I thought I loathed “study guides” that attempt to pull Practical Value out of a work of fiction. Yet I suppose last May, that is almost what I did in offering a two-part series about how the Marvel superhero film Thor echoes Biblical truths.
Then in response, a friend of mine commented:
I enjoyed Thor on several levels…it was an encouraging movie!
Encouraging. Why yes. Yes, of course it was. No one who liked it would disagree with that.
Yet I’m not sure I’ve previously thought to apply that adjective to a story I loved.
But it makes sense, doesn’t it? Such stories encourage us.
Encourage us to what? Perhaps for three things, all of which echo the Epic Story of Scripture. Such a story implicitly honors God, or shows us truth about ourselves and subtly motivates us to respond to God, or reminds us of truth about God’s beauty in our world. Or all three.
And yet a great story can also encourage us, in happy or even discouraging moments, even if it seems “pointless.” A secular story, without truths about God or us and our response to God, can still show His world. It can show good ultimately winning over the worst evils. It can show “Christ-figures,” or perhaps more accurately “Christian-figures,” who in their love and sacrifice remind us of how we as Christians imitate the true Christ. That’s encouraging.
Here’s how my friend, who is a pastor, remarked upon how Thor’s story encouraged him. (Slightly edited. Also, don’t read this quote if you haven’t yet seen Thor.)
It was positive and really played up friendship and family relationships in a good way, and the lessons of loyalty and sacrifice were done without making it campy. Even the communication between Thor and those back home on his planet — very much like prayer. He only had to speak and his father heard him and responded. The scene where he laid down his life … the tear appeared in his father’s eye … and his life was given back to him — well, that was kind of OBVIOUS. And powerfully done. It was a movie I enjoyed watching and was glad I had gone to see it.
If you’ve seen Thor, or any other well-done superhero or other film this year (and yes, I stubbornly include Green Lantern in this category), how did its story encourage you?
How can we share with others that this is another reason we need, not just “could use,” great stories that encourage us? After all, if some people find sappy Christian art or a sentimental greeting card encouraging, why not an excellently done story with God-honoring themes?
Do you, like me, even now tend to separate Story enjoyments, or enjoyment altogether, from your spiritual thoughts and practices? If so, why? How can we fight that false dichotomy?
How does Scripture itself, with its Psalms and literature, encourage us?
What are some other books and stories you’ve read or seen this year that encouraged you?