yet unlike Isaac, Gamora’s life was not spared. In order to obtain the infinity stone and fulfill his plan to rid the universe of half its population, Thanos had to sacrifice someone he loved.
Before the plan is revealed, Gamora has a few stinging words for the man who raised her:
“The universe has judged you. You asked it for a prize and it told you, ‘No.’ You failed. And do you wanna know why? Because you love nothing. No one!”
When Gamora finally realized Thanos meant to kill her to obtain the infinity stone, she said, “No. This isn’t love.” She then attempted suicide to keep her father from the stone that will kill billions of people. Yet, her dagger turned to bubbles in her hand. Thanos proceeded to throw Gamora off a cliff, and the stone became his.
At first I thought this was a plot hole. How can one kill someone they love for their own selfish gain? It’s impossible, and the infinity stone should have been impossible to obtain at all—a trick for those selfish enough to seek it.
Instead, it’s a deep misunderstanding of what love is. Love is not affection, it’s self-sacrifice for the good of another. This is the gospel of Christ who laid down his life for undeserving sinners. We also see this in the famous love chapter in 1 Corinthians 13:5: “[love] does not insist on its own way.” Affection is what I feel for my dog. It was affection, not love, is what Thanos felt for his “favorite” daughter.
And yet, one could argue that what he felt for her was even less than affection. It was a kind of twisted parental pride that uses a child for their own gain—to shape them into image bearers of the parent rather than God.
Only Gamora exhibits real love when she attempted to take her own life. She was doing everything she could to keep Thanos from murdering so many. The “love” Thanos thought he had for Gamora wasn’t real love. Gamora says this repeatedly. The audience knows it isn’t love. The filmmakers know it isn’t love. Yet, Thanos ended up with the stone nonetheless. Why? Besides the fact that the ending was dependant on his collecting all the stones, why make it possible to obtain one like this?
This summer, Timothy Keller spoke at the Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast in the Houses of Parliament in London. The topic of his speech was, “What Can Christianity Offer Our Society in the 21st Century?” Keller explains how Christianity has been the historical meat of moral goodness, and that without a divine source of virtue and self-sacrificial love, society will not be able to bear up under the weight of its moral ideals.
“Can we form people anymore in our society who can support those ideals because those ideals take self-sacrifice…. We tell people, especially our young people, we say, ‘You’ve gotta be true to yourself. You’ve gotta follow your own inner light. You can’t let anybody tell you what is right or wrong for you. And not only do you have to be true to yourself, you have to be true to yourself no matter what your family says, no matter what your community says, no matter what your society says. You don’t sacrifice for them. You make them adjust to you.’ But then we say to them, ‘But then you actually have to work for justice. You have to work to alleviate hunger.’ Which of course takes sacrifice. … So how are they gonna do that?”
The people who made Avengers: Infinity War have these same high ideals that Keller is talking about. They know killing your daughter isn’t love, but they don’t understand it deeply enough. Had they understood what Christianity does, Thanos would have left the mountaintop either without the stone or with Gamora alive. Without that divine source of virtue, their ideals are shaky at best. They appear like plot holes in our lives and in our stories.
Keller goes on to read an atheist review of the book, Sources of the Self by Charles Taylor:
“Perseverance and virtue will require self-sacrifice, and self-sacrifice seems to require some transcendental justification or motivation in which the most common, perhaps the most logical, is belief in God…. Since modern freedom entails the rejection of all transcendence, modern virtue is wholly contingent. Can we be good for long without God?”
But despite the moral relativism that is overtaking our culture, people continue to tell stories in which the hero does value others before themselves. And why is that when the modern mantra to be true to yourself regardless of others is so prolific? It’s due only to common grace: the blessings and knowledge that God bestows on all mankind. On a deep, innate level, we understand that there is something truly beautiful about a hero laying down their life for others. Like Christ on the cross, self-sacrifice is the very best kind of story.
Without Christ, our stories are full of holes. They are warped images of half-truths. With Christ, we have the capability to love others like he loved us: sacrificially.